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Help and rescue Memorialisation

Ordinary heroes? The „Righteous among the Nations“

Resistance during the war was for a long time associated with armed actions and political activism. This appears also in awards which were given for resistance activities.  However, since several decades, the help and rescue of persecuted persons, especially Jews, has attracted increasing public attention and many see it today as an important part of civil resistance against Nazism.


What contributed  a lot to this evolution is the award „Righteous among the  Nations“, It was established in the 1960s by the Holocaust Memorial Centar Yad Vashem in Israel to honour non-Jews who risked their life to save Jews from extermination. Until 2023, more than 28.000 persons have been recognized as Righteous by Yad Vashem. Among those figure for example in Bosnia and Herzegovina Nuria and Devleta Pozderac or in France the village Chambon Le Lignon which was honoured for collective effort to help Jews. Many times, the awarded persons acted as individuals or with the help of family members or friends, out of empathy or humanism, without being part of a political organisation or resistance group. They are therefore often also called „ordinary heroes“ or „silent heroes“.


The most famous rescuer is certainly Oskar Schindler who saved more than 1.100 Jews he had employed in his factory in occupied Poland. He became universally known thanks to the film „Schindler’s List“ made by Steven Spielberg in 1993. He was first honoured by Yad Vashem in 1962,  on initiative of many of those he had rescued, but there were also protests against this initiative, because Oskar Schindler had been a member of the Nazi Party and he was accused to have acted out of opportunism and that he had enriched himself. It is only after Spielbergs film that Yad Vashem then officially recognized Oskar Schindler (who had died in 1974) as Righteous, and then also his wife Emilie.


It is often not easy to determine if somebody helped out of altruism (what Yad Vashem considers as decisive criterium for the award) or for other reasons. There have also been cases where persons falsely pretended to have saved Jews. One critic of the award is that it only honours Non-Jews as rescuers, what tends to oversee that Jews often also rescued other Jews and that also Jews who survived were not passive but contributed very actively to their own survival and can also be considered as „silent heroes“


Nicolas Moll

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