HOLOCAUST RESCUERS, JEWISH


Much attention has been paid to the non-Jews, around 20,000, recognized by *Yad Vashem as *Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives and, in most cases, the lives of their families and friends to rescue Jews who were fleeing the Nazis and earmarked for extermination. This recognition is correct and appropriate. However, what has been overlooked is that there were thousands and thousands of Jews who also acted during the Holocaust to rescue other Jews and arrange for them to be hidden or smuggled out of the country; or provided them with false identification papers so that they could pass as non-Jews. These efforts were often an organized response. In Bulgaria, Solidarite was active. Thousands of Jews survived thanks to this Jewish organization that found hiding places and arranged for false documents for Jews, many of whom were smuggled out of the country and sent to Palestine. In France, there was the Oeuvre des Secours aux Enfants, or the OSE, which saved over 7,000, mostly non-French Jewish children, by providing them with a place to live and with false papers so that they could either be hidden or smuggled out of France. The OSE even went into the French transit camps to take children from their parents just before the family was deported. In Holland, the leaders of the Jewish Council in Enschede, against the advice of the Amsterdam Jewish Council, began urging members of the community to resist the orders of the Germans to go to deportation sites and instead to go into hiding. Because they had financial and other resources to aid their community members, at the end of the war Enschede lost a smaller percentage of their members than the general Jewish population in the Netherlands. Five hundred Jews were saved.

On a second level, there were individual rescuers. Their stories are many and varied. There are stories like that of Malka Fugtazki of Lithuania, who rescued children from the Kovno ghetto by giving them sleeping pills and then tying the child to her body, and with the help of a Jewish guard at the gate, getting to a Lithuanian orphanage that took in the children. Malka was able to rescue 17 children that way. William Perl was a Jewish lawyer in Vienna, who was the leader of a group of Jews that began a rescue operation in 1937 and continued to save Jews for the next five years. He sent thousands of Jewish refugees in boats to Palestine. Bella Galperin saved Rosyln Kirkel by hiding her with her non-Jewish mother-in-law. In Lithuania, Dov Ber Gdud, who had been paying a peasant to hide him and his family, received a note from a friend saying that the friend was running out of money to pay the peasant that was hiding him and four others. Unhesitatingly Dov Ber gave his friend half of his money so that his friends could be saved. At the end of the occupation of Lithuania by the Germans, Dov Ber had only one coin left. If the war had gone on any longer Dov Ber and his family would not have been able to remain in hiding.

The most famous of the Jewish rescuers are Tuvia Bielski and his brothers, who lived by the rule that rescue and resistance must go hand in hand. The Bielskis took into their camp any Jew that could find their way into the forest, whether they were young or old, whether or not they had a weapon, and whether or not they could fight against the Germans. At the end of the war the Bielski group emerged from the forest with 1,200 people of all ages and in all physical conditions.

Jack Werber was born in Radom, Poland, but was deported to Buchenwald in 1939, soon after the German invasion of Poland. He spent the next five and a half years at Buchenwald. In August 1944, a large group of boys aged six to sixteen came in with a transport. Werber was certain that these children would be killed if they were transported elsewhere. He and a few other Jewish inmates were able to disperse the children throughout the camp, feeding, clothing, and hiding them as best they could. When Buchenwald was liberated in April 1945, Werber emerged from the camp with nearly 700 children, among them Elie *Wiesel and the future chief rabbi of Israel, Israel *Lau. Werber wrote: "Suffering great personal loss drove me in my obsession to save children. I saw each one of them as if he were my own."

These are only a few of the many, many examples of Jews who rescued other Jews during the Holocaust.

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.