"Righteous Among the Nations": Historical & Legal Classification
The primary purpose of the law that established Yad Vashem was to create a memorial to commemorate and perpetuate the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Yet, an additional stipulation in the law required Yad Vashem to honor "the Righteous Among the Nations who risked their lives to save Jews."
Who is considered a "Righteous Among the Nations?"
Since 1963, a commission, headed by an Israeli Supreme Court justice has been charged with the duty of awarding the title "Righteous among the Nations."
The commission is guided in its work by certain criteria and meticulously studies all pertinent documentation, including evidence by survivors and other eyewitnesses.
In order to arrive at a fair evaluation of the rescuer's deeds and motivations, the commission takes into consideration all the circumstances relevant to the rescue story, including the following:
How the original contact was made between the rescuer and the rescued.
- A description of the aid extended.
- Whether any material compensation was paid in return for the aid, and, if so, in what amount.
- The dangers and risks faced by the rescuer at the time.
- The rescuer's motivations, in so far as this is ascertainable; e.g., friendship, altruism, religious belief, humanitarian considerations, or others.
- The availability of evidence from the rescued persons (an almost indispensable precondition for the purpose of this program).
- Other relevant data and pertinent documentation that might shed light on the authenticity and uniqueness of the story.
In general, when the data on hand clearly demonstrates that a non-Jewish person risked his (or her) life, freedom, and safety in order to rescue one or several Jews from the threat of death or deportation to death camps without exacting in advance monetary compensation, this qualifies the rescuer for serious consideration to be awarded the "Righteous Among the Nations" title. This applies equally to rescuers who have since passed away.
Awarding the Title
A person recognized as a "Righteous Among the Nations" is awarded a specially minted medal bearing his name, a certificate of honor, and the privilege of his (or her) name being added to those on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. (The last is in lieu of a tree planting, which was discontinued for lack of space.)
The awards are distributed to the rescuers or their next of kin in moving ceremonies in Israel or in their countries of residence through the good offices of Israel's diplomatic representatives. These ceremonies are attended by local government representatives and are given wide media coverage.
To date, more than 16,000 men and women have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations [listing by country includes just under 16,000]. This figure includes family members who shared in the rescue of Jews and represents more than 7,500 authenticated rescue stories. Yad Vashem's policy is to pursue the program for as long as petitions for this title are received and are supported by solid evidence that meets the criteria.
For the time being, queries regarding the "Righteous Among the Nations" may be handled best by regular mail or fax. Please include your regular mailing address and fax number (if applicable) with your query. Address all correspondence to:
Righteous Among the Nations
Sources: Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum