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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Righteous among the Nations

If you ever despair of the possibilities for humanity set some time aside to read some of the accounts of the Righteous among the Nations, the Righteous Gentiles. These are those people know (.and unknown) who are recognized by Israel and the Jewish community for their efforts to aid Jews during the Holocaust.

When I was very young and my mother told me of the Holocaust I never could find an answer to the question, "Why didn't people do something to help the Jews?" Well some did, I learned later in life, but too few, . . . .far, far too few. This is part of our collective shame. We must always be asking ourselves, if we could have . . . .would we have? It is inspiring to read of those who could and did.

We have come to know of a few of them in popular culture. Schindler, Wallenberg, Bonhoeffer, the family who hid Anne Frank's family. In all, about 11,000 are know and recognized. They come from many Nations, many religious and many classes. 6000 are Poles, 3 are Americans and Canada is not represented. This, of course, reflects the opportunities at hand. I find the Netherlands numbers disproportionate for the size of the country.

My fascination with Righeous Gentiles came to mind the other day when I heard a tribute on Polish International Radio to Irena Sendler who recently died. She was a Polish welfare worker who had access to the Warsaw Ghetto in her work, She was responsible for saving about 2,500 Jewish children, as with most Righteous of the Nation, she was at risk of losing her life at the hands of the Nazis. After the war she dug up the names she hid in jars in the ground and worked to reunite the children with their relatives, most of whom died in the concentration camps. Read her story, it is inspiring.

There are so many such stories that can renew your faith in humanity. Here are a few that moved me.

Jan Karski. He was Pole who after escaping from the Russian took it upon himself to sneek into a Nazi Concentration Camp in 1942 and witness the beginning of mass exterminations of Jews. He came to be known as the man who tried to stop the Holocaust. He travelled to Britain and American and told offcials what was going on. He even spoke with Franklin Roosevelt. Unfortunately, his information did not inspire any heroic efforts to stop the Holocaust. He story put the lie to the popular myth that the Allies did not know about the Holocaust until the end of the war. Karski came to live in the US and taught for years at Georgetown University. He was truly a remarkable man.

Le Chambon. This is the story of a whole French Huguenot town (I didn't even know theire were such protestant towns in France) in southern France who saved many Jews. Their Pastor told them it was their Christian duty to help their neighbours. They did as a community. Such an amazing witness of Faith is remarkable. You must remember most of the religious community in Europe did not resist the Nazis, some including the powerful official Catholic church actually cooperated. In Germany, only the Confessing Church resisted. Religious institutions too often fall in line with the State in the face of evil, as they do to this day. The lessons of history are never learned. This makes the story of Le Champon-sur-Lignon quite remarkable and unique.

Martha and Waistill Sharpe. I was surprised to find the Sharpes listed as two of only three Americans recognized as Righteous Gentiles. I knew Waitstill Sharpe and yet I didn't know of his wartime heroics. Waitstill was a colleague when I lived in the Connecticut Valley District. He was a Unitarian minister. When I knew him he was a older minister serving, in retirement, a small parish. I knew he had worked with the Unitarian Service Committee aiding refugees but I always thought it was after the war. When I was a fresh minted minister, I judged him to be a kind of old fuddy-duddy of a minister. What a shame for me. Now I wish I had gotten to know him better and held him in higher esteem.

He and his wife began by going to Prague, Czechoslovakia to help Jews escape thr Nazis. When this became too risky they went to Spain and helped leading Jewish intellectuals escape from occupied France. This was done at great personal risk and heroism. It is only relatively recently that the Sharpes' wartime efforts on behalf of Jews were recognized. Their's is a remarkable tale.

There are so many wonderful stories of humanity at it's best among the Righteous. Theres stories should be taught in church and public school so they may be know. On occasion they have been to the enrichment of another generation of students.

I encourage everyone to take some time to read of the lives of these remarkable people, most have passed into history but their standard for humanity remains for us to learn, admire and emulate when called to do the Good.


At 6:55 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

I was almost blown away when I read about Waistill Sharp and his wife. I attended the Unitarian Universalist Church in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts in the 40's and he was the minister. None of us (from what I remember) had any idea of their illustrious and heroic past. I do remember that a huge scandal arose when they separated and divorced. (How small we all were to revel in that garbage and not know of their combined heroics.)

At 6:46 a.m., Blogger Old Wom Tigley said...

I can not say I will read all but as most things you have pointed out here I have found either great interest in or my eyes have been opened... I will set time a side this week to read at least one account..


At 8:03 a.m., Blogger KGMom said...

Philip--thank you so much for reminding us of heroes in face of great tyranny.
The question of what any of us might do haunts me--I would like to think I would try to be one of the righteous ones. I suppose to be so one must always use a moral compass and steer for the right (not politically right but morally right) at all times.

At 7:30 p.m., Blogger Renie Burghardt said...

Thank you for this great post, and the list of names of these courageous people. I, too, will try to read some of them.

And I just read your beautiful tribute to your mother. I was inspired by both posts.



At 2:12 a.m., Blogger Gattina said...

That has been a question I always have looked for an answer ! Why did nobody help the jews ? not even the Vatican the so said Christians who should help others ?? and now it happens again, look in Birmanie people are dying AFTER the cathastophe because the government doesn't let helpers in ! What is done ?? they all sit there and wait ! Nobody has learned from history ! Look what happened in Kosovo not so long ago !

My greek guide was a lady in her 50th and did this job since a long time. She must have shares in the company that she is still there ! And the english speaking people in my group were mostly Canadians, lol ! There were only 5 Americans.

At 10:10 a.m., Blogger possum said...

On the other side of the coin, google Bush fortune or Bush nazi and find out where the Bush money came from. Ain't history interesting? (pardon the vernacular.....) Thank god that for all the rotten, greedy, dispicable rats out there, there are some who understand what LIFE is all about. Good post.

At 4:16 p.m., Blogger david santos said...

Good post, my fiend, good post.
have a nice week


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