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.