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The Courage to Care

The Courage to Care

Carol Rittner
Sondra Myers Editors
Copyright Date: 1986
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    The Courage to Care
    Book Description:

    The extraordinary story of a few non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue and protect Jews from Nazi persecution in Europe during World War II is told in The Courage to Care. It features the first person accounts of rescuers and of survivors whose stories address the basic issue of individual responsibility: the notion that one person can act - and that those actions can make a difference. These rescuers are true heroes, but modest ones. They did a thousand ordinary things - opening doors, hiding and feeding strangers, keeping secrets - in an extraordinary time. For this, they are known as "Righteous Among the Nations of the World." The rescuers and survivors are from many countries in Europe - Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, France, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany - and they tell their stories with simplicity and dignity. Each story is interwoven with old snapshots of rescuers and survivors, their homes, their hiding places, and the communities in which they lived. Noted author, teacher, and human rights activist, Elie Wiesel, helps us to ask: "what made these people different?" He points out how those who helped Jews during the Holocaust "changed history" by their actions. The Courage to Care reminds readers of the power of individual action. This compelling book is the companion volume to the award-winning film, The Courage to Care, and includes the personal narratives of the same persons in the film and many others.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6945-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)

    In those times there was darkness everywhere. In heaven and on earth, all the gates of compassion seemed to have been closed. The killer killed and the Jews died and the outside world adopted an attitude either of complicity or of indifference. Only a few had the courage to care.

    These few men and women were vulnerable, afraid, helpless—what made them different from their fellow citizens? What compelled them to disregard danger and torture—even death—and choose humanity? What moved them to put their lives in jeopardy for the sake of saving one Jewish child, one Jewish mother?...

    (pp. xiii-xv)
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION The Righteous Rescuers
    (pp. 1-16)

    Each one of theHasidei Umot HaOlam, “Righteous Among the Nations of the World,” saved an individual or individuals who were precious and unique, as all people are. The people who saved others also deserve respect for their own uniqueness. One must speak with diffidence of the righteous rescuers; we do not know much about most of them. What we have, mainly, are anecdotal accounts and, truthfully, not many of them. Obviously, there cannot have been a large number of rescuers. We know this is so because the evil forces unleashed in the Holocaust swallowed up many of them; besides,...

  7. Stories of Rescue

      (pp. 18-23)

      My parents emigrated from Poland to France. Although they were quite poor, working-class people, they were politically conscious, having left Poland for political reasons in the late 1920s. As an only child, I was fussed over a great deal by my parents and others. I remember that life seemed very busy and cheerful. There were many friends who would come to visit my parents and lots of picnicking. It was a good life, until the war started.

      My father joined the army in 1939. Almost immediately, he became a prisoner of war. My mother and I lived in an apartment...

      (pp. 24-27)

      I was brought up in a very strict Christian home. When my two sisters and I did something wrong, we were severely punished. When we did something right, we didn’t hear a word about it, because doing right was considered a normal thing. That’s why we still don’t think what we did in the war was a big deal. We don’t like to be called heroes. Even the words “Righteous Gentile” rub me a bit the wrong way. To be honest, I don’t feel very “righteous” and I don’t feel very “gentile.”

      I want to reflect a moment on the...

      (pp. 28-33)

      On May 10,1940, the German Army invaded the Netherlands. The invasion was a surprise. During World War I the Netherlands had managed to maintain its neutrality, and we hoped to be able to do that again. I was living in Nymegen, close to the German border and awoke very early in the morning to the drone of numerous aircraft flying overhead, and Germans on motorcycles lining the street. It was clear that the planes were not engaged in one of their regular raids on England, but that we were being attacked. It was a miracle that the Dutch held out...

      (pp. 34-37)

      I was born in Germany. As a youth, I was active in the movement called in Holland “Palestine Pioneers,” young people who trained to go to what was then Palestine as builders and workers.

      We young German Jews were put into the concentration camp Buchenwald in 1938. We were liberated from Buchenwald through the grace of the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina, who admitted about two hundred boys and girls into Holland, on the condition that they would work with farmers for further training. Shortly afterwards, of course, the Nazis invaded Holland, and we were caught again.

      The question that faced us...

      (pp. 38-43)

      Hermann Graebe: I am an engineer by profession. In the late 1930s and during the war, I worked for the Josef Jung construction firm of Solingen, Germany, doing mostly housing projects but also, after September 1939, building bunkers on the fortification line on Germany’s western border (“West Wall”). The fortification construction was done under the general direction of the Organization Todt. This organization recognized that I had a talent for organizing and supervising people, so when Germany invaded Russia on June 22, 1941, I received a telegram from the Berlin office of the Todt organization instructing me to report to...

      (pp. 44-51)

      In my house a Polish girl, a woman, wasn’t expected to be involved with politics. We were prepared to be married, to be good wives and good mothers, so I really wasn’t affected by political issues or anti-Semitism. Besides, I did not have that in my home.

      My mother was just the most wonderful woman, a saint. She was a woman with very little education. When she was only a little girl, her father was killed and she was left to raise her brother and sister. She probably taught me more than anything else to keep my heart, my hands,...

      (pp. 52-57)

      I am a survivor of the Nazis’ efforts to exterminate the Jews. There were many people who worked diligently to make me suffer and who hoped that I would perish. But, due to my own efforts and the help and courage of a few people who were willing to risk their lives for the sake of my survival, I am alive.

      Before the war began in 1939, I lived with my family in a small town not far from Krakow, Poland. My parents were both successful dentists. Our life was comfortable, even upper-middle class. My parents were well educated. We...

      (pp. 58-65)

      My family was Dutch and Christian. Even when we were quite young, my parents always encouraged us, my sisters and me, to read the Bible and to believe that love was the aim of our lives. My mother and father taught us that Moses got the instruction from God that tells us “to love our neighbors as ourselves.” And we also knew from the Bible that Jesus Christ, who was Himself a Jew, had said that the greatest commandment was “to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Both at home and at school, our education was directed...

      (pp. 66-73)

      I belong to all those people who do not want to understand how it was possible for the Holocaust to occur. For the last 40 years, I have worked with children, and I have studied the separation of children from their families. Still, it is difficult for me to speak about the four years of the German occupation when I lived and worked with many Jewish children in France. How did they manage to cope with their fears and sorrows? How were they able to endure the forced separation from their mothers and fathers?

      France has a very ancient Jewish...

      (pp. 74-77)

      I was sixteen in 1941 when I fled with my parents from the capital of Croatia. Croatia was then a satellite fascist state which began a terror against Jews. We escaped initial deportation and tried to reach the Italian occupation zone in Yugoslavia, but we had no knowledge of how the Italians would receive us. We did not know the Italian language, but simply on the blind faith that it would be better than to flee toward the Germans, we tried to cross the border. The train that we were travelling on got stuck, and we were ordered from the...

      (pp. 78-81)

      My father was the president of the Burgas Jewish community on the Black Sea, which meant that he received all the official mail directed to the Jewish community. In January 1943, he received, in error, a telegram addressed to the commissar of Jewish affairs in Burgas from the commissar of Jewish affairs in Sofia, the person in charge of the commissariat created by the secretary of the interior. The mailman, who was not smart enough to know that there was a commissar of Jewish affairs as well as a president of the Jewish community, gave the telegram to my father...

      (pp. 82-85)

      On October 25,1942, late in the evening, the telephone rang in the home of Mrs. Sigrid Helliesen Lund, a Norwegian lady known for her activities in the Nansen Committee and with other humanistic, antimilitary organizations. A deep, obviously distorted male voice said, “This is from the police. There will be a large party tomorrow morning, but only the big parcels will be collected.” And then the receiver was put down. Party was understood immediately, being a name for the Gestapo action in Noway, while the other details were more enigmatic.

      After some deliberation, it became clear that the Gestapo was...

      (pp. 86-89)

      The German invasion of April 1940 left the Danish people in a paralyzing state of despair, frustration, anger, and shame. These were feelings that continued for nearly a year, into 1941. One must understand that Denmark was a split country which had not yet recovered from the economic and social problems of the thirties. On top of that was the Nazi occupation which meant, of course, that Denmark had lost its freedom.

      In 1941, we Danes experienced a national reunion of political parties and social groups, all of whom gradually realized their common cultural heritage and their common goal: national...

      (pp. 90-96)

      I will never forget it. It is still as vivid in my memory as if it were yesterday. The moments of unspeakable terror as well as the kind and warm social support network of the Danes, friends and strangers alike.

      I had just had my Bar Mitzvah in June of 1943. Though the luncheon celebration that followed my performance in the synagogue was not as sumptuous as that of my older brother’s two years earlier, it was nevertheless a happy event. I even received a few fountain pens, some religious books and a shiny large police flashlight. To finally become...

  8. Le Chambon

    • Introduction
      (pp. 99-99)
      Pierre Sauvage

      Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is situated on a high plateau surrounded by rugged mountains in south-central France. It is a place where the winters are very long and very cold. But there, in that little village, during World War II, the climate of the heart was warm, for it was in Le Chambon that people fleeing from the Nazis were welcome and found a place of refuge. Adults as well as children were cared for by people in the village and by peasants from the surrounding countryside. Jewish children taken from internment camps like Gurs and Rivesaltes, were hidden and helped by...

      (pp. 100-107)

      My husband, André Trocmé, was a Protestant minister. During the war, we lived with our four children in the small village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in central France. People were content to be there, and we were happy to be able to take care of them, although it was the first time that we lived among peasants. Previously, we had lived in a city, but we appreciated this change, because it is always interesting to get to know different people.

      The village of Le Chambon was a Protestant one, with a big church. On Sundays the sermon was something very important,...

    • Major Julius Schmahling
      (pp. 108-115)

      I want to tell you about a certain German army officer who, while being dutiful, and even efficient, in Hitler’s military managed to save the lives of many people in the mountains of southern France. He was a good man who was part of an evil cause, and so his story is paradoxical at its very center. First, I want to give you a-context in which you can understand this paradoxical man.

      After having spent a large part of my adult life studying the evil perpetuated by the German nation between 1933 and 1945, I found it necessary for my...

    • Three Survivors:
      (pp. 116-120)
      Hans Solomon, Hanne Liebmann and Rudy Appel

      Hans Solomon: I arrived in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon on Friday, the 13th, which was, thank God, a golden Friday instead of a black Friday. We were roughly 40 students, mixed—Jews and non-Jews. Half were non-Jewish boys and the other half were Jewish boys liberated from concentration camps, mostly the Camp de Rivesaltes and the Camp de Gurs. These camps were not extermination camps like Auschwitz and Buchenwald, but the conditions were extremely bad. Starvation was the main thing that killed people, and it was very common.

      At first, in Le Chambon, we Jewish boys kept to ourselves. We remained quite...

  9. Reflections

    • Why Were There So Few?
      (pp. 122-125)

      I am going to tell you a story. It happened in May 1944, somewhere in Eastern Europe. A ghetto entered the last phase of its brief, convulsive existence. Transports. Deportation. Destination unknown. I remember the unique destiny of that evening, the quietness that hung over the ghetto in secret turmoil, the 30 to 40 neighbors gathering in our courtyard, and their whispers, “Where are we going? For what purpose?”

      We were the last living Jews in occupied Europe, and we had never heard of Treblinka and Birkenau, but we felt the threat. Somebody was knocking at the window facing the...

    • Examples of Heroism
      (pp. 126-133)
      Moshe Bejski

      There is a Talmudic saying that whoever saves one life, it is as if he saved the entire world. These are the words engraved on the medal that Yad Vashem presents to those found deserving of the title, “Righteous Among the Nations.” For 30 years we at Yad Vashem have been searching out these selfless people who, on their own initiative and following the dictates of their consciences, came to the aid of their fellow human beings. By their actions they saved not only the tormented Jews whom they took under their protection, but also the honor of all humankind....

    • Ten Questions
      (pp. 134-141)
      Pierre Sauvage

      One day, 50 years ago, a young French pastor arrived with his wife and children in what seemed to these cosmopolitan city people a rather sleepy mountain community.

      The new parish had, however, one promising feature. The pastor, André Trocmé, in a letter to an American friend, dated September 19, 1934, described the village of Le Chambon in France:

      Here, the old Huguenot spirit is alive. The humblest peasant home has its Bible, and the father reads it every day. So these people, who do not read the papers but the Scriptures, do not stand on the moving soil of...

    • They Could Do No Other
      (pp. 142-147)
      Robert McAfee Brown

      As a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, I was privileged to visit Europe in 1979 with other members of the Council, to get ideas for an appropriate Holocaust memorial in the United States. We visited Warsaw and Treblinka, Auschwitz and Birkenau, Kiev and Babi-Yar, and Moscow. Our final destination was Israel.

      During the early part of the trip, in both Poland and Russia, we saw monuments, but they were all monuments of dead stone, reminding us of human degradation. In Denmark, however, we encountered monuments of living flesh that testified to the power of human goodness. These...

    • The Courage to Care
      (pp. 148-154)
      Shlomo Breznitz

      Courage is never alone, for it has fear as its ever-present companion. An act deserves to be called courageous if, and only if, it is performed in spite of fear. The greater the fear, the more courageous the action that defies it. Thus, it is only when fear and anxiety rule supreme that courage can truly assert itself.

      But how is it possible to act on a decent principle? How can one expect to overcome the urge for self-protection and safety? And why should a person wish to do so in the first place? Emotions are often viewed as the...

  10. INDEX
    (pp. 155-157)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 158-163)