More than 10 million people were killed during The Holocaust. In the midst of the horrors, brave people were willing to risk their lives for the sake of human decency. Here are 10 people who bravely saved Jews during The Holocaust.
In 1944, Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat arrived in Budapest, Hungary, to protect Hungarian Jews who had ties to Sweden. With Hitler accelerating the extermination of Jews, Wallenberg created documents with official-looking stamps and crests before distributing them to as many Jewish people as he could.
Raoul Wallenberg also established soup kitchens and hospitals, and employed Jewish people to work in them. He also took it upon himself to move Jews into blocks of flats, which flew the Swedish flag.
A brave hero, Raoul was responsible for intercepting Jews who were transported to death camps, and provided them with protective passports. His heroism saved the lives of over 100,000 people. He also inspired neutral Spanish and Swiss to follow in his footsteps.
Despite his many acts of bravery, no-one could protect Raoul from his mysterious fate. When the Russians liberated Budapest, he was arrested on suspicion of being a spy and was never seen again. All we know is he died in prison in 1947.
2. Dimitar Peshev
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Dimitar Peshev prevented 48,000 Jews from being deported from Bulgaria. In addition to being the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Bulgaria, he was also the Minister of Justice during the Second World War. Bulgaria’s plan was to deport Jewish people in occupied Macedonia and Thrace to death camps, as the country was a supporter of the Holocaust.
Peshev, along with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, was adamant that Bulgaria’s Jews would not be deported, despite the fact he had been involved in various anti-Semitic legislation prior to WWII. However, the government’s decision, which was made on 8th March 1943, proved too much for Dimitar Peshev, who attempted to speak to Prime Minister Bogdan Filov on numerous occasions, despite the leader’s refusal.
As a result, the Deputy Speaker spoke to Interior Minister Petur Gabrovski insisting he cancel the deportations. Thankfully, Gabrovski listened to Peshev, and cancelled the deportations at 5.30pm on 9th March 1943.
Once World War Two was over, the Soviet court charged Dimitar Peshev for anti-semitism and anti-communism, and he was sentenced to death.
The Jewish people, however, saved Dimitar Peshev’s life the same way he saved their lives, as their outcry resulted in his sentence being commuted to just 15 years imprisonment, and he was released after just one year.
Once released from prison, Dimitar Peshev lived in poverty for a number of years, and his brave act was unheard of – until 1973 when he was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations. He passed away the same year.
3. Janusz Korczak
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Janusz Korczak was famous before the start of WWII. In addition to being a Polish-Jewish doctor and educator, he also wrote the book How to Love Children, and founded an orphanage in his native Poland.
The lives of the orphans was turned upside down on 12th August 1942, as the orphanage received an order for all the children to be deported to camps. As doctors were still needed in Warsaw’s ghetto, Janusz was informed that he did not have to go. Refusing to leave “his" children, Janusc Korczak led the children to the cattle trucks, aware that his presence would keep them calm. The children, who each wore their best clothing and carried a toy, did not cry as they stepped on the trucks headed to the camp of Treblinka, as they knew the doctor was by their side. Tragically, Janusz Korczak and his children were never seen alive again.
4. Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz
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Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz may have been a member of the Nazi Party, but he helped save over 6,000 Jews. In 1943, the Nazis decided to round up the Danish Jews and transport them to concentration camps. Duckwitz, who was working as a special envoy to Nazi-occupied Denmark, chose to risk his successful career by making a secret visit to neutral Sweden.
During the visit, he managed to convince Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson to secretly smuggle Danish refugees into Sweden. Following the successful meeting, he returned to Denmark and notified Hans Hedtoft, a Danish politician, about the planned deportation. Hedtoft warned senior Rabbis about the plan and, as a result, 6,000 Jews were ferried by boat to Sweden over a period of two months.
Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz returned to his Nazi official duties, never disclosing his actions. Once the Second World War was over, he continued to work work as West Germany’s ambassador to Denmark. He passed away in 1973.
Thanks to his acts of bravery, it is estimated that Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz saved approximately 99% of Denmark’s Jews.
5. King Christian X of Denmark
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From 1940, Denmark was occupied by the Nazis. Despite their dominance, King Christian X of Denmark refused to adopt the Nazi’s anti-Semitic laws. For example, King Christian refused the introduction of the yellow star.
The Nazis, however, could not be stopped, and chose to round up Denmark’s Jews. Fortunately, the plan was leaked to the Danish government, and nearly every Jew was smuggled to safety in neutral Sweden. Sadly, 464 Danish Jews were caught and transported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.
King Christian X of Denmark did not forget about his people, as he urged the Germans to provide them with food and medicine. Eventually, Danish officials were granted permission to visit the camp, with one whispering to a prisoner: “I deliver the King’s most sincere regards. He is always thinking of you."
6. Miep Gies
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Anne Frank and her family may never have survived if it was not for the help of Miep Gies. The Frank family, the Herman Van Pels family and a man named Fritz Pfeffer were forced into hiding in the Secret Annex above Otto Frank’s office in May 1940.
Miep Gies, along with other close friends, was their only source of food and news from the outside world. Every day Miep would attempt to visit the Secret Annex, risking her life to protect her friends.
Despite her best efforts, an anonymous tip resulted in the arrest of all eight people hiding in the Secret Annex, and they were sent to concentration camps. Miep Gies recovered Anne Frank’s diary from the office, and presented the teenager’s accounts to the only survivor, Anne’s father, Otto Frank.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portugues Diplomat who defied his country’s laws to save war refugees from invading German forces. From 16th to 23rd June 1940, he issued 30,000 Portuguese visas to refugees who were desperate to escape Nazi Germany. 12,000 of whom were Jewish.
He first began printing the visas in 1939, but did not issue them until 1940, when neutral Portugal became allies with Germany. He and his friend, Rabbi Chaim Kruger, issued the visas to refugees who were waiting in line. On 23rd June, he travelled to the border of the town of Irun and physically raised the gate to allow passage into Spain.
Despite his best efforts, his plan was thwarted by Ambassador Teotonio Pereira who arrived in Irun and declared Mendes as mentally incompetent. He also invalidated any future visas. The next day, it was reported that approximately 10,000 refugees attempted to enter Spain but their visas were invalidated. Sousa Mendes still continued to issue visas but received a telegram on 24th June recalling him back to Portugal immediately. However, he did not arrive back in Portugal until 8th July.
While the refugees may have been trapped in occupied France, Aristides de Sousa Mendes saved them from a fate much worse in concentration camps. He lived in poverty until his death in 1954.
Frank Foley, a British Secret Service Agent, risked his life to save Jewish people who were threatened with death by the Nazis. As a Passport Control Officer, he would often bend the rules when issuing visas and stamping passports, allowing Jews to legally escape to Britain or Palestine, which was also controlled by the British.
He also risked his life by entering internment camps to help Jews escape. He would hide them in his home and help them forge passports. He is thought to have saved an estimated 10,000 Jews from the Holocaust.
9. Chiune Sugihara
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After the occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union, Chiune Sugihara, who was working as a Vice Consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania, helped approximately 6,000 Jewish people leave the country by issuing them with transit visas to Japan. Most of the Jews lucky to escape were Lithuanian residents or Polish refugees.
Chiune Sugihara issued the visas from 31st July to 30th August 1940, ignoring legal requirements and allowing visas for 10-day travel through Japan. This was a direct violation of his authority.
Despite his lack of authority, Chiune convinced Soviet officials to allow the refugees to travel through the country via the Trans-Siberian railway for five times the normal ticket price. For 18 to 20 hours per day, Chiune Sugihara wrote visas to refugees, producing a month’s worth of visas each day. He would often grant visas to the head of the household, ensuring their families could travel with them.
He was forced to leave his post on 4th September 1940, as the consulate was closed, but he had granted thousands of visas by this time. Witnesses later reported that he would often throw visas out of a train’s window, even as it pulled out of the station.
Once World War II came to end, Chiune returned to Japan, living in obscurity until 1985 when he was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations by Israel. He passed away the following year.
10. Hugh O’Flaherty
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Hugh O’Flaherty was an Irish Catholic Priest who used his status and protection by the Vatican to save 4,000 Allied soldiers and Jews in Rome during WWII. He concealed the Jews and soldiers in farms, convents and flats throughout the Second World War.
Protected by the Vatican, the Nazis were unable to arrest the caring priest, and so attempted to assassinate him. He survived the encounter and he, along with the Catholic Church, were responsible for saving the majority of Jews in Rome.
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