The stories of those who sheltered and rescued the Jews during World War II teach man that force is not the only response to evil in the world. As a combat soldier in the Second World War, Dr. Philip Hallie believed that weapons and a sheer force of arms were the exclusive tools needed to defeat the Nazi Empire and thus stop the murder of millions of innocent victims of the war. Long after the war, while researching the lives of those who survived the Holocaust, he came to the conclusion that "Goodness without rancor toward anyone can save lives as surely as guns can. And it requires at least as much courage as a military attack" (Hallie 4). Just as the Allied Forces battled the Nazi military, single human beings battled the evil ideology of Hitler's proposed Final Solution. Their victory is equally important to the lesson of history that is World War II. Thus, it has not one nation or one army or even one political organization that was responsible for sheltering and saving European Jews during the Holocaust, but rather individuals who chose to stand bravely against a force not more powerful and evil than history could ever imagine.
A famous quote by Lord Acton states that "All that is needed for the triumph of evil is that good people be silent" (O'Malley 263). The Holocaust bears witness to the truth of this statement. While the murderess forces of the Nazi regime swarmed down upon the Jews throughout Europe, countless individuals in European society chose to remain silent and did nothing to aid the victims of Nazi persecution. In their silence, they abandoned their fellow man and became an accomplice to evil. There were choices, however, other than passive acceptance or complicity. There were individuals who chose to shelter and rescue their fellow man. There were humans who had the spirit to resist evil, and they were a witness to the goodness in humanity during the darkest period in history. Elie Wiesel concurs with this assumption:
One such person who had the courage to care was Anna Somaite. IT was to the Vilna Ghetto that Anna came to fight her own personal battle against the Nazis. She was a non-Jew whose capacity to love and sacrifice should never be forgotten. Anna was a librarian at Vilna University when the war broke out. She could have remained silent about the destruction of the Jews. Instead, she decided to enter the ghetto to offer her assistance (Silver 113). Using the excuse that she wanted to gather up the many valuable books Jewish students had borrowed from her library, she persuaded Germans to giver her a pass. Once inside the ghetto, she was astonished by the activities around her. She found Jews staging plays, conducting concerts, running schools, attending lecturers and art exhibits. Here were a people sentenced to death by starvation and torture and deportation, yet they spent their remaining hours celebrating life. She knew that she must help. Anna worked out several ways to save Jewish lives. She urged people to risk taking in adult Jews whose escape from the ghetto could be arranged, and she found hiding places for Jewish children outside the ghetto. She gathered forged identity papers and smuggled out letters from leaders of the underground. Anna used her own ration cards to buy herself potatoes and cabbage, and then she gave the rest to the ghetto children. When the ghetto Jews prepared to make a last stand against the Nazis, she smuggled in small arms and ammunition. With each such act, Anna Simaite came one step closer to death (Silver 114). Finally, in the summer of 1944, she was arrested by the Gestapo for forging Aryan papers for a ten year old girl. They beat her, starved her, and tortured her. Despite this cruelty, she betrayed no secrets and was sentenced to death. Friends at the university, however, bribed a high Nazis official to lessen her sentence. She was shipped to the camp at Dachau, and then to another one in southern France. There, close to death, she was liberated by the Allied Armies. Before she died, she had these words to offer:
While Nazi doctors performed unspeakable, inhumane experiments on their Jewish victims confined to concentration camps, doctors in another German occupied town chose to act on behalf of the Jews. In Bratislava, a loose network of Slovakian doctors conspired with the resistance to rescue Jews and other fugitives. One of the most ingenious was a professor of urology, Dr. Joseph Jaksy, who treated dozens of patients whose only sickness was their presence on the Nazi hit list. As many as sixteen at a time slept in the ward and were given daily, but harmless injections. Dr. Jaksy sheltered a sixty year old woman for three years. She locked herself in a bathroom all day, coming out only at night. When Allied pilots who had been shot down were brought to him, the doctor put their jaws in casts so that they would not be able to speak if they were intercepted while being smuggled out of the country. His most daring feet was to hid a Jew n an operating room. Dr. Jaksy administered an anesthetic and opened the man's stomach, then told the German's that it was impossible to take a patient off the table in the middle of an operation. By the time they came back for him, the man had been whisked to safety (Silver 127).
The doctor also exploited his position as the personal physician of the may or Bratslavia to smuggle food into Jews hiding in Vienna. Early in the war, Dr. Jaksy helped his wife, a Jew, to flee to Switzerland. The professor's chief assistant and fellow conspirator was Dr. Juraj Csiky. For almost half a century, neither the professor nor his assistant talked about their rescue missions. It was in New York City where a psychotherapist first heard his story. When she urged him to put his experiences on record, he replied, "Wouldn't you do this for your neighbor?" She sensed t hat he felt it was almost shameful to talk about his rescue efforts. Dr. Jaksy died in 1991, three months after being honored by both Israel and the state of New York. Another woman came across Dr. Csiky in 1988 while on a visit to Bratslava. "What I did," he wrote to her, "I did in my role as a doctor and out of my feelings as a human being" (Silver 1928).
Finally, in a small classroom at John Carroll High School in February of 1996, Mr. Peter Feigl bore witness to the goodness and bravery of the rescuers. Mr. Feigl, a Holocaust survivor, was sheltered as an adolescent in the French village of Le Chambon. Although his own parents and millions of other Jews were consumed in the hell-fires of the Holocaust, he is alive because the good people of Le Chambon chose to act. Amazingly, the people of this small French hamlet were responsible for sheltering and saving over 5,000 lives during the Nazi occupation of France (Feigl).
Simaite, Sheptitsky, Jaksy, and the good people of Le Chambon were joined by Shindler, Wallenberg, and other heroic individuals who risked their lives in order to battle the forces of evil. These individuals used no weapons or means of destruction in their contribution to the war. They simply felt compassion and saved lives. To feel such compassion is to suffer with another. If one is a bystander, he does not bear the degree of kind of suffering, but he is able to imagine another's pain. That feeling, however, may not move an individual to action; it may not prompt one to do something to lessen the other person's pain or save that person from the situation causing the suffering. What brings about action is conscience. In the time of the Holocaust, it was this ability to respond to acts of evil that made attempts at rescue possible. The rescuers made a moral judgment about the evil deeds and events they confronted, and then they acted. They felt compassion for the suffering of others, and that compassion forced them to stand up to the face of evil. They are--all of them--human spirits whose lives witness the truth that there is an alternative to the passive acceptance of evil. Eile Wiesel believes that their choice for humanity was a choice for life in the midst of death:
Feigl, Peter. Interview. 7 February 1996.
Hallie, Dr. Philip. "Rescue and Goodness." Rescue and Goodness:
Reflections on the Holocaust. Washington D.C.:
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1993.
Meltzer, Milton. Rescue: The Story of How Gentiles Saved
Jews in the Holocaust. New York: Harper, 1988.
O'Malley, William J. Building Your Own Conscience. Allen:
Rittner, Carol R. S. M., and Sondra Myers, Eds. The Courage
to Care: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust. New York:
University Press, 1989.
Silver, Eric. The Book of the Just. New York: Grove, 1992.
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