Many of the most well-known stories from the Holocaust are stories of rescue. From Oskar Schindler in Germany and Sir Nicholas Winton of the United Kingdom to Irena Sendler in Poland, those who helped save Jews between 1933 and 1945 are not only honored for their actions but hold special places in popular culture through beloved films, books, and even music.
The groups and individuals who took part in rescue efforts during the Holocaust came from various backgrounds, belief systems, cultures, and social classes. Despite such variables, they all participated or aided in rescue efforts at great risk to their own lives, the well-being of their families, and sometimes the safety of their community.
Acts of rescue ranged from simple acts to complex missions, including but not limited to: issuing visas, throwing food over the ghetto wall, providing a place to hide, falsifying ID papers, sharing rations, or establishing schools for refugee children.
Without question, these heroic narratives in Holocaust history deserve recognition. It is important to remember, however, that these acts of rescue were performed by “a brave minority.” An emphasis on stories of rescue can misrepresent the reality of this period in history. Only a tiny percentage of the people targeted for annihilation by the Nazis were rescued. Of the dozens of countries occupied by Nazi Germany, Denmark was the only one to actively resist the Nazi regime’s attempt to deport its Jewish citizens.
Most individuals in occupied Europe did not actively collaborate in Nazi genocide. Nor did they do anything to help Jews and other victims of Nazi policies.”
-United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
You can learn more about two stories of rescue by visiting the Anne Frank in the World exhibit on September 20 for a free screening of the film Weapons of the Spirit. This documentary tells the true story of the village of Le Chambon-sur Lignon where 5,000 French Christians provided food and shelter for 5,000 Jews. The film is written, produced and narrated by Pierre Sauvage who was born and sheltered in Le Chambon.
Then tour the exhibit that tells the story of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who hid with her family in an apartment, often referred to as the Secret Annex, in Amsterdam. Admission is free. Click here for hours and directions.
Those people were in need. And I could help them. You don’t say no to that, do you? I wanted to fulfill my human obligation.”
-Miep Gies, one of 5 people who helped the 8 inhabitants of the Secret Annex
Sources and Further Reading
- Animated Map: Rescue
- From Image to Rescue: The Gavra Mandil Collection (Curator’s Corner #2)
- Historical Film Footage: US Quakers Aid Children in Defeated France
- Holocaust Encyclopedia: Rescue
- Irena Sendler, Lifeline to Young Jews, Is Dead at 98
- Le Chambon-sur-Lignon
- Nicholas Winton and the Rescue of Children from Czechoslovakia, 1938-1939
- Oskar Schindler
- Rescue in Denmark