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Many Jews (and even non-Jews) are preoccupied with the nightmare of the Holocaust. In one sense, that obsession is understandable; what took place, its horrors, exceed the imagination. I also believe that anti-Semitism is still a danger to the survival of the Jewish people.
At the same time, that period during WWII demonstrated the courage of many people who were prepared to rescue the Jews, even at the risk of their own lives. People like Oskar Schindler and Corrie Ten Boom are probably two of the best-known people who saved the Jews from certain death. But the museum at Yad Vashem in Israel has memorialized 26,500 people, who also aided Jews; they are called the Righteous Among the Nations. Here’s one story of one family’s courage:
In 1925, Alexander Weber converted to Judaism. A year later, he married Lina Banda, a Jewish woman from Hungary. The couple moved to Berlin, where they raised their seven children. In their building, at 48 Dragonerstrasse Street, was a shop rented by a farmer named Arthur Schmidt. Schmidt used the shop to store the fruit and vegetables he brought from his farm in Worin, Brandenburg.
In March 1943, the Weber family was arrested. Alexander and the children were released at the beginning of the summer, and when Alexander began to look for a safe place for his children, Arthur and Paula Schmidt offered to take the children to Worin and shelter them there. For almost two years, the Schmidt couple cared for the children, sharing their food with them. Only the mayor of Worin knew the children’s true identity.
Lina Weber was deported to Auschwitz in December 1943, where she was murdered. After the war, the Weber children immigrated to the United States, where they were later joined by their father.
On May 26, 2015, Yad Vashem recognized Arthur and Paula Schmidt as Righteous Among the Nations. The Schmidt family is the 601st family to be recognized from Germany.
When I read these stories, I am always in awe of those people who made the decision to help. I didn’t know until I researched for this post that over 26,000 heroes had been so honored; that means that there were probably many more people who stepped up to help and will remain anonymous. What made them take action? Where did they find the courage to defy their nation and their neighbors?
One factor that I do find reassuring: even though I am concerned about the growth of anti-Semitism, I am convinced by these examples of over 70 years ago that in these times, there will be people who will not stand by and watch the Jews destroyed. They will join us in saying, “Never Again.”
Addendum: I just finished reading an essay by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and his commentary on a true hero of the Torah: Pharoah’s daughter, who rescued the baby in the basket caught in the reeds. She was a righteous gentile. She saved the baby’s life. She called him Moses.