The book is thick and heavy, dense with profiles. By their sheer number, they give you hope for humankind.
"The Righteous Among Nations" contains 400 tales of bravery, and these are only a small sample of the 21,300 stories of men and women who were not Jewish but who did what they could to save the lives of Jews during World War II and who have since been honored as righteous by the Israelis.
Sunday marks Holocaust Remembrance Day. The day was recognized Friday with a ceremony at the Salt Lake City Main Library, and schools and other organizations are sponsoring activities this month around the state.
The profiles in this book were researched and transcribed by Mordecai Paldiel, director of the Department for the Righteous at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem.
Paldiel chronicles the valor of dozens of nuns and priests Catholics as well as every stripe of Orthodoxy. He tells of Princess Alice of Greece who hid her friends, and of a Belgian blacksmith whose daughter kept bringing him Jewish children to hide, and of an anonymous Moldavian who stood up to his entire village when everyone else wanted to rob and kill a family of escaping Jews.
In "The Righteous Among Nations" you read about the five friends who tried to save Anne Frank. You read about a Lithuanian farmer who saved an 8-year-old, a child who grew up to be president of the Supreme Court of Israel. You read about a Dutch woman named Tina Strobos-Buchter, who was arrested several times and was thrown against a wall and threatened and who never gave up the people she was hiding because she said, "I never believed in God, but I believed in the sacredness of life."
The profile of Feng Shan Ho confirms how much more our own government could have done. Ho was a Chinese diplomat, a Christian, stationed in Vienna. While other countries tightened their restrictions, Ho gave out visas to Shanghai to everyone who asked. At the time Shanghai was under Japanese rule, thus Ho knew, as he wrote the visas, that the Jews who took them would be jumping ship somewhere else. Still he kept writing out visas, even after his supervising ambassador told him to stop. He saved perhaps 500 lives.
As you read, you'll be annoyed by a few of the details. You are told too often that a certain hero did not benefit financially from housing a family. The quotes tend to be too obvious, as when an 83-year-old Polish man meets the son of someone he rescued and says, "If I hadn't saved your father, you wouldn't be here today."
And one other complaint about the book: You expect fewer typographical errors in something this expensive.
Still, if you are seeking the sweep of history, you'll find it here. If you want to be amazed by the bravery of ordinary people, you could open this book at random. And if you did that, you might come across the tribute to Teresa Kozminska and Jerzy and Karol Kozminski, of Poland:
With fighting raging close by, between Germans and Jews, Samuel Glazer's group of fleeing Jews stole out of the burning Warsaw ghetto and began to make their way to the home of persons who had promised them help. ... Fortunately for the Glazers, they had met a youthful Polish lad who, like some others, had occasionally stolen into the ghetto to barter with the local population much-needed food for the starving people in return for goods no longer considered absolutely necessities. Seventeen-year-old Jerzy Kozminski was one of these audacious Polish youth (sic) , known by the Glazers ...
On April 18, 1943, on the eve of the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, Jerzy was again on one of his rounds ... the Glazers urged Jerzy to flee, "We are Jews and we are doomed to die; however, you do not have to risk your life ..." (Jerzy) told them his father was an engineer and was married to a much younger woman, Jerzy's stepmother, named Teresa adding that she was a decent and courageous person. If the Glazers were to save themselves from the ghetto, surely his family would hide them with them.
The story continues with 14 Glazers showing up at the home of the Kozminskis, who expected fewer people. The two families dug an underground shaft and the Glazers waited out more than another year of war in their earthen tunnel, joined by a half-dozen more people whom the Kozminskis had decided to save.
One of those in hiding was a watchmaker and in the end he taught several others how to repair watches. Teresa kept the group fed by bringing home broken watches from a local shop to her "sick uncle," who, she told people, was unable to leave the house but who was a good repairman. Meanwhile, Jerzy was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. (He survived.)
In the summer of 1944, as the Russians advanced, the Kozminskis' neighborhood became a war zone and the Germans ordered it evacuated. Teresa's husband and father left. She took her 2-year-old child with her into hiding in the shaft, because, as she told her hide-aways, "If I leave you, you are lost." She was able to sneak out, occasionally, and obtain enough food to keep the group from starving.
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