Righteous Gentiles Among the Nations

When Yad VaShem, the Shoah Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, was established in 1953 by the Knesset, one of its tasks was to commemorate the Righteous Gentiles Among the Nations. The Righteous were defined as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Since 1963, a commission headed by the Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel has been charged with the duty of awarding the honorary title. Guided in its work by certain criteria, the commission meticulously studies all documentation including evidence by survivors and other eyewitnesses, evaluates the historical circumstances and the element of risk to the rescuer, and then decides if the case meets the criteria.

The award has been given without regard to the social rank of the helper. It has been given to royalty such as Princess Alice of Battenberg, Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, but also to others like the philosopher Jacques Ellul and to the department store employee Hendrika Gerritsen in Amsterdam.

A person who is recognized as Righteous for having taken risks to help Jews during the Holocaust is awarded a medal in their name, a certificate of honor, and the privilege of having their name added to those on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad VaShem. The awards are distributed to the rescuers or their next of kin during ceremonies in Israel, or in their countries of residence through the offices of Israel’s diplomatic representatives.

As of January 2021, a total of 27,921 men and women from fifty-one countries have been officially recognized for having risked their lives or their liberty and position to help the Jews during the Holocaust. The list of Righteous Among the Nations includes most of the European countries, such as Poland with 7,177, Netherlands with 5,910, France with 4,150, Ukraine with 2,673, Belgium with 1,774, and Lithuania with 918. The United States is listed with five Righteous having saved Jewish lives.

The symbol of the Righteous Among The Nations

At least 130 Righteous non-Jews have settled in Israel. They were welcomed by Israeli authorities and were granted citizenship. They are entitled to a pension, free health care, and assistance with housing and nursing care. Some Righteous Gentiles settled already in British Mandatory Palestine before Israel’s establishment and more came later.

The early comers often spoke fluent Hebrew and integrated well into Israeli society. The children and grandchildren of Righteous Gentiles are entitled to temporary residence status, but not to permanent Israeli citizenship.

Watchmaker in the Netherlands

Corrie Ten Boom committed years of her life to helping others. She met the criteria of a Righteous Gentile by having risked her life to save hundreds of Jewish people during the Holocaust. Corrie was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. She lost members of her family and endured the hardship of hiding from the Gestapo and local Dutch authorities.

Corrie was trained to be a watchmaker, and in 1922, she became the first woman with a license to work as a watchmaker in the Netherlands. As a Christian, she knew that the Jews were precious to God. This understanding was soon tested as in June 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Jewish people came to search for a hiding place with Corrie’s family. The family took them in,

knowing that the police headquarters was only half a block away. All her family members became active in the work of the Dutch underground.

A secret room to hide six people at the time was built adjacent to Corrie’s room. The wartime shortages meant that food was scarce. Every non-Jewish Dutch received a ration card for weekly food coupons. Corrie managed to secure enough ration cards to feed the refugees in her home.

In February 1944, a Dutch informant told the Nazis about the Ten Boom family and their underground work. Corrie’s family was arrested and sent to prison. However, the six people hiding in her home remained undiscovered and later escaped and survived the war years.

“The Hiding Place”

Corrie’s most famous book is a biography that recounts the story of her family’s efforts, and how she found and shared hope in God while being held for times in the concentration and work camps.

Member of the Nazi Party

A German industrialist, humanitarian activist and a member of the Nazi Party, Oskar Schindler, is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunition factories in occupied Poland.

By July 1944, Germany was losing the war, the SS began closing down the easternmost concentration camps and deporting the remaining prisoners westward. Many were murdered in Auschwitz and other camps. Learning about it all, Schindler convinced the SS commandant of the nearby camp to allow him to move his factory to Brnenec (Bohemia-Moravia), thus sparing his workers from almost certain death in the gas chambers.

By his bribing the Nazi officers, l,200 people from the Jewish Ghetto were allowed to travel to Schindler’s relocated factory in Brnenec. Schindler continued to bribe SS officials to prevent the execution of his

workers until the end of WW2 in May 1945, by which time he had spent his entire fortune on bribes and making black market purchases to supply his factory needs and sustain his workers. At its peak, Schindler employed about 1,750 workers of whom over one thousand were Jews.

Schindler’s factory in Brnence

Oskar Schindler died in October 1974 in Germany but was buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. He was the only former Nazi Party member to be honored this way. In 1993, Oskar and Emilie Schindler were named Righteous Among the Nations.