Read an Excerpt
A Darkness Everywhere
This is a book about the Gentile men and women, and children too, who had the courage to risk their lives and those of their families in the rescue of Jews during the Nazi era. Some thousands of Jewish lives were saved. Against six million lost in the Holocaust, how many is that? Yet few as the rescuers were, they must not be forgotten.
Their stories let us know that while there were victims, there were also heroes and heroines. What they did makes us see that we need not give in to evil. There are other choices than passive acceptance, or complicity. There are human spirits who resist. They are witness to the goodness in humanity.
More than ten years ago I wrote Never to Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust, a book that told in considerable detail how and when the Holocaust happened. In that book I used eyewitness accounts, diaries, journals, memoirs, interviews of those who experienced the terror and the grief of that era. I concentrated on the history of hatred that led up to the catastrophe, on the processes of destruction, and finally on the Jews' spirit of resistance. The focus was on the central issue of what part of the world did and all of the world permitted to be done. But I said almost nothing about the people some call the "Righteous Gentiles" -- the non-Jews in Germany and every country of Nazi-occupied Europe who helped many of Adolf Hitler's victims.
Now I have come to realize the great importance of recording not just the evidence of evil, but also the evidence of human nobility. Love, not hatred, is what the world needs. Rescue, notdestruction. The stories in this book offer reason to hope. And hope is what we need, the way plants need sunlight.
Here I will briefly give the general background to the story of the rescuers of Jews. The following chapters will be more specific on the causes of events in the countries or regions I describe.
"The Holocaust" is the term Jews themselves chose to describe what happened to them during World War II. The term is related to the word olah in the Hebrew Bible. Its religious meaning is "burnt sacrifice." Over the 3500-year span of Jewish history, the Holocaust was the most massive catastrophe. Six million died, two out of every three Jews in Europe, one third of the world's Jews. But don't think of them as "millions." Do that and you miss the truth of the murder of each individual man, woman, and child.
The German code name for the systematic murder of the Jews was the "Final Solution of the Jewish Problem." It was Hitler's prime goal, set forth in his book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), a book that almost nobody took seriously when it was first published in 1925. He carried out his goal with iron will and mechanical efficiency, even when it interfered with his war against the Allied nations.
Persecution, torment, murder were not new to the Jews. They had suffered them for millennia. So had other peoples. They were massacred for what chiefs, kings, emperors, dictators called useful goals. The victims died because those in power wanted to increase that power, to grab wealth or territory, to crush opposition, to force conversion. The powerful persecuted the weak whenever they believed it to be in their own interest.
It was different with Hitler and the Nazis. They wanted to kill all Jews solely because they were Jews. Their crime? They were accused of living, of having been born. Such a crime had no precedent. The murder of Jews had nothing to do with their faith, or lack of faith. Hitler hated them because of what he called their "race." The Nazis said the Jews were "inferior" and therefore had no right to live in the same world with their "superiors," the Germans.
Jews are people like any other-good, bad, gifted, stupid, cheerful, sad, weak, strong, greedy, generous. But to Hitler that didn't matter. All that mattered was that they were Jews. And his policy demanded their total annihilation as a people.
The mass murder that followed was a crime against all humanity. That the Jews were the victims was the outcome of a long history of anti-Semitism in Germany, in Europe, in the world. But what Hitler did was to make the possibility of suffering a Holocaust a reality for any group of people. As a result, ever since the Holocaust no group has been able to feel it can never know the same fate.
To put the story in perspective requires a look back in history for the roots of anti-Semitism. Its religious base lies in the Christian Gospels: the accusation that the Jews were to blame for the crucifixion of Jesus. When "Christ-killer" became a synonym for Jew, persecution inevitably followed. For many centuries both church and state took steps to punish Jews and to ensure their misery. Decrees kept them from farming the land or practicing the crafts. The Crusades that began in 1096 marked the beginning of an oppression the duration and intensity of which would not be equaled until Hitler's time. The Crusaders who set off to free the Holy Land from the Moslem infidels began by killing the Jewish infidels they encountered passing through Europe. Christians massacred Jews on a stunning scale. From 1215 on, the church forced Jews to wear a distinctive badge on their clothing. They were blamed for anything that went wrong. But when money made from the occupations they were restricted to -- trade and banking -- could be sluiced into the treasuries of kings and nobles, they were tolerated. When that usefulness was gone, they were expelled. They were forced to live behind ghetto walls. Some migrated to the New World or settled in Eastern Europe.