The Holocaust is a horrific and unimaginable time in world history. Words can hardly describe the horrid conditions and inhumane treatment that were forced upon the Jews. The stories and records of the death trains, work and concentration camps, the gas chambers, and the monumental death toll will be remembered forever. However, within these sad tales there lie a few angles in the form of silent hero’s. This essay will explore several silent heroes, the courageous and compassionate paths they took, and how they helped hide and/or help the persecuted Jews escape the wrath of Hitler’s Army.
Discrimination against the Jewish race began long before Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933.
“Hitler’s rise to power began in the decade before rising to the highest office(s) of Germany and showed a steady, rapidly increasing popularity of the young radical Austrian-born leader. In 1923, the well known Beer-Hall Putch catapulted the young Hitler to a place of renown. Leading what he thought would be a violent overthrow of the weak Weimar Government, he jumped to a table in a Beer-hall in Bavaria, a place where the Nazis were gaining power, and in fiery rhetoric called the gathered officials to support him in the march on Munich. Arrested and put in jail, he wrote the manifesto of the Nazi Movement: ‘Mein Kampf.’ While he had expressed it in other writings, the new manifesto vehemently decried the Jewish people and called for an end to their citizenship. He also expressed his extreme bigotry against the Jews, in the tedious manual for genocide.”(Best, E., 2010)
Although this information was well known beforehand, Hitler was still appointed chancellor on January 30, 1933 by the ailing Paul van Hindengurgan, Germany’s president. (Truman, C., 2010)
Shortly after Hitler became chancellor the Nazification of Germany began as the Nazi party quickly united its power. Within the next month a series of events would take place.
“On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building went up in flames. Nazis immediately claimed that this was the beginning of a Communist revolution. This fact leads many historians to believe that Nazis actually set, or help set the fire. Others believe that a deranged Dutch Communist set the fire. The issue has never been resolved. This incident prompted Hitler to convince Hindenburg to issue a Decree for the Protection of People and State that granted Nazis sweeping power to deal with the so-called emergency. This laid the foundation for a police state.”(NA, 2010)
The burning of Reichstag was then followed by the creation of the Dachau concentration camp in an abandoned munitions factory near the town of Dachau, Germany. Throughout the first year of the Dachau camp the Nazis began arresting Communists, Socialists, and Labor leaders; sadly this “concentration camp would become a training center for concentration camp guards and later commandants who were taught terror tactics to dehumanize their prisoners.”(NA, 2010) Prejudices against the Jews remained and Hitler once again continued his pursuit to eradicate the Jews from Germany to gain more living space.
With the death of President Hindenburg on August 2, 1934 Hitler gained more control by combining the offices of chancellor and president. He then began to call himself “the Fuhrer.” “Hitler announced the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. These laws stripped Jews of their civil rights as German citizens and separated them from Germans legally, socially, and politically. Jews were also defined as a separate race under “The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor.” Being Jewish was now determined by ancestry; thus the Germans used race, not religious beliefs or practices, to define the Jewish people.” (NA, 2010)
On September 29, Hitler invaded Poland, officially starting World War II and adding haste to Germany’s plan (the New Order) to eradicate so-called undesirables, notably Jews and Slavs. As the Jews fell under German control all their civil rights and property were taken; they were forced to wear a yellow star on their person and then herded like animals to the ghetto. Conditions within the ghetto were horrific as wide spread starvation and disease ran rampant. Some of the Jews gained a work release and others were forced into railcars headed to the concentration camps.
Hitler’s genocide continued with mass slaughter as Nazi’s shot countless Jews in the wide open. The Aryan people of Germany followed Hitler’s laws and turned a blind-eye to the mass murdering going on in open fields around them. However, some of the people could not live with this carnage and began to help the Jews by hiding them within their homes and/or help them escape. People choosing to take this road to help the Jews were directly in opposition of the laws Hitler and they could/would face punishment if not death by Nazi hands.
One of the better known hero’s is a man by the name of Oskar Schindler. Oskar was a Nazi businessman and operated a factory that made pots where he employed Jews from within the ghetto. Schindler turned against Nazism but was still able to use his finesse, persuasion and bribery on military leaders and industry contacts to gain permission to move his factory “from Plaszow to Brunnlitz in occupied Czechoslovakia and furthermore, unheard of before, take all his workers with him. In this way, the 1,098 workers who had been written on Schindler’s list in connection with the removal avoided sharing the fate of the other 25,000 men, women and children of Plaszow who were sent without mercy to extermination in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, only 60 kilometers from Plaszow.”(Bulow, L., 2010) In addition to the 1,098 workers Schindler was able to persuade the “Gestapo to sent a further 100 Belgian, Dutch and
Hungarian Jews to his factory camp ‘with regard to the continuing war industry production.'(Bulow, L., 2010) Ironically, the ‘bogus’ munitions plant never produced a shell that worked correctly, however each employee remained safe until the end of the war. Schindler was a brave and courageous man as he risked his life to save the lives of the 1,200 Jews that were on HIS list. Schindler used money from his war profits to feed, clothe and house ‘his children’. This was an important mission for him to save these lives and provide for their future with gifts from his personal warehouse inventory at the war’s end. Schindler was quite rich at one time; however he spent all his money helping save the lives of the ‘inferior’ Jews. He felt he just didn’t do enough; he died a penniless man with the knowledge that he didn’t turn a blind-eye. Schindler was recognized later as a hero and given the award of ‘Righteous among the Nations.’
Corrie Ten Boom and her family were devout and loyal Christians who were zealous in their commitment to help their fellow man. “Their home was always an ‘open home’ for anyone in need. During the Second World War, the Ten Boom home became a refuge, hiding place, for fugitives and those hunted by the Nazis. The entire Boom family courageously and secretly helped some 800 Jews, and protected many Dutch underground workers.”(Smith, E., 2010) Unfortunately the Boom’s were betrayed and the Gestapo raided their home on February 28, 1944. Corrie, her sister and father were arrested that day and taken to prison until a search of their home was systematically completed by the Gestapo as they suspected Jews to be hidden within the home. The Gestapo search proved fruitless which is ironic as there were 6 people hidden safely behind a false wall in Corrie’s bedroom. These 6 fugitives escaped with their lives within 47 hours but the Ten Boom family was torn apart.
Eventually Corrie and her sister, Betsie, would spend 10 mounts in three different prisons, the last being the infamous Ravensbruck Concentration Camp located near Berlin, Germany.
One can hardly imagine the horrid, unbearably living conditions within the camp, however, Corrie and her sister tried to make the best of their situation by sharing Jesus’ love with their fellow inmates. Corrie’s testimony and love of the Lord brought many women to salvation as they became Christians in such an unlikely place. Sadly, Betsie died while imprisoned at Ravensbruck at the age of 59 but Corrie survived and upon realizing her life was a gift directly from God she began a world-wide ministry. Corrie shared her faith and love for God throughout the next 33 years and traveled to more than 60 countries. She had written several books, one which was turned into a motion picture, The Hiding Place, and has joined Billy Graham on his crusades. Corrie was great in her faith, her courage, her strength and love for her fellowman. (Smith, E., 2010)
Giovanni Palatucci is another silent hero who showed great courage and strength by helping the Jews escape capture by the Nazi. “Palatucci was named Chief of Police of Fiume, one of the major port cities located on the northern Adriatic Sea. At the time, Fiume was part of Italy; today, the city is officially located in Croatia, and goes by the Croatian name Rijeka.” (NA, 2010) Palatucci’s promotion to Chief of Police coincided with anti-Semitic laws passed in Italy that included the detainment of Jewish people in internment camps that were established across Italy. As the laws came into play Palatucci made a decision to disregard Nazi control and begin helping the Jewish people. Palatucci chose to ‘officially’ deport them to an internment camp near Rome where he had family members available to help maintain their safety and welfare.
“By 1940, Italy officially joined World War II on the side of the Germans. From 1940 to 1944, Giovanni Palatucci did everything he could to save the lives of Jewish people. He issued false identity papers and visas, delivered food and money to those who were in hiding, gave warnings when the Nazis were planning a “Jew hunt,” and sent as many
Jews as possible to the internment camps in Campagna and Puglia. By the end of the war, the internment camp in Campagna was one of the largest in all of Europe. (NA, 2010)
The Nazi became increasingly suspicious of Palatucci and his actions as he could not provide documentation for all the Jews deported to the internment camps. A friend of Palatucci knew of these suspicions and provided Palatucci with an exit visa which he accepted then gave to his fiancée who was Jewish, instead of using it to save himself. Luckily she survived the war and lived until her death in Israel.
“Only days later, Giovanni Palatucci was arrested by the Gestapo (German security police) on
September 13, 1944. He was charged with treason and conspiracy, and was sentenced to death.
However, due to the plea of his friend, the Swiss consul, his sentence was commuted to exile to
Dachau, a concentration camp located in Munich, Germany. He was transferred to Dachau on
October 22, 1944. On February 10, 1945, Giovanni Palatucci died in Dachau, just ten weeks before the camp was liberated.”(NA, 2010) Palatucci’s deeds prove him to be an honorable man who showed great strength and courage to protect the hunted Jews. In doing this moral deed he lost his own life.
How great a burden the genocide of the Jews must have placed upon people; some too frightened to disobey Nazi law and yet others amazingly risked their lives and/or their family’s lives to help protect and free the Jews. These silent heroes’s exhibited extraordinary courage and compassion by the paths they took when they decided to help hide and/or help the persecuted Jews escape the wrath of Hitler’s Army.
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