The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust gives an account of the thousands of gentiles who helped the Jews during the Holocaust. Many of us know the names of the more famous rescuers (Schindler, Wallenberg, Corrie Ten Boom, etc.), but Gilbert highlights hundreds more.
He divides the book by countries, which makes for a fascinating study of how different areas in Europe reacted to the Nazi mandate to exterminate the Jews. Some caved in and turned in their Jewish poplulation while others (like Norway) resisted with all their might.
Gilbert writes that there are 19,000 documented "Righteous" but many thousands more whose names will never be known. In fact, for every Jew who was saved at least TEN people were involved either by directly helping or by looking the other way and not reporting them. After the war, one man, Konrade Latte, could name 50 people who had helped him survive. This was more than "doing a good deed" since helping a Jew was punishable by death. When a hiding place was discovered, those in hiding (as well as their host families) were brutally murdered.
By and large most of the rescuers were Christians, but not always. In some cases even anti-semites were hiding Jews as a protest against Nazi savagery. A few rescuers extorted money from their "guests" and turned them out when the money was gone. But most of the stories are about poor people who were willing to share the little they had with those in need. Huge numbers of Jews spent the war hiding in pits under barns and village houses, only coming out at night to get fresh air.
How could 450 pages of statistics and unpronouncable names (Wladyslaw Liszewski, for example) be so compelling? I have to admit that after awhile some of the stories started to run together, but, honestly, reading list after list of rescuers and rescued showed a magnitude of mercy that was staggering.
It was astounding to read that none of the Righteous thought that their actions were out of the ordinary. It was astounding that many were prepared to die for people they hardly knew. It was astounding that many parents handed their babies to complete strangers as they marched off to concentration camps with complete faith that their children would be taken care of. (One huge question in my mind was, "What happened to all those parentless children after the war?")
If you are interested in WWII and also in this fascinating slice of Holocaust history, I recommend this book.
Stay tuned because I'll be giving it away to one of my readers when I head to the U.S. this summer.