Lesser-known rescuers of Jews come to light on Internet

Their names are not as familiar as those of Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg, mentioned in last week's column. But Dyby — www.rongreene.com/dyby.html — Opdyke — www.holocaustcenter.org/oralh/opdykeirene.htm — and Fry — www.almondseed.com/vfry/ — are also heroes who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from Nazi oppression.

Today, in the week between Yom HaShoah and Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, which begins Tuesday at sundown, we honor the memory of Righteous Gentiles and look at the stories of diplomats who defied their own governments in order to save Jews. Then we'll ask the difficult question: Why did some people choose to risk their lives to do good while so much evil surrounded them?

During World War II, Aristides de Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese consul-general to France and a devout Catholic. In 1940, French Jews and Jewish refugees from all parts of Europe fled to France, where they found themselves trapped. Against the orders of his government, de Sousa Mendes issued them thousands of visas to allow them passage into Portugal. For his efforts, he was fired from the Portuguese foreign service. He died poverty-stricken in 1954. His story is at www.us-israel.org/jsource/biography/Mendes.html

Ironically, such heroes were often punished for their efforts by their own governments. In 1940, Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese consul posted in Lithuania. He ignored instructions from Tokyo and distributed thousands of visas to desperate Jews — www.remember.org/imagine/sugihara.html Sugihara was punished for his actions and returned to Japan in disgrace. JewishGen: The Home of Jewish Genealogy has established the Sugihara Database at www.jewishgen.org/databases/sugihara.htm and has documented more than 2,000 people rescued.

Working in Nazi-occupied Hungary, Swedish diplomat Per Anger issued provisional passports and was able to rescue thousands of Jews. His story is at www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,782085,00.html

Sugihara, de Sousa Mendes and Anger are not alone in their heroism. To date, Yad Vashem has recognized 18 diplomats as Righteous Among the Nations. Their heroism has also been also been honored by an exhibit by the Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Minnesota — makeashorterlink.com/?M2B631824

There are (thankfully) far more Righteous Gentiles than can be acknowledged in a column such as this one. For more biographies, I recommend the following sites: the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance — http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/pages/rn.html — the Jewish Virtual Library — www.us-israel.org/jsource/Holocaust/rescuetoc.html — and A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust-Rescuers and Resisters — http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/holocaust/people/rescuer.htm

What motivates someone to risk his or her own life while others stand in silence? According to Eva Fogelman, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and founder of the Jewish Foundation for Christian Rescuers: "From the earliest ages, rescuers were taught by their parents that people are inextricably linked to one another. No one person or group was better than any other." Her thoughts and those of others are at www.tulane.edu/~so-inst/slguid7.html

Perhaps Miep Gies, the woman who sheltered Anne Frank, explained the actions of Righteous Gentiles best at www.umich.edu/~urecord/9495/Oct17_94/4.htm "I, myself, am just an ordinary woman. People should never think that you have to be a very special person to help those who need you. I simply had no choice. I could foresee many, many sleepless nights and a miserable life if I had refused to help." Here's a different way to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut. Watch live television direct from Israel. Israel's Channel 2 — www.channel2.co.il/english_us.asp — is currently running a test of its live signal that lets you watch the same news, dramas and even commercials as they do in Israel. To enjoy this marvelous service, you will need a fast computer and a speedy Internet connection. Otherwise, you can always listen into live radio on Israel's Reshet Bet — http://bet.iba.org.il

Enjoy your vicarious viewing. Chag Sameach!