Since its establishment in 2011, the Jewish Rescuers Citation has been presented in order to correct the public misconception that Jews did not rescue other Jews during the Holocaust. To date, 175 heroes were honored for rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Holland.
The conferees are Walter Suskind, Joel and Hansi Brand, Ines Cohn, Dr. Leon Cuenca, Dr. Gisella Perl, Shlomo Cohen, Yeshayahu Gottlieb, Moshe Simon, Aron Grunhut, Adolf Burger, Dr. Hadassah Bimko-Rosensaft and David Lavi.
Suskind was one of the many Jews who escaped to Holland after the Nazis rose to power. He was hired as a manager at Unilever in Amsterdam but lost his job when the Jewish-owned firm was aryanized as part of anti-Jewish laws imposed by the Nazis after they occupied Holland in May 1940. He was appointed by the Jewish Council (established in 1941 by German orders) as director of the detention camp, established in the former Hollandsche Schouwburg theater for Jews before deportation via the Westerbork transit camp to extermination in Sobibor and Auschwitz. Conditions at the overcrowded theater were inhumane and, in order to keep the commotion down, children under 13 were separated from their parents. They were placed in a children’s care center (crèche) located opposite the theater and operated by a team of Jewish caregivers. Taking great personal risks, Suskind together with the care center administrator Henriette Henriques Pimentel, and number of caregivers, among them Betty Oudkerk (18), Siney Kattenburg (19), Ines Cohn (18), nurse Virri Cohen (daughter of the Jewish council chairman) and Harry Cohen, smuggled 600-1,000 children out of the crèche into the hands of four Dutch underground organizations. In addition to rescuing the children, Suskind facilitated the escape of many adults from the theater itself, even though the site was more strictly guarded than the care center. He and his family were murdered in Auschwitz.
At the beginning of 1941, Joel and Hansi Brand assisted refugees escaping to Hungary from Germany, Austria, Poland and Slovakia, opening their home to the refugees. Joel became a central figure in the rescue of Hungarian Jews. He was a member of the Relief and Rescue Committee and as such made contact with the representatives of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul. After the German invasion of Hungary on March 19, 1944, in an effort to save Jewish lives, Brand made contact with implementer of the “Final Solution,” S.S officer Adolf Eichmann, the main Nazi official in charge of the deportations of Jews. As German defeat in the war loomed, Eichmann proposed a “Goods for Blood” deal (which was offered to the Jewish Agency), and allowed Brand to leave for Istanbul in May 1944 to broker the deal while his wife and two sons were held hostage in case he would not return to Hungary. He was not allowed to enter Turkey and was arrested by the British and held prisoner in Cairo. From there he reached Mandatory Palestine to engage the Jewish Agency to assist Hungarian Jewry. Before leaving for Istanbul, Brand and Hansi met with Eichmann, and Hansi became Eichmann’s contact person with the Jews. In addition to her role as liaison, Hansi obtained and distributed forged identity cards and helped hide the counterfeit lab. She was arrested by Hungarian secret police on May 27, 1944 and was interrogated under torture for information about the lab and her husband’s mission, but did not reveal any secrets.
During her work at the crèche in Amsterdam up until its last day of operation, Cohn risked her life handing over children to the Dutch underground. When the care center was closed down by the Nazis, she was transferred to the transit camp in the theater, but with the assistance of the Jewish Council and the Dutch Underground, she managed to escape, receiving false papers that allowed her to survive the war. She married a soldier in the Jewish Brigade and the couple made aliyah immediately after the war. She lived in Kibbutz Ma'abarot and after that in Moshav Hadar Am. Today she lives in Netanya and has two children.
Cuenca was a Greek-Jewish ENT specialist who was interned at the Buna concentration camp where he served as a doctor. Endangering his own life, he surreptitiously assisted prisoners to escape the selections, and gave them medical treatment in spite of the shortage in medicines and medical supplies. He was decorated after the war by the French government for his assistance to French citizens in the camp.
Perl studied medicine in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Upon her arrival in Auschwitz in May 1944, she was appointed director of the infirmary and gynecologist at Birkenau. The infirmary team, led by Perl, concealed contagious diseases contracted by prisoners that, if revealed, would have meant death. Endangering her own life, she gave Dr. Josef Mengele blood samples she took from herself and healthy women instead of blood samples of sick patients in order to save them. Perl tried not to commit the prisoners to the infirmary because they were usually sent from there to extermination, hiding them instead in the barracks. After considering the Halachic permit to curtail the life of a fetus in order to save the mother, she started to conduct abortions on prisoners so that they would not be sent to extermination due to the pregnancy or delivery. It is estimated that Perl saved the lives of 3,000 women.
Cohen assisted in obtaining documents, food and money for refugees who arrived to Hungary from Slovakia. In 1943, he was drafted into a forced labor camp from which he escaped in July 1944. He joined the underground operating out of the Glass House and helped dig a bunker. Endangering himself, he smuggled escapees from labor units, and children from the ghetto to the safe houses under the auspices of the International Red Cross. From November 1944, he transported food from the warehouses to Jews hiding in various places and to children’s houses.
Gottlieb was a forced laborer at the Korolowka camp near Zamosc, Poland when he responded to the plea of a group of famished children to provide them with food. Gottlieb convinced the adults in the barracks—who were starved themselves—to set aside some of their meager portions for the children every night for two weeks. Five of the children survived because of his efforts.
Simon was drafted into a forced labor unit in Hungary in September 1943. In the fall of 1944, he was extracted to Budapest through the intervention of Bnei Akiva, with which he was affiliated. During November and December 1944, Simon participated in the distribution of forged Swiss safe passes (Schutzpass) produced in the tens of thousands by the Underground Zionist Youth Movements in Hungary at the Glass House and distributed en masse to Jews. Simon was one of the bravest messengers of the underground, risking his life to provide these documents that allowed Jews to survive. After the war, he participated in the illegal immigration to Israel and he made aliyah in 1948.
Grunhut was an Orthodox businessman and a leader in several Jewish organizations in what is now Bratislava, Slovakia. He began his rescue activities in 1938, shortly after the Anschluss, when he participated in saving Jewish refugees from the area of Kittsee, a municipality in Austria, who were expelled to Hungary, and ensured their return to Slovakia. At the same time, he had a tent camp built for stateless Jews near Dunajská Streda and organized their journey to Mandatory Palestine. In 1939, he chartered two steam boats to smuggle 1,365 Jews from Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and Austria from Bratislava via the Danube to the Bulgarian port of Ruse, then overland to Varna, Bulgaria and on to Mandatory Palestine. However, Bulgarian frontier guards stopped the steamboats and intended to send them back. They spent more than four weeks aboard in international waters.
Finally, Grunhut persuaded Bulgarian offices to allow the ships to continue the voyage. Then, in the Romanian port Sulina, the refugees changed to the cargo ship Noemi Julia. After 83 distressful days filled with worries, the Jewish refugees arrived in Haifa—not before Grunhut arranged their legal entry into Mandatory Palestine. He returned to Slovakia and was arrested in 1943 by the Slovakian government due to his activity in the resistance. After his release, he joined his wife and young son who were hidden under a false identity in Hungary. From his hiding place, Grunhut made contact with the Hungarian underground and financed the smuggling of Jewish refugees by train from Budapest to Damascus, saving another 300 children. The Hungarian secret police was after him and, with the assistance of a fireman (who was posthumously recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations”), he found refuge in the basement of the former Czechoslovakian embassy in Budapest, living in the premises with his wife and son until the end of the war. The family returned to Bratislava after the war, but with the rise of communism, the family left for Israel in 1948.
As a professional typographer, Burger forged documents for Jews destined for deportation from Slovakia, helping them to avoid the concentration camps by stating they were Christian. He was exposed, arrested and deported to Auschwitz. After 18 months there, the Germans decided to utilize his talents, having him forge British currency to undermine the British economy. "Operation Bernhard" was never executed.
A dentist by training, Bimko-Rosensaft served as a physician at the Auschwitz-Birkenau infirmary. Upon her arrival in August 1943, her parents, first husband and five year-old son were immediately murdered in the gas chambers. At the infirmary, she performed rudimentary surgeries of inmates, camouflaging their wounds and sending them out of the barracks on work detail in advance of selections. In November 1944, she was assigned by Mengele, together with eight other prisoners, as a medical team to Bergen-Belsen. Beginning with 49 Dutch children in December 1944, she organized what became known as a Kinderheim (a children’s home), within the concentration camp. Bimko-Rosensaft would gather abandoned children arriving at the camp from all over Europe. Together with other women and with assistance from other inmates, she risked her life to ensure the survival of 149 children through the bitter winter and early spring of 1945.
After graduating from a Jewish high school, Lavi studied engraving. In 1941, he moved to Budapest and integrated into the Zionist youth underground activities, helping refugees from Slovakia. He was arrested with other members of the underground and sent to Garany detention camp. Being a craftsman, he was enlisted in the Hungarian army. With the retreat of the Germans, he was taken on a death march to Austria. After the war, he returned to Hungary and joined the "Ehad BeMay" settlement in-training (Hachshara) group. He made aliyah in 1948 and was one of the founders of Kibbutz Ga'aton.
Alan Schneider, director, B'nai B'rith World Center
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