One falsified hundreds of documents, allowing children and their parents to escape from Holland. One, a dentist, hid the very sick at Auschwitz-Birkenau, so they would not be sent to the gas chambers. Another protected and hid Jewish children in the south of France before smuggling many to safety. Another rescued about 1,000 fellow Polish Jews, mainly infants, youngsters and teenagers, via a land route and a smuggling operation into Slovakia. One, among his many rescue efforts—sometimes directed from a hiding place—contacted the Hungarian underground and financed the smuggling of Jewish refugees by train from Budapest to Damascus, saving some 300 children.
Though they were in different countries, and used different methods, the end result of these efforts was the same: Jews saved other Jews from murder at the hands of the Nazis.
The brave and often overlooked stories of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust got special attention Monday when several of these heroes received deep gratitude and recognition for their valiant efforts.
“Rescuers themselves deserved something better than to be forgotten, having shown extraordinary courage,” said Dr. Mark Colb upon receiving the citation on behalf of his father, Ben Zion Kalb, who rescued Polish Jews by smuggling them into Slovakia. Mark Colb also said he was grateful to B’nai B’rith for focusing on this issue now.
B’nai B’rith International and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust (JRJ) presented Jewish rescuers citations to individuals, recognizing their courageous efforts, and those of their families, to ensure the survival of Jews during the Holocaust.
Hadassa Carlibach, daughter of Rabbi Zalman Schneerson and Sara Schneerson told the audience about her father: “During the war, he had a knack of anticipating … in a practical way that something will have to be done about something.” She said there was no stopping him in his rescue efforts. Carlibach, too, received an award for her efforts as a teenager helping her parents save Jews.
B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin said at the event: “Thousands of Jews were saved by other Jews across Europe during the Holocaust. Many of these rescuers, rather than flee to ensure their own safety, chose to help other Jews escape.” Later he said: “It is critical that the effort of Jewish rescuers is remembered and we commit ourselves to sharing these stories that remind us all of the unique role these Jewish rescuers played in our history.” And he concluded after the event: “There are so many individual stories. It falls on us to make sure these stories are told to personalize what happened.”
Menachem Rosensaft accepted a citation on behalf of his mother, Hadassah Bimko-Rosensaft for her efforts to ensure the survival of fellow Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Menachem Rosensaft said that at gatherings of survivors, his mother was told over and over: “You don’t remember me but you saved my life.” He concluded that, though she lost her first husband and child to the gas chamber, she helped others and “perhaps she found strength and purpose in saving others, especially children.”
B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider, who traveled from Jerusalem for this event, noted: “Nearly 20 years ago, I was introduced by a dear friend and colleague—Holocaust survivor Haim Roet—to the phenomenon of the rescue of Jews by fellow Jews during the Holocaust. Like many people introduced to this topic for the first time, I too was surprised—even skeptical—that such cases existed let alone anything that could be described as a phenomenon. Intensive reading, research and activity on this issue since then has proved me and others wrong.”
Schneider a founding member of the JRJ and laid the groundwork for the Jewish Rescuers Citation.
Author and historian Mordecai Paldiel concluded the event. His extensive research on the topic of Jewish rescue has uncovered many stories. He said that many Jews were “actively involved” in trying to save other Jews. And he noted more should still be done.
The Jewish Rescuer’s Citation was established in 2011 to pay honor and respect to Jewish rescue of other Jews during the Shoah. To date, more than 170 Jewish heroes have been honored for their daring rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Holland.