The B’nai B’rith World Center and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust have announced that they will bestow their joint Jewish Rescuers Citation on ten rescuers, all of them posthumously, at a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The event will take place on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023 at 6 p.m. at Moreshet—Mordecai Anielevich Memorial, Givat Haviva and will be preceded by a reception and exhibition tour at 5 p.m. Speakers at the ceremony will be: Alan Schneider, Director, B’nai B’rith World Center; Aryeh Barnea, Chairman, The Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers during the Holocaust; Yaakov Asher, CEO, Moreshet and H.E. Radu Ioanid, Ambassador of Romania to Israel, along with relatives of the rescuers.
Jewish Rescuers Citation was established in 2011 as a joint project of the B’nai B’rith World Center and the Committee to Commemorate the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust in an effort to help correct the generally held misconception that Jews failed to come to the aid of fellow Jews during the Holocaust. To date about 600 heroes have been honored for their rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Holland, Italy, Morocco, Romania, Belgium, Ukraine, Latvia, Denmark, Algeria, Czech Republic and Austria.
The phenomena of Jewish rescue and the instructive stories of many hundreds of Jews who labored to save their endangered brethren throughout Europe from deportation and murder have yet to be fully researched and receive appropriate public attention. Many who could have tried to flee or hide themselves decided to stay and expose themselves to danger to rescue others; some paid for it with their lives. With great heroism, Jews in Germany and every country across Axis and occupied Europe employed subterfuge, forgery, smuggling, concealment and other methods to ensure that Jews survived the Holocaust or assisted them in escaping to a safe haven. In doing so they foiled the Nazi goal of total annihilation of the Jews.
Seven rescuers will be recognized at the ceremony and represented by family members:
1. Julius Brutzkus (1872-1951), a former minister in the Lithuania government, convinced the Consul of Lithuania in Marseille to issue citizenship papers for Jews detained in camps in France. Brutzkus utilized his status to access the camps and distributed hundreds of documents, also to non-Lithuanian nationals, before he was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison.
2. Ehud Herbert Growald (1914-2007) was born in Berlin, where he became a leader of the “Halutz” movement in 1939-1943. Among his responsibilities, he was charged with leading Hachshara activities in Arnsdorf (1939-1941) and Neindorf (1941-1943), maintaining contact clandestinely with Halutz representatives in Eretz Israel and Europe, and was responsible for the activities of Recha Freier (a previous recipient of the Jewish Rescuers Citation), founder of Aliyat HaNoar. He took part in organizing the escape of 1,000 youths from Germany via the Danube to Eretz Israel in August 1940. To accomplish this mission he negotiated directly with Adolf Eichmann, exposing himself and endangering his life. When the group reached the Austrian border, he returned to Germany to continue rescue activities. In April 1943 he was deported along with 80 Halutz members to Auschwitz, where he contributed to their survival. After liberation, Growald stayed in Germany at the request of the Zionist leadership and organized Bricha activities from the Buchenwald Kibbutz until his Aliya in 1947.
3. Egon Markstein (1916-1954) was born in Vienna and was active in the Zionist movement in the 1930s, serving as a delegate to the Zionist Congress in Geneva in 1936. He was later employed in the Aliyat HaNoar office at the World Zionist Organization in Vienna, where he was in charge of dispatching Jewish youth to Eretz Israel. Markstein personally initiated the escape of a group of 13-year-old children who could not be included in Aliyat HaNoar emigration because they were underage. He organized them in a group, provided certificates and traveled with them to the port of Trieste, Italy. The group sailed to Eretz Israel and were welcomed into the Ben Shemen youth village as arranged by Markstein, who returned to Vienna. Markstein returned to Vienna several times from Italy and Switzerland to continue rescue activities until he had to escape Austria in 1939.
4. Ruth Kluger-Aliav (1910-1980) was born in Kiev, Ukraine and graduated from the University of Vienna. She immigrated to pre-State Israel in 1936, where she worked for the Histradrut Labor Union in its Foreign Relations Department. Following Kristallnacht (Nov. 8-9, 1938), when the leadership of the Jewish Agency recognized that European Jewry faced an existential threat, Kluger-Aliav was recruited to the Mossad Le-Aliya Bet—the only woman of the founding team of ten. She was dispatched to Romania where she undertook rescue activities from 1939-1940. She was responsible for acquiring ships, securing transit documents for Polish and Balkan refugees to Romania and the acquisition of sailing permits—all of this at great personal risk and in defiance of British objections, increasing anti-Semitism in Romania and hostility of the Antonescu regime allied with Nazi Germany. She was instrumental in organizing the Tiger Hill (September 1939) and the Hilda (January 1940) to carry Jewish refugees to Palestine. After the establishment of the fascist Legionary State, Kluger-Aliav escaped to Istanbul, Turkey and there, together with other Mossad agents, organized the dispatch of the ship the Darien II in March 1941. In 1943 she served as a Mossad agent in Egypt and in 1944 in France, and from 1949 was employed by the national shipping carrier Zim.
5. Nissan Reznik (1918-2016) was born in Ukraine and moved at a young age to Pinsk where he became head of the “HaNoar HaTzioni” youth movement in Belarus. Following the Russian invasion of Belarus he moved to Vilnius, Lithuania to create a base of activity of the movement’s members from Pinsk and arrange Aliya to pre-state Israel. As a forced laborer in a German armaments unit following the invasion of Lithuania in June 1941, Reznik appropriated blank original forms and a stamp to forge documents for members of the movement, enabling them to work and survive. Following the establishment of the Vilna Ghetto in September 1941, Reznik was among the founders of the united Jewish partisans organization F.P.O. After failing to rally the Jewish masses to join an uprising against the Nazis, thousands were led to the Ponary forest and murdered. With the ghetto on the verge of liquidation, Reznik moved to rescue activities, instructing members of the movement to leave the ghetto clandestinely for the Narocz forest, where they joined the Soviet partisans commanded by Fiodor Markov. Reznik lead the last group out of the ghetto himself. After Markov turned against the Jews, robbing them of belongings and weapons, the Jews scattered in the face of a German offensive. Reznik took a group of 24 men and women under his wing and helped them to hide in a swampy area of the forest under difficult conditions. After a months-long blockade by the German army ended, they went back to the woods, where Reznik continued to care for them. Reznik fought the retreating Germans as an officer in the Lithuanian partisans and after liberation was among those who initiated the Bricha.
6. Helena (Hela) Rybak (1915-2005) was a member of the Communist underground in Warsaw, Poland. Under the guise of a non-Jewish shop owner in the ghetto, she travelled between the Aryan side of Warsaw and the ghetto many times to assist Jews. She hid Jews in a house she rented in the outskirts of Warsaw using false documents and cared for an extended period for three children she smuggled from the ghetto in addition to her own child.
7. Meir Shulman (1911-2003) started counterfeiting documents during the first round-ups in Chrzanów, Poland. He specialized in forging Aryan certificates and designing bunker hideouts. In the town of Michaokovitza, he dug a bunker under a kitchen that housed 15 Jews at first, but the number grew constantly. He forged hundreds of gold American coins that he used to buy supplies for the bunker. When the group was smuggled to Hungary, Shulman stayed behind and was caught. In route to Auschwitz, he managed to jump from the train and reach Hungary, reuniting with his wife, Nacha. While in Hungary he forged documents before escaping on the Relief and Rescue Committee train to Switzerland.
Three rescuers whose family members have not been located will be noted:
8, 9. Alfred Wetzler (1918-1988) and Rudolf Vrba (1924-2006), two Slovak Jews, escaped together from Auschwitz and composed the “Auschwitz Report” in April 1944 that provided the most detailed description of the gas chambers and mass murder up to that point. The report was released in June 1944 and, under pressure from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and U.K Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Hungarian ruler Regent Miklos Horthy ordered the transports to Auschwitz stopped. Some 120,000 Jews from Budapest were spared.
10. Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl (1918-1957) was head of the “Working Group” in Bratislava, Slovakia, together with his relative, Jewish rescuer Gisi Fleischmann. The “Working Group” was involved in a wide range of rescue activities. It sent agents to follow Slovak deportees to Poland to document their fate; convinced Slovak authorities to establish forced labor camps in order to prevent the Jews’ deportation; encouraged Jews to escape to Hungary and hid Jewish refugees from Poland. The “Working Group” also bribed Nazi and Slovak officials in a scheme (“Europe Plan”) designed to save European Jewry that ultimately failed.
For more information please contact: Alan Schneider, Director, B’nai B’rith World Center, firstname.lastname@example.org.