Blog - Human values can survive inhuman times
By Agata Peleszuk | 17/06/2010
This week 18 Poles were decorated with medals of the Righteous Among the Nations. Newly rewarded joined a large group of more than 22,000 non-Jews from 44 countries who saved Jewish people during the Holocaust. The heroic conduct and virtuous deeds regardless of origin or faith still amaze and fill with admiration. During many years those extraordinary testimonies not only have given hope, but also have become one of the major points in the dialogue of Jews and Israelis with Others.
A skeptic could say that an estimate of more than 22,000 drowns in the mists of history. He would especially say that in case of Poland who distinguishes with the largest number of Righteous Among the Nations – today more than 6,200 people. A skeptic could be right if proportionality was a core premise here. Various studies have already shown, however, that deeds of the Righteous should not be calculated, but rather handed down as testimonies from generation to generation. Nonetheless, it is true that one could never say that enough was done to prevent or disturb Germans and to help Jews condemned to death. Bystanders were the majority, whereas rescuers accounted for notable exceptions. The helping gesture was extraordinarily treated in occupied Poland where any kind of help towards Jews was punishable by death, often under the rule of collective responsibility of a rescuer and his family or neighbors. This German prohibition was disregarded by thousands.
The memory of heroes who in spite of a mortal danger gave a helping hand is widely preserved. Many of the Righteous Among the Nations involved in dialogue and the Holocaust education in Israel and other countries. An encounter of young people from Poland, Germany and Israel from 2008 was aimed to raise the awareness of the role the Righteous played in preserving the meaning of human values. A similar project under the patronage of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw included awards for the most interesting blog devoted to histories and lives of the Polish Righteous. At the same time the Silent Heroes Memorial Center in Berlin focused its activities on Germans who helped Jews before and during the war. In 2009 the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra from Israel in cooperation with the Jewish Community of Poznan (Poland) and Israel-Poland Friendship Association succeeded in creating an educational-musical project where i.e. Israeli pupils wrote letters to Irena Sendler – an extraordinary Polish Righteous who initiated a special network of contacts that saved more than 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. The Israeli ATZUM social help organization helps around 100 Righteous that due to their solidarity with Jewish people decided to live in Israel. Close bonds with non-Jewish heroes from the past enabled ATZUM to engage an educational mission to spread the Righteous' testimonies in the Israeli schools. Last but not least, the American project of the Righteous Among the Nations Scholarship was established to support young people in their initiatives against intolerance and injustice. Finally, the educational project by the Edith Stein Society in Wroclaw (Poland) was designed to spread histories of the Righteous i.e. with international teams of educators from Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands and Poland.