The Righteous – Review
He who saves one life, it is as if he saved an entire world.– Babylonian Talmud
The Righteous by Martin Gilbert is a record of the very best and the very worst of human behaviour. These are remarkable stories of ‘Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust’ who risked their lives to save Jews during the 1940s. We all know of Schindler’s List, but that is one page of 500 similar acts of courage – helping Jews carried the death penalty in occupied countries. Historian Gilbert spent many years researching these well documented accounts – many from the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ archive (link to stories and interviews) which lists 19,000 non-Jews who stood up to the Nazis, local authorities and their neighbours.
I was surprised to learn of the extent of anti-Semitism in wartime Europe, eg. in Lithuania, Ukraine and Eastern Poland the SS were actively assisted by local populations in murdering tens of thousands of Jews (in addition to the concentration camps deaths). The heroes in the book are clergy, farmers, businessmen, families, royalty, city officials, and soldiers. Their motivations ranged from God, hatred of German occupation and racism, morality, love and above all, a sense of decency. It’s estimated that to save one Jewish life required at least 10 people working in a fragile chain of courage.
Once introduced into public life, evil easily perpetuates itself, whereas good is always difficult, rare and fragile. And yet, possible. – Tzvetan Todorov