Offering safe haven

Daily Reading for July 16 • “The Righteous Gentiles”

Rescuers’ actions, whether they were religious or not, extended beyond the deeds of the Good Samaritan parable in the Bible. . . .While this biblical story encouraged some to get involved, rescuers were well aware that their decision to help was far more demanding and dangerous than caring for a wounded roadside stranger. The German directives were clear and the punishment for defying them equally clear. A Pole caught selling bread to Jews outside the Warsaw ghetto, for example, was automatically sentenced to three months at hard labor. . . .

The Good Samaritan went on his way after a night; a rescuer could not. No one knew how long the war would last. In some cases, an offer to provide a safe haven for one night stretched into months and sometimes years of nerve-racking tension. The unsettling and terrifying conditions of war added more pressure to an already intense situation. Fear of discovery loomed over the rescuers’ every action and haunted their every thought. . . . Underlying these tensions was the rescuers’ awareness that they had voluntarily put themselves and their loved ones in grave danger. They sometimes wondered: Should they continue to place their children’s lives in peril? Should they continue to serve their family meager rations so there was enough food for those in hiding? Should they continue to risk their lives when their children were dependent on them? . . .

These men, women, and children who risked their lives to save others were flesh-and-blood human beings with strengths and faults. Yet they saw people who were different from them and responded, not to these differences, but to their similarities. While most people saw Jews as pariahs, rescuers saw them as human beings. Their humanitarian response sprang from a core of firmly held inner values. These values, which included an acceptance of people who were different, were unwavering and immutable. And central to these beliefs was the conviction that what an individual did, or failed to do, mattered. They recognized that for many Jews the choice made by a bystander could mean life or death.

From Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust by Eva Fogelman (New York: Anchor Books, 1994).

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