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Rescuers: Portraits in Moral Courage

Rescuers: Portraits in Moral Courage

by Gay Block and Malka Drucker (Holmes and Meier Pub., 1992, S29.35) presents 49 sterling first-person accounts of and by Chiristians who saved Jews during World War II. (That’s forty nine handkerchiefs’ worth.) Powerful photographs accompany each narrative.

Perhaps, indeed, this book is the most important Holocaust text of all. If our core task is to learn from the past so as not to be condemned to repetition, Rescuers presents us with the ultimate world-altering, future-oriented challenge: to walk a mile not in a Jew’s shoes, but in a rescuer’s. It implies that we must each bother to take deeply into our hearts the following question: How compassionate, how altruistic am I, really?

From this brimming volume, here are two excerpts. First, Nehama Tec’s list of characteristics that Holocaust rescuers share:

1. They don’t blend into their communities. This makes them less controlled by their environments and more inclined to act on their own principles.

2. They are independent people and they know it. They do what they feel they must do, what is right and the right thing is to help others.

3. They have a long history of doing good deeds.

4. Because they have done the right thing for a long time, it doesn’t seem extraordinary to them. If you consider something your duty, you do it automatically.

5. They choose to help without rational consideration.

6. They have universalistic perceptions that transcend race and ethnicity. They can respond to the needy and helpless because they identify with victims of injustice.

Also, an excerpt from the story of Gertrude Babilinska, a Catholic Pole:

“For fifteen years, I worked for a very rich Jewish family named Stolowitzky. First the father was taken to Auschwitz. Then Mickey’s mother became sick and died. Mickey came to me and said “I have no mother Will you be my mother?” ..I was a single, forty-year-old Catholic woman. How was I going to raise a Jewish child? But finally I told him I would be his mother.

“As soon as the war ended I knew I had to get Mickey to Israel. There was no other way that I could raise a boy to be a Jew… Mickey’s mother had told me that her relatives in Israel would help us so I went to them. I will never forgive them for what they did to me. They gave me a little room upstairs with no water and no toilet They wanted to adopt Mickey and send me back to Poland. They said they would not pay for school for Mickey if I stayed. Mickey cried and said to me, ‘You are my mother I don’t want them for parents.’

” So I went to work as a maid to pay for Mickey’s schooling…And for 18 years I lived in this same room with no water and worked as a maid so I would have money to pay for the room and for things for Mickey. And Mickey grew up to be such a good Jew. I am so proud of him. He is the most wonderful son in the world.”

The schedule for the 1992-1993 companion exhibit to Rescuers of the Holocaust: Aug.9-Nov.1, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Nov.20-Jan. 6,1993 Tufts University, Medford, Mass.; Jan, 17-Mar. 15, Center for the Arts, Virginia Beach; Apr. 18-June 5, Fine Art Center, Des Moines; Nov.1-29; Levis Jewish Community Center, Boca Raton.