Lecturer chronicles those who saved Jews during the Holocaust

Explaining how numerous acts of bravery saved thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust, lecturer Mordecai Paldiel spoke about the strategies used to defy Nazi Germany during his April 12 appearance at the East Brunswick Jewish Center's Holocaust Memorial program.

EAST BRUNSWICK – Explaining how numerous acts of bravery saved thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust, lecturer Mordecai Paldiel spoke about the strategies used to defy Nazi Germany during his April 12 appearance at the East Brunswick Jewish Center’s Holocaust Memorial program.

Paldiel was the former director of the Department of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel. He is an historical authority and lecturer at Yeshiva College and Queens College, New York, according to David Julis, the co-president of the Jewish Center.

“What we are going to speak [about] tonight is about individual men and women from all walks of life, from all professions [and] from all countries in Europe who, for some reason or another, we still don’t know why, they decided they were going to risk their lives and save Jews, because the deed had to be done because human life is precious,” Paldiel said.

Paldiel was born in Belgium. Julis said Paldiel’s family of six was smuggled out of France by a Catholic priest and reached Sweden.

Paldiel is the author of “Sheltering the Jews,” “The Past of the Righteous: Gentile Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust,” “Saving One’s Own: Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust” and “The Righteous Among the Nations,” according to Julis.

Julis said Paldiel received his bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University and his master’s and doctorate degrees from Temple University.

During the ceremony, Rabbi Jeff Pivo invited relatives of Holocaust survivors and victims to the podium to light six candles, with each candle representing one million Jewish people who died at the hands of the Nazis.

“We have to remind ourselves Adolf Hitler never killed a Jew himself, he just gave the green light,” Paldiel said. “When he gave the green light, a lot of people all over Europe jumped on the bandwagon and started killing Jews or persecuting them. So that is the big problem we have, that so many millions of people, decent people with families, participated in the Holocaust.”

Paldiel said that at Yad Vashem in Israel, a program was created to identify, honor and write about the non-Jewish individuals who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.

“Hoping the examples of these people … will serve as role models for the education of future generations and to show an individual can make a difference as (those non-Jews) made a difference,” Paldiel said.

Non-Jewish people who chose to save Jews were risking their own lives because saving a Jew was a capital offense, Paldiel explained.

“If you were caught sheltering a Jew in your home then you would share the same fate as a Jew. In other words, you could either be shot on the spot or sent to a concentration camp. It was forbidden.”

Paldiel went on with his story.

“When you go into hiding somebody has to hide you, somebody has to feed you … you don’t have to wash every day, but you have to eat. When you go into hiding it had to be a place where no one would suspect there was a Jew, like inside a double wall or in the attic or in the basement or under the floor,” Paldiel said. “A pigsty was an ideal place to hide Jews because the smell was so bad that even if the cops came to check through the filth they would not stay there for too long.”

Cornelia Ten Boom hid Jews by installing a false wall at her home in Haarlem, Netherlands. The Dutch Nazis suspected Boom was hiding Jews so they raided her home, beat her and took her to a concentration camp. Boom survived and the Nazis never found the Jews she hid, according to Paldiel.

Prince Philip Mountbatten’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was from the Greek royal family and in Athens, Greece, she hid a Jewish family who had known the royal family before the war, according to Paldiel.

“Greece was occupied by the Germans, so Alice hid a whole group of Jews. She died and we invited her son, Prince Philip, to come to Israel and plant a tree in her memory [and] in her name. … He gave a very beautiful speech about his mother,” Paldiel said.

Using false credentials to pass as a non-Jew was another way many Jews were saved during the war, according to Paldiel. He said Hans George Calmeyer, a German lawyer who was stationed in the Netherlands, helped almost 3,000 Jews with documents which declared they were not 100 percent Jewish.

In 1940, before Japan entered World War II, Japanese Ambassador Chiune Sugihara, who was stationed in Lithuania, gave Japanese transit visas to Jews so they could get out of Lithuania and travel through Russia to reach Japan. Sugihara claimed to have issued 3,000 transit visas despite the disapproval of his government, according to Paldiel.

“Sugihara saved several thousand Jews and when he returned to Japan he was fired from his job. He was honored by Yad Vashem,” Paldiel said.

Paldiel said the Nazis were obsessed with targeting Jewish children because killing children meant they would not be able to reconstitute the Jewish community. He said thousands of Jewish children survived only because their parents gave them to a non-Jewish person or family. Yad Vashem has honored non-Jews who took care of Jewish children during the war. He said many convents also hid Jewish children.

In France, about 6,000 children were hidden by non-Jewish families, in Belgium, 4,000, and in Poland, several thousand. Overall, throughout Europe, close to 50,000 children who were turned over to non-Jewish families survived, according to Paldiel.

Finding employment with a German was another way Jews survived the war, according to Paldiel. Oskar Schindler had a factory and employed and saved 1,200 Jews. Schindler was also honored by Yad Vashem, according to Paldiel.

“These people who saved Jews, they did not belong to a club where everybody came [together], it was a lonely job. They thought they were the only people who were helping, but they felt ‘I have to do this.’ … You had to keep it a secret,” Paldiel said.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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