A Review of
In the Garden of the Righteous: The Heroes Who Risked Their Lives to Save Jews During the Holocaust
Reviewed by C.S. Boyll
Humility and heroism aren’t synonyms, but they rise as twins in this book of 10 essays. Writer and Octavian Report publisher Richard Hurowitz chose true accounts of forgotten or never widely known non-Jews, who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. These heroes are among over 27,000 remembered at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, and named as the “Righteous Among the Nations.” Many of them were followers of Jesus, but not all. Many of them survived the war with silent scars.
Hurowitz shines spotlights on diplomats from Japan, Portugal, and the U.S.– the ones who defied superiors and went tone-deaf to bureaucratic orders. Living in Europe, they frantically stamped thousands of questionable documents for desperate Jews fleeing the advancing German army.
There were circus families, who for years hid Jews in their employment, sometimes sequestering them among the elephants. In one essay, 10 British POWs in France protected a desperate teenager, who broke away from a Death March that took her mother and sister.
In Poland, social worker Irena Sendler and friend Irena Schultz disguised themselves as nurses and smuggled hundreds of children out of the barricaded Jewish ghettos through the sewers and even on carts for the dead (the children were drugged).
One essay explains the incredible story of 1938 Tour De France winner Gino Bartali. A friend to Florence’s Archbishop Elia Dalla Costa, Bartali used his bike training as an excuse at roadblocks to carry forged id papers and messages hundreds of miles among a network of 26 monasteries and convents that Dalla Costa set up to hide Jews.
A few admirable royals made Hurowitz’s list. I was transfixed by Queen Elizabeth’s mother-in-law Princess Alice, who despite being deaf, spoke several languages, and was a devout Christian humanitarian. Her righteous deeds included hiding a Jewish family in her Greek quarters for several years during the war.
Then there was Denmark, under King Christian X. The Danes hid their fellow citizens and safely transported many by boat to Sweden. Hurowitz declares this saving as one of the great miracles of the 20th Century. “In the end, 99 percent of the 7,800 Jews in Denmark survived the Holocaust” (180).
If only other Christians in the European countries would have been as proactive as the Danes were. Hurowitz reports rescuers were the rarest of birds. “Even if we assume the actual number of rescuers is ten times greater than the Yad Vashem rolls of honor, we are left with less than half of one tenth of one percent of the population” (XVI).
Hurowitz’s tone throughout the book is even. He says he wants to figure out what makes people risk their lives for others. “For many, the most striking thing about the rescuers is their near universal modesty about their actions…. They did not believe they had done anything special…. Their words are often identical, ‘I am not a hero…’” (346).
He quotes the few studies done on WWII rescuers’ personalities. Researcher/psychologist Eva Fogelman interviewed 300 rescuers over 10 years. She concluded, “Rescuers tended to be resourceful, independent thinkers, confident in their abilities, and convinced that what the individual does matters. They believed that all people were human beings with certain basic rights regardless of their differences, and they did not focus on how others viewed their actions….They believed it was important to stand up for the needy and the marginalized…. Importantly, despite the significant risks, they believed that they could succeed. Rescuers were not suicidal” (349).
It was only after Richard Hurowitz toured the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., that he desired a deeper dive into writing about the Righteous. There, one of the brightest lights that impressed him was Alexander Schmorell, member of the German Christian group The White Rose. He writes, “The White Rose were beautiful souls in a time of nightmare, a breath of fresh air sweeping through the hellish landscape of the Holocaust. I took them with me when I left the museum” (XV).
I hope to carry with me the stories Hurowitz researched and shared. There remains that haunting question, “If called upon, could I be as brave and caring as these Righteous were?”
Cynthia Schaible (C.S.) Boyll writes from Colorado Springs. Because of her German American ancestry she had relatives who fought on opposite sides of World War II. Her website is wwwcsboyll.com.
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