Monday, September 28, 2009

Remembering the Holocaust: Righteous among the nations

More than 60 years after its occurrence the Holocaust remains a cataclysmic decisive moment in history. How are we to keep the reality and horror of it alive in our minds? Yad Vasham is the world centre for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust

Righteous Among the Nations is a project established as part of Yad Vasham to honor non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust and grant them them the title Righteous Among the Nations.

I am currently reading a remarkable book edited by Mordecai Paldiel titled Righteous Among the Nations: Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust that tells the stories of 150 ordinary European citziens who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. These are deeply affecting stories of selfless men and women who by their example show that there is no limit to human compassion and human goodness. The stories are a reminder of the courage of Jewish and non-Jewish people who took a stand to uphold human values at a time of unfolding terror.

The following is an extract from a 1998 speech by Mordecai Paldiel about Righteous Among the Nations:

"The Holocaust has been termed a watershed event in human history; that nothing afterwards will ever be the same again. A dangerous red line has been crossed, and man was shown at his worst.

We have an obligation, indeed, to ourselves and to posterity to remember this terrible event, as a lesson and a warning, lest it happen again. At the same time, however awesome the unspeakable crime committed by the Nazis, we dare not allow this to lead us to hopelessness and despair; to unwittingly profess a negative philosophy of life; that is, that the world is governed by the law of jungle; that the strong prevail and the weak go under.

To help us maintain this image of man, the Holocaust has provided us examples of human behavior at its most elevated best; of men and women, within German-occupied Europe, and from all walks of life, who were prepared to risk their lives to save Jews from the Nazis. These we term, at Yad Vashem, "Righteous Among the Nations," and we honor them in special dignified ways".

Paldiel points that Yad Vashem is important for three reasons:

(1) The basic human and religious obligation of recognizing and acknowledging goodness, and its principal actors, for its own sake. This is an elementary and minimal obligation, of identifying and pointing out the persons who through their courageous deeds make it possible for us to continue believing in goodness as an inherently human quality.

(2) To emphasize, through the example of the Righteous, persons from all walks of life, that in spite of the dangers, it was possible to save Jews from the Nazis.

(3) To use the example of these rescuers as role models for the education of future generations

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