Every year around this time, Israel commemorates Yom Ha Shoah, or “The Day of the Catastrophe”. It was first commemorated in 1951, and a law was later passed by the Knesset in 1959 to make it an official holiday. It was known as the Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day Law. The official day is the 27th of Nisan, which falls a week after Passover and eight days before Yom Ha’azmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). In Israel, at 10:00 AM, a siren sounds and almost everybody stops what they are doing, including motorists on highways getting out of their vehicles, to observe two minutes of silent reflection for the victims and heroes of the Holocaust. It is one of the most solemn moments on the Jewish calendar, observed by religious and secular Jews alike.
As the Law passed by the Knesset is called Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day Law, each year, we remember the six-million innocent victims of Hitler and his Nazi regime, helped by co-perpetrators across Europe. Remembering the victims is critical if we want to keep history intact and learn from it. Incidentally, if we were to keep a brief moment of silence for the six-million victims, it would require us to be completely silent for 11.5 years non-stop. But what about the heroes of the Shoah? What about the people who risked their lives to help Jewish people? Better yet, what about all the unknown heroes of the Shoah, without whom the world would have lost much more than six million Jews? Without forgetting the six million–one of them being my maternal grandfather, Maurice Weinzveig who perished at Auschwitz–we need to pay tribute to some incredible unsung heroes of the Shoah. Let’s also keep in mind that those who hid Anne Frank were breaking the law and those who killed her were following it!
We have all heard about Oskar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg and Corrie Ten Boom. They are some of the most known heroes of the Holocaust, and rightfully so, but this year let me introduce you to a few other heroes that have been in the shadow of history for too long.
Ho-Feng-Shan (1901-1997): Ho-Feng-Shan was born in China at the turn of the 20th century. He started out as a writer and diplomat for the Republic of China before he was appointed Consul-General of China in Vienna, Austria in 1937. Not long after his move to Vienna and against his government and the German authorities, Ho-Feng-Shan started to issue visas, especially after Kristallnacht in November 1938. He had issued 2,000 visas to Jews in the first six months of his tenure as Consul-General, which leads many historians to believe that by the time he was called back to China in 1940, he had issued many thousands of transit visas to Shanghai. No visas were required to enter Shanghai, but the papers helped Jews cross the border towards Italy and Switzerland with Chinese visas. Later, when asked why he did it, he answered, “It was just natural to feel compassion for those persecuted and help them. It was what had to be done” In 2001, he received the Yad Vashem Medal of Righteous Among the Nations posthumously.
Dr. Hans-Georg Calmeyer (1901-1972): Born in Osnabrück, Germany, Calmeyer was stationed in the Netherlands during WWII. He was put in charge of the Interior Administration which also handled “Jewish Affairs”. While Jews in Germany had no recourse to try proving they were not Jewish, in the Netherlands, they could provide papers to document their ancestry and find loopholes in the system to escape certain death. Calmeyer saw an opportunity to disobey his superiors and started to accept false papers from Jewish people. He was credited for having saved at least 4,000 Jews, even though he received some serious complaints from the Nazi party. After the war, he rarely spoke of his actions. In 1992, he received the Yad Vashem Medal of Righteous Among the Nations posthumously.
Wladyslaw Bartoszewski (1922-2015): He was a Polish politician and social activist. He participated in the defense of Warsaw against the Nazi forces and as a result, was sent to Auschwitz. After Auschwitz, he met Catholic Priest Jan Zieja, with whom he had this dialogue:
– How could all this be God’s will?
– Don’t think about why God allows evil. Think about why God saved you. It was for a reason, wasn’t it? It was for a purpose. Bear witness to the truth. You saw how people are suffering. Help them!– Help who?
– Help those who need it.
– But who needs it?
– Those who are suffering the most.
– But I’m a student, Father. I have no resources with which I can do anything great.
– So do something small, but don’t turn your face away. People in the ghetto are suffering. Help them.
He joined the Polish Underground in 1941 after his release and became a leader of Zegota (The Council for the Aid of Jews). Zegota was responsible for saving several thousand Jews and, according to one estimate, 40,000 to 50,000 Jews benefited in some way from its activities. He also fought during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In 1965, he received the Yad Vashem Medal of Righteous Among the Nations.
Eduardo Propper De Callejon (1895-1972): He was the Secretary of the Spanish Embassy in Paris during the Holocaust years. In July of 1940 alone, he issued 30,000 visas to Jews of France and Spain to allow them to get into Portugal. After a while, he was exposed and transferred to Rabat, Morocco. He is credited for having facilitated the escape of more than 30,000 Jews. He never received any recognition in his lifetime. In 2007, he received the Yad Vashem Medal of Righteous Among the Nations posthumously.
Vesel and Fatima Veseli (1895-1972): Vesel and Fatima Veseli were a Muslim couple who lived in a small village in Albania during WW2. Albania was predominantly Muslim and was one of the first countries invaded by Italy which was Germany’s ally at the time. The Veselis took in the Mandil family who were Jews in dire need of protection. The whole village was friendly to Jewish people during the occupation. In the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, it says, “Whoever saves one life, saves all of mankind” (Al-Ma’idah 5:32), which is very similar to the Talmudic quote saying, “Anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world.” (Sanhedrin 4:5). The Veselis went out of their way to hide, protect and feed the Mandils, going as far as dressing them like Muslims to move them around more freely. In 1987, they received the Yad Vashem Medal of Righteous Among the Nations posthumously.
These unknown people from around the world are a few unsung heroes of the Holocaust. Without their unconditional and compassionate involvement, many more Jews would have become the innocent casualties of the evil of Hitler and his regime. They had much in common, as they became heroes of this great human catastrophe. They acted as good Samaritans (Luke 10:29-37). They were breaking the Law. They knew the risk they were taking (Esther 4:15-16). They were creative with what was at their disposal (Joshua 2:4-7). They never worried about how many or how few people they helped. Yet today, many believers are in a place where we are soon going to have to decide how we can help Jewish people in dire need of protection and provision again. Surely, many believers will display the same qualities that these earlier heroes had, but as disciples of Yeshua, we have much more:
1. WE UNDERSTAND GOD’S PROMISES
• To bless those who bless the Jews (Gen. 12:3)
• To curse those who curse the Jews (Gen.12:3)
• To never forsake Israel (Jeremiah 31:35-27)
• To go after the enemies of Israel (Zech. 12:9)
• To watch over Israel 24/7 (Psalm 121:4)
• To never change (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6)
• To have Yeshua return BECAUSE of the Jews calling on Him (Zechariah 12:10)
2. WE UNDERSTAND GOD’S POWER
• The Gospel is the power of God (Romans 1:16)
• The Word of the cross is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18)
• The whole universe is His (1 Chronicles 29:11)
• His greatness is unsearchable (Psalm 145:3)
• Nothing is too hard for Him (Jeremiah 32:27)
3. WE UNDERSTAND GOD’S PROVISION
• We are valuable to God (Luke 12:24)
• God will meet all our NEEDS (Philippians 4:19)
• God provides for those who seek Him (Psalm 34:10)
• There are no limits to God’s provision (Luke 9:1—17)
Heroes are rarely if ever, self-proclaimed. They are usually recognized after the fact, but sometimes they remain in the shadows of history. As we commemorate Yom HaShoah, let us never forget the six million, but let us also recognize and express our gratitude to the many who selflessly reached out to Jewish people in dire need. They are some of the people God used to continue to keep His promise that He will never forsake Israel. May their memory be a blessing and may they become models for what’s to come!