World War II Heroes Who Rival Oskar Schindler
While Spielberg guaranteed that the world would remember Oskar Schindler, there were others who also saw the plight of the European Jews and went the extra mile to save as many as possible. While TopTenz has already mentioned Raoul Wallenberg and Chiune Sugihara there were others who rose to the challenge, taking incredible risks and saving thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazi Death Camps.
10. Giorgio Perlasca
After the collapse of Italy, the Nazis rounded up thousands of Italian government officials in German-controlled Italian territory. One of these was Giorgio Perlasca. After spending months in detention, he was able to escape to Hungary, where he conned the local Nazis into thinking he was a Spanish diplomat. In that guise, he was able to give out thousands of VISAs that allowed Jews to escape the Nazi death camps.
When the real Spanish diplomat was forced to flee, the Hungarians thought they could finally seize the “Spanish” Jews. Perlasca, at great risk, convinced local officials that he was now the number one Spanish diplomat in Hungary. Therefore, the protection provided by the Spanish government could be maintained. Once the Red Cross had shipped the Spanish Jews to safety, he returned to Italy and kept his amazing heroics secret until a group of grateful Jewish survivors tracked him down in the 1970s.
A Spanish diplomat in Hungary, he saved thousands by using his diplomatic powers to turn houses, hospitals, hotels into Spanish territory. He would find Jews living in a house and run up a Spanish flag, making it Spanish territory, and then the Nazis would be blocked from entering. If they did leave then they could be arrested, so Briz would have to bring food and supplies to all the little Spanish enclaves he created in Hungary. He stayed as long as he could before advancing Soviet forces forced him to head to Switzerland.
Palatucci was an Italian police official in the city of Fiume. He saved thousands of Jews from being deported to Nazi extermination camps by destroying city documents showing their location and names. Following the 1943 capitulation of Italy, Fiume was occupied by Nazis. Palatucci remained as head of the police administration, where he continued to clandestinely help Jews and maintain contact with the Resistance, until his activities were discovered by the Gestapo. A friend at the Swiss Consul to Trieste offered him safe pass to Switzerland but, instead of taking this lifeline, he sent his young Jewish fiancée instead. Palatucci was arrested on September 13, 1944. He was sentenced to death by the Germans, who sent him to the Dachau prison camp where he died on February 10, 1945.
7. Colonel José Castellanos Contreras
Colonel Castellanos was the Salvadorian diplomat in neutral Switzerland during the War. While the war raged around Switzerland, he was approached by György Mandl, a Jewish refugee who needed the Colonel’s help to get his family to safety in Switzerland. Touched by his situation, he gave Mandl a position at the Salvadorian embassy. While stationed there, with the help of Mandl, he was able to save up to 25,000 Jews by issuing them Salvadorian citizenship or VISAs. After the war, he married a Swiss national and lived a quiet anonymous life.
6. Monsignor O’Flaherty
Monsignor O’Flaherty was an Irish priest during World War II that was based in the Vatican at the start of the war. As a member of the Vatican, the Germans would let him visit POW camps looking for Allied missing-in-action (MIA) soldiers. When Italy switched sides, the Italian prison camps released their Jewish and Allied prisoners. But because the camps were often behind German lines, the Jews turned to the priest, who would also visit their camps, for help. Acting independently, he hid thousands of POWs and Jews as the Allied lines advanced up the Italian peninsula.
The SS eventually discovered that he was leading the effort to Jewish refugees and tried to arrest and kill him, but couldn’t enter the Vatican. A white line was painted on the Vatican courtyard and he was told that, if he crossed it, he would be fair game. Due to his ability to evade the traps set by the Gestapo, Monsignor O’Flaherty earned the nickname “the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican”.
5. Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches
As the French army crumbled under the German Blitzkrieg, thousands of Jewish refugees fled to southern France. As the Portuguese consulate official in France in charge of granting VISAs, Aristides de Sousa Mendes saved ten of thousands of people from the Nazis by issuing VISAs from the Portuguese embassy, even though his government had forbidden helping the Jews. Even though he was a hero and savior to thousands of people, he was blacklisted by the Portuguese government for helping the Jews and died in poverty.
4. Ernst Werner Techow
(Editor’s Note: No pictures of Techow seem to exist so, in his place, here’s a shot of Walter Rathenau, the man he is famous for assassinating.)
In the 1920s Techow was part of an Anti-Semantic German terrorist group who was infamously imprisoned for taking part in the killing of famous German Jewish diplomat, Walter Rathenau. While in jail, he saw the error in his ways and sought to make up for his past deeds. After he was released, he joined the French Foreign Legion; during the Nazi invasion of France he saved hundreds of Jews by smuggling them out on ships in the Southern French ports. As a German national, he was under incredible danger; if the German or even Vichy French found out, he would be arrested and possibly charged with treason by the Nazis.
3. Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz and Denmark
Proving that not all Germans are anti-Semites, in 1943 German official Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz found out that the Nazis were going to round up all the Danish Jews. He then went to Sweden to see if the neutral Swedes would take the Dainsh Jews. When they said yes, he told the Danes about the round-up. Denmark’s underground then smuggled out 99% of its Jewish population. To get past the German patrol dogs, Danish scientists developed a mixture of rabbit blood and cocaine that was spread over the Danish ports. The rabbit’s blood would attract the dogs and then the cocaine would render them useless. Duckwitz’s role was never discovered by the Nazis, and he served in the West German government after the war.
2. Charles Coward
Charles Coward, nicknamed the “Count of Auschwitz,” was held as a British POW but, since he had escaped so many other POW camps, he was sent to Auschwitz III, a POW camp near Auschwitz II in Birkenau. Once, during an escape, he blended in with German wounded and was accidentally awarded the Iron Cross by Nazi officers. In the Auschwitz POW camp, he met a British doctor who would visit the camp from the Jewish side. One day he switched clothes with the doctor and spent a day in the Auschwitz death camp witnessing the horrors only a few meters away.
Seeing how the other half lived, he started buying dead bodies (usually dead Belgians,) and French civilian forced labourers, from the SS guards. He would then tell the Jews to fall in the ditches on their walks outside the camp, essentially playing dead. He would then switch the dead bodies for the Jewish prisoners, while giving them their ID papers too. Coward did this on many occasions and is estimated to have saved hundreds of Jewish slave labourers.
1. Irena Sendler
Anxious about the people inside the Warsaw Ghetto, Irena Sendler was able to get access by forging a nurse’s identity card. With their parents’ blessing, she then proceeded to smuggle out children in boxes, secret compartments in cars, and just about anywhere else. She even brought a dog with her and trained it to bark at the German uniform, to cover the crying of infants hidden in her car. Once the children were out of the Ghetto, she placed them with Polish foster parents under the pretext of giving them back after the war.
She was able to smuggle thousands of Jews, mostly children, to safety, until her luck ran out and she was caught by the Nazis. Brutally tortured, she was freed from the prison by her friends and a timely bribe to the guards. The bribe was able to list her as executed by the Nazis and she continued her rescue efforts. She survived the war, but was persecuted by the Communist government for her ties to the Polish exile group in London.
- Schindler factory site memorial facing major hurdles (timesofisrael.com)
- Righteous Among The Nations (drschiffman.wordpress.com)
- Story of Muslim Shoah heroes is finally told (thejc.com)