Today, the world celebrates VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) to mark the end of World War II in Europe. Seventy years have passed since then. Much has been written about all the atrocities and war crimes. Today, however, I don´t want to speak about these horrors. I want to speak about the people, who in the middle of so much human misery had the heart and the courage to be heroes. They could have saved one single life and that would have made them already heroes. However, the three people I selected saved hundreds to thousands of people during the war:
Sir Nicholas Winton (born Nicholas Wertheim in 1909) is a German-descendant, British humanitarian who organised the rescue of 669, mostly Jewish, children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War. Winton arranged for their safe passage to Britain and found them homes. Many of these children never saw again their parents, because shortly after the war began and their parents were taken to perish in the Auschwitz concentration camp. The most astonishing thing about him is that his actions went completely unnoticed until 1988, when his wife found a scrapbook in their attic containing all the information about the children he saved. Only after that his work was recognized.
Oskar Schindler (1908 – 1974) was a German industrialist member of the Nazi Party, who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories, which were located in occupied Poland. Though, initially Schindler was interested only in the monetary potential of the business, later he began protecting his workers without any concerns for the cost. Schindler spent his entire fortune until the end of World War II, mainly on bribes to Nazi officials, to prevent the execution of his workers. After that he failed at several businesses and had to rely until his death on financial support from Schindlerjuden (“Schindler Jews”) – the people whose lives he had saved during the war. He is buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, the only member of the Nazi party to had such an honour.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes (1885 – 1954) was the Portuguese Consul-General in Bordeaux, France, in the early period of the Second World War, who defying the Portuguese dictator’s orders issued visas and passports to thousands of refugees fleeing from invading German forces, allowing them to seek refuge in order parts of the world. Though, the total number of visas issued can´t be ascertained for sure, it is estimated to be as high 30,000, with a total of 1,575 visas being registered just between 15 and 22 June 1940. He and his family were punished by the government for his actions, leaving him penniless at the moment of his death. Portugal rehabilitated him only in 1988. He was honored posthumously by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, the first diplomat to be so honoured.
This post is dedicated to all heroes, who like Winton, Schindler and de Sousa Mendes, during the Second World War, dared to fight to save lives, sometimes at the cost of their own life.