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In Part 1 of A History of Overcoming, we examined some of the things that led to the fall of democracy in Germany, to the rise of Hitler, Nazi ideals, and eventually the Holocaust.
While Part 1 in many ways serves as a warning, this part is one that lends hope. Hope that, even when democracy is replaced with essentially a dictatorship, some people will still do what is right… serving as a light in the darkness and a hope for many.
Most Turned a Blind Eye… but Many Did Not
There are so many stories regarding the Holocaust that cause us to ask questions. Questions like:
- How could people behave like that?
- How do people turn away from, or accept such horrors?
- Why do some people hate so much or fear so greatly that they forget other people are human?
- How can someone not bat an eyelash as they, or others, are inflicting pain—or worse?
Fear is one major answer, for fear is contrary to God and therefore draws out emotions and behaviors that are not of God.
Along with fear resides hatred—particularly in regard to those who walk in God’s ways. And since God is love, allowing hate to thrive is to move in an opposite spirit to Him.
Essentially—with these and related aspects—it was spiritual battles which drove the horrors of the Holocaust. It was a manifestation of what the Word says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
These strong spiritual battles led many to turn away from helping others during the Holocaust. To give in to fear, to hate, and to all of the spiritual warfare that underlaid the physical warfare.
Yet, while a large number of people bowed to fear and hate, many others stepped up with faith and love…
The “Righteous Among the Nations”
There is a commemorative program that remembers those who took great risks to help Jewish people during the Holocaust, though they themselves were not Jewish.
It is called, “Righteous Among the Nations.”
While not every person whose actions would qualify for this commemoration has been named (due to the confusion of war, the loss of lives, etc.), this program is a tremendous reminder that there were those who did take action.
The risks each one took varied, and the results of their actions were not always the same. But these people show us through their lives and sometimes through their deaths, that everyone can make a difference. That we all, no matter if we are in a democracy or a dictatorship, can help others. Can act in accordance with God’s will and Word!
When we compare those who failed to take action with those who took action… one thing is clear: inaction is actually action. It has results. And no matter how we try to sugarcoat things, our choices have power. Our action, or inaction, becomes a part of our legacy.
We can choose to walk in God’s righteousness or not.
We can choose to be vessels of Godly change or not.
We can leave a legacy we are glad of or ashamed of.
Who are the Righteous Among the Nations?
People of all ages, from all backgrounds, chose to leave a legacy in alignment with love, with sacrifice, and, in many cases, with righteousness.
“I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence… that there still existed a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole… for which it was worth surviving”
—Primo Levi describes his rescuer, Lorenzo Perrone (If This Is A Man)
This quote demonstrates the impact of those who chose to help others during the Holocaust. Certainly, saving lives is at the heart of the impact of the actions of the Righteous Among the Nations. And those saved lives often lived to produce children, grandchildren, and so on, building a beautiful legacy of life! Yet, in the moments when these actions happened… the simple kindness and love spoke just as loudly.
Primo Levi said that his rescuer reminded him that there was something worth surviving for. Something pure and whole.
For us as Believers, such actions remind us of God’s love. Of Yeshua. Who gave up so much… who rescued us from death, but also from a place of darkness. Who brought us hope that shines bright.
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”
—1 Peter 2:9
Overcoming the Darkness
It is amazing how many people are on the list of the Righteous Among the Nations, and that list continues to grow as more stories are discovered…
As Yad Vashem says on their website, “The numbers of Righteous are not necessarily an indication of the actual number of rescuers in each country, but reflect the cases that were made available to Yad Vashem.”
Not every person who acted to save lives at the risk of their own will be remembered and acknowledged by this title, but God knows every hidden story. He remembers them.
27,921* have currently been awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations, with 7,177 among them being in Poland, 5,910 in the Netherlands, 4,150 in France, 2,673 in the Ukraine, and many others throughout the nations.
*It is important to note when looking at this number that this award was/is for individuals rather than groups, and therefore does not include resistance members and the like, although there are special remembrances for such groups. It also does not include every person who helped the Jewish people as the award has requirements focusing solely on actions that were ultimately lifesaving.
We may not know the true number of those who took a stand, but Yad Vashem’s numbers provide us with a better understanding of the light that shone in that darkness…
Less than 30,000 individuals in the world are currently recognized by this award, and while many more likely would qualify if their actions were known… this small group of people made an amazing impact. Through them hope was restored and lives were saved, creating a beautiful legacy of this life.
These Righteous Among the Nations came from all walks of life. Nannies to pastors. Soldiers to barbers. Dentists to judges. Housewives to students. Pharmacists to wardens. And their stories are amazing…
Take Erna Härtel, whose husband was away at war. She ran her inn on the Baltic Coast with only a young Polish housemaid to help and a constant flow of refugees as the war neared its end.
One morning Erna’s maid brought in a Polish-Jew, Frieda, from Lodz who had escaped a death march…
Frieda’s clothes were in tatters, her hair had been shaved off, and she had two gunshot wounds that were still bleeding. But Erna and her maid protected her. They, with the help of an elderly man, convinced two SS men that Frieda was a foreign worker from Poland, allowing Frieda to stay at the inn until the war allowed; saving her life and allowing her a future—to eventually marry and move to Israel.
For many, the saving of one life or just a few was all that was possible. For others who had resources and/or connections, they were able to go above and beyond…
The Schindler’s, for example, being a famous couple—Oskar Schindler being far more well-known—who saved 1,200 Jews and ended nearly penniless in the process.
Yet, no matter the outcome of their actions, the testimonies found in the archives of the Righteous Among the Nations provide us with story after story of those who chose to do the right thing. Who, at risks we can scarcely imagine, chose not to turn a blind eye… but to act, and act in a righteous way!
The actions of these individuals are still being felt today. Through remaining holocaust survivors. Through the memory of their stories. Through the lessons they teach us. And through the generations that these saved lives were able to bring to this world.
We may never have to make the sort of choices that those who lived during the Holocaust did. We may never have to risk our lives to do what is right. But this does not mean that we will never face choices… or that we should turn a blind eye.
At one level or another, every day is filled with choices.
And our answer to each will serve as part of our legacy.
Will we walk in righteousness or not?
Will we go out of our comfort zone to do what God desires?
Will we take action when God calls us to? Or will we sit back and watch?
Sometimes the choices are hard and sometimes they come naturally—just as some of the Righteous Among the Nations weighed the cost, while others jumped in. And while we all want them to be natural and easy, even when we struggled to take the right action… God loves that we took action. He sees our obedience.
Is there a choice you are struggling with today? Is there something you know is the right thing to do but wondering if you have the strength to do it?
Ask God to lead you. Ask Him to help you.
He is more than willing to direct you. He is more than willing to strengthen you.
In Him YOU are more than an overcome!
Join us as we continue our exploration in Part 3 of A History of Overcoming.