About the Righteous Among the Nations program

In 1963, Yad Vashem created a new program that singled out Gentiles who courageously rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Holocaust survivors wanted to express their gratitude and pay tribute to those who stood by their side when being persecuted. Righteous Among the Nations was a historical term taken from Jewish tradition that was used to describe non-Jews who came to the aid of Jewish people in times of need. This phrase became the basis of the criterion for the Public Commission to decide on who is a Righteous Gentile. Israeli law and Yad Vashem characterized Righteous Among the Nations as those who not only saved the lives of Jews, but risked their lives as well. The Commission assesses and conducts extensive research on the element of risk and the rescuers’ motivations.

Righteous Among the Nations are those who stood up for humanity in a time of total moral collapse. They rescued Jews because they believed Jews were still within their universe of obligation and felt they had a responsibility to protect. Most rescuers were ordinary people that made the moral choice to care. They risked their lives living in fear that they would be denounced by their neighbors and executed. The most common ways the Righteous rescued Jews were by hiding Jews in their homes or on their property, providing Jews with false papers or visas for them to flee the country, smuggling or assisting Jews to escape persecution, and being a part of rescuing a child.

Altogether, Yad Vashem has honored Righteous Gentiles from 44 countries. They come from all different backgrounds; men and women, all denominations and churches, educated and the illiterate, public figures as well as farmers from the countryside. Many scholars claim rescuers are independent, which enabled them to act against the accepted norms of society at the time.  These individuals displayed extraordinary courage sacrificing their lives to save others in a time of great need. Yad Vashem awards the Righteous Gentiles with a Medal of the Righteous and a Certificate of Honor at their ceremony. It is a celebration of humanity and an acknowledgment that one person can make a difference in the world.[1]

 



[1] “Righteous Among The Nations,” Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, 2013, accessed 14 January 2014, http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/index.asp

 

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