Holocaust Educational Trust Blog

A space for featured guest bloggers and members of the Holocaust Educational Trust team to comment and reflect on timely issues.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2016: Rescuers


Regional Ambassador Amelia Ireland has been considering the role of rescuers in our latest Holocaust Memorial Day 2016 blog.

Erna Puterman was working in Berlin when she met Frieda Adam. The co-workers quickly established a friendship which the pair maintained, despite Erna soon being forced to change job due to being Jewish. Frieda demonstrated her defiance of Nazi anti-Semitic ideology and refused to be intimidated by anti-Jewish laws and sentiment.

Over time, life in Germany became increasingly difficult and exceedingly harsh for Jews (and even those who did not necessarily identify themselves as Jewish but had Jewish ancestors). By late September 1942, Erna's mother had been arrested and detained in a concentration camp in Germany, from where she was later transported to Auschwitz. Consequently, Erna was left by herself to care for her deaf brother so went to Frieda for advice. Without hesitation, and despite the risk to herself in doing so, Frieda responded that “As long as there is food for us, there will be food for you, too”. 

Frieda helped to hide Erna and her brother, risking the lives of herself and her family of three young children as consequences would be severe if she were found out. The Nazis implemented brutal punishments, including public hangings, shootings and deportations to death camps. Frieda even had to hide them from her own husband, who was in the German army. In late 1944, he discovered she had been hiding two Jews and began blackmailing her. After two years of successfully hiding her friends she was forced to find a new hiding place for Erna and her brother. As a result of Frieda's actions, they both survived the war.

Frieda Adam is just one example of someone who took great risk by rescuing and hiding those who faced persecution under the Nazi regime. Across Europe, groups and individuals refused to stand by and took action to help those in danger.

In Czechoslovakia, Sir Nicholas Winton organised a rescue operation (known as the Czech Kindertransport) which transported 669 children to Britain before the outbreak of World War II. Having been alarmed by the news of violence against the Jewish community, such as the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, Winton emulated the Kindertransport, helping children to escape the imminent Nazi occupation.

He raised money to fund the transportation and the fees required by the British government of fifty pounds per child. He also organised the logistics of the operation, finding British families willing to care for the refugee children, all whilst maintaining his day job. The first transport left on 14th March 1939, the day before German occupation. This was followed by another seven transports, the last leaving Prague on 2nd August 1939.

After the war, Sir Nicholas Winton's rescue efforts remained virtually unknown. Only forty years later, when his wife discovered his records, did his rescue efforts became known. This highlights his selfless motivation to take action, doing so solely to help others who faced great danger.

Throughout the Holocaust, rescuers hid and aided the escape of victims of Nazi persecution. From those who helped just one person to the British Kindertransport which rescued approximately 10,000 children, rescuers may not have stopped the Holocaust, but made a huge difference to many individuals' lives. Whether hiding someone for a few hours or as long as three years, whether saving one life or saving thousands, each rescuer had an equally significant impact on the life of an individual.

However, one must not overlook how few people took action as rescuers. Only 0.1% of the non-Jewish population of Nazi-occupied Europe participated in rescue. Yet, this small and brave minority, who refused to stand by, have set a great example for humanity, through the immense moral courage and selflessness which they demonstrated.

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