Silent Heroes: Resistance to Persecution of the Jews in Europe 1933–1945

The Nazis’ assumption of power on January 30, 1933, marked the beginning of the ostracism, defamation, and disenfranchisement of German Jews. As of 1938 these measures were extended to all German-occupied territories. In 1941 the Nazi leadership resolved to carry out the genocide of European Jewry. By 1945 roughly six million people had been murdered. Most of them were either shot or gassed to death in the extermination camps and other killing sites in the German-occupied regions of Poland.

Throughout Europe there were Jews who attempted to escape the deportation and murder. Their survival was usually only possible with the help of people willing to offer support. Putting themselves at risk, these “silent heroes” procured food and forged identity cards, helped people escape, arranged lodgings, or hid people in their homes. There was always the danger of being denounced or discovered. In view of the mass murder of European Jews, going “underground” or into hiding as well as saving individual Jews must be seen as part of the resistance to the Nazi dictatorship.

Some of the helpers offered support of their own accord. Others became rescuers when Jews directly asked them for support. Ideological and political motives played as much a role as did spontaneous feelings of sympathy. In the course of attempts to save Jews, networks of helpers often developed. And yet many rescue operations nevertheless failed.

The Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem has so far honored more than 27,000 women and men for such aid efforts as Righteous Among the Nations.

In Germany the Silent Heroes Memorial Center is dedicated to commemorating those people who escaped the deadly threat and those who helped them.