Acts Of Heroism And Compassion, And Lessons From The Holocaust

The Holocaust continues to be a focus of celebrities and pundits alike. Memories of the masses is very short. Although memory begins around age two and a half, context information for non-emotional events and news stories was at a chance level at two months in adults. This is not a good starting point if one is trying to re-educate Americans about the Holocaust. Given that attention spans are down from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to 8 seconds now, the chance of sustaining a lasting memory is further reduced. Social media has been the main driving force decreasing attention spans. Humans now have attention spans below that of goldfish. There is only one answer, and that is to keep the drumbeat alive. Everyone has to do his or her part. The survivors are trying, but unfortunately their numbers are dwindling.

Among the numerous horrors of the Holocaust, there were a few bright spots. Unfortunately, not enough. Steven Spielberg did his part in portraying Oskar Schindler as a Righteous Gentile in his hit movie Schindler’s List. Schindler saved 1,200 Jews.

Raoul Wallenberg, whom I have tried to memorialize my whole life, saved 100,000 Hungarian Jews. If the world only had 60 Raoul Wallenbergs, all of European Jewry would have been saved. Wallenberg stared down Eichmann twice. Eichmann in turn tried to assassinate him but failed. One of the main reasons Simon Wiesenthal stated in his quest to bring Nazis to justice was his passion to find and free Raoul Wallenberg. Unfortunately, the Cold War got in the way of his attempt to do so.

Chiune Sugihara was another giant who saved Jews. He issued 2,140 visas, allowing 2,440 Jews to live (including 300 children).

My colleague, Dr. Robert Meth, with whom I went to medical school, told me that his mother had been saved by Sugihara. His father was saved prior to the war by the Kitchener Camp located near Sandwich, England. The story of the Kitchener Camp is miraculous, but points to how human beings can lend a helping hand and save lives as a result.

Dr. Meth’s father was rounded up on Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), November 9-11, 1938, when the Nazis attacked synagogues, commercial premises, homes, and Jews. He was arrested and deported to Buchenwald. Others were taken to Sachsenhausen and Dachau. At these concentration camps, Jews were subjected to torture and brutality.

The Central British Fund for German Jewry (now World Jewish Relief) persuaded the British Parliament to allow the rescue of Jews from Germany. The Kitchener Camp resulted from the softening of the British government’s hardline stance to those fleeing Nazi persecution. Kristallnacht helped change the mindset of Parliament and the British public. Despite Parliament’s change of thinking, the Home Office had made it a condition that the men at the Kitchener Camp leave Britain and emigrate within 12 months. Dr. Meth’s father made it to the United States as a result.

The Kitchener Camp saved 4,000 Jewish men. All had to leave their wives and families behind. They were not allowed in by the British; 887 of the men at the Kitchener Camp enlisted in the British Army.

The Kitchener Camp was formerly a British Army Base in World War I. The refugees themselves helped in renovating the spartan accommodations. Although most did well at the Kitchener Camp, some complained that the physical labor was too much for them, since they had sustained injuries at the hands of the Nazis in their time of incarceration at the concentration camps.

A second more well-known rescue of 10,000 unaccompanied, predominantly Jewish children, called the “Kindertransport” by the Central British Fund in the nine months leading up to World War II, was another high note. More children would have been allowed in by the British, but the war made that impossible. In the United States, although attempts were made to open up immigration to children from Nazi-controlled lands (Wagner-Rogers Bill), they were blocked by Senator Robert Rice Reynolds, a Democrat from North Carolina (1932-1945), an apologist for Nazi aggression in Europe (the bill never left the Committee). Of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis, 1.5 million were children.

The Kitchener Camp and the Kindertransport were acts of heroism and compassion. Looking back, one wonders why so much more wasn’t done that could have been done. So many more could have been saved. These are eternal lessons. I think these lessons need to be repeated over and over again.

Dr. Joe Frager is Chairman of the Israel Advocacy Commission for the Rabbinical Alliance of America; Chairman of the Executive Committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim; Dean at Kollel Ayshel Avraham; Executive Vice President of the Israel Heritage Foundation; and a physician in practice for 41 years.