Stories of freedom: what you do matters

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. David Lawrence
  • 86th Maintenance Squadron
Most people have heard of Oskar Schindler and his wife, Emilie, who together saved the lives of more than 1,200 Jews during the holocaust of Wold War II and were the focus of the movie "Schindler's List."

Emilie was instrumental to the success of saving so many lives, even selling her jewels to buy food, clothes and medicine. She looked after sick workers in a secret factory sanatorium with medical equipment purchased on the black market.

Survivor Maurice Markheim later recalled, "She got a whole truck of bread from somewhere on the black market. They called me to unload it. She was talking to the SS and because of the way she turned around and talked, I could slip a loaf under my shirt. I saw she did this on purpose. A loaf of bread at that point was gold. There is an old expression, 'Behind the man, there is the woman,' and I believe she was that great human being."

Another icon of the time, Miep Gies, is the reason we know about Anne Frank. Miep's family sheltered and protected the Frank family throughout the holocaust.
The holocaust was a time we often try to forget. What we fail to remember is that these are stories of inspiration and freedom - people who did something simple to save lives. These are stories of freedom:

With her husband and her colleagues, Miep Gies helped hide Edith and Otto Frank, their daughters Margot and Anne, and another family and individual in a secret upstairs room from July 1942 to August 1944.

Before their hiding place was emptied by the authorities and its residents captured, Miep retrieved Anne's diaries and saved them for her return. Once the war was over and it was confirmed that Anne had died in Bergen-Belsen, Miep gave the collection of papers and notebooks to Anne's father, Otto. After transcribing sections for his family, his daughter's literary ability became apparent and he arranged for the book's publication in 1947. Miep did not read the diaries before turning them over to him, and later remarked that if she had read them she would have had to destroy them because Anne had named all five of the helpers as well as their black market suppliers.

The actions of the Gies family are now considered extraordinary, however Miep stated in her autobiography, "I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more - much more - during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the hearts of those of us who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then."

John Damski was born in Germany to Polish parents. His family moved to Poland when he was 5, and John grew up speaking German, a skill that saved him many times during the war. Throughout the war, John hid many Jews and provided them with false identification papers. He then fell in love with a young Jewish woman, and their relationship would put them both at risk during the war.

Raoul Wallenberg is one of the most famous rescuers of the war. He was born into a wealthy family in Sweden and was a businessman at the time of the war. Raoul provided Swedish passports to Jews in Hungary to protect them from the Nazis. Raoul is credited with saving nearly 100,000 Hungarian Jews.

Joseph Heinrich grew up in Germany. In 1938, when conditions worsened for German Jews, his father was arrested. His mother sent him and his younger brother and sister to Holland. His sister stayed in the same safe house throughout the war, but Joseph and his brother moved constantly, eventually traveling to France, Spain and Palestine.

If you are interested in hearing more about these heroes, watch for coming announcements for a special remembrance ceremony to be held April 12.

This year's Day of Remembrance theme is "Stories of Freedom: What You Do Matters" and the Days of Remembrance committee is planning some awareness events and a remembrance ceremony to help bring to light some of the positive stories from the holocaust.

(Information was also taken from the Scholastic Web sites and and from Wikipedia.)