Yom HaShoa is Israel and the Jewish people’s day of remembrance for the Shoa, or Holocaust. It falls this year on 8th April. Its official Hebrew name means ‘Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day’, emphasising how we should remember not only the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis, but also the heroes like those who rose up against their persecution in the Warsaw Ghetto.
There is also another group of heroes we should remember. Their actions provide a model of human decency we should all seek to emulate. An apparently disparate group from varied backgrounds, they are known as the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ – special people who have been recognised for saving the lives of Jewish people. Some were diplomats or industrialists; others were peasants or nuns. Many of them risked everything to protect others, often with scant resources with which to do so. If they were caught, their fate would be the same as that of the Jews they sheltered.
As the Shoa slides out of living memory to become recent history, many worry it might be forgotten or trivialised. There is already a depressing level of ignorance of its horrors. While we read often of the dwindling number of survivors alive to share their first hand testimony, less is written about the last few living saviours. Only 193 Righteous Among the Nations are still alive today; two died just last week.
As a young child in Italy during the Second World War, my late father Cesare was saved from death by the kindness and bravery of people who didn’t know him. He and his brother were separated from their parents, who hid elsewhere. Nuns, priests, a hairdresser, the baker’s nephews, a pharmacist and plenty of others all played a part in saving their lives at risk to their own.