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Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust

2/11/2007 - 7:00 AM PST

(Page 2 of 4)

realized only later was Adolph Eichmann in person -- shouting that these twins were his and if anyone dared to prevent him from saving them from this deportation there would be extremely unpleasant consequences for the Nazi army in Spain.

I had the great honor and pleasure of having known Giorgio Perlasca, and become a friend of his and his family at the beginning of the 1990s when an American-Jewish organization, which I then represented, gave him special awards in recognition for his courageous and selfless deeds. I recall how his wife told me that when he returned from the war, no one would believe him, and it was only when the survivors, mostly women, began to seek him out to thank him nearly 45 years later, that his story slowly became public and he was named "a righteous gentile" by Yad Vashem.

It must be remembered that Holocaust survivors could not face speaking about the trauma they had lived through for decades after the war, which is why "the righteous" were honored so late.

Enrico Deaglio has written a moving book based on his interviews with Giorgio Perlasca, and a television documentary based on two long conversations was also produced. A few years ago, the well-known film about his life appeared, and today Giorgio Perlasca's son, Franco, heads a foundation in Padua that works with schools to tell this remarkable story and teach the new generations about the Holocaust.

Among the righteous, there are also a great number of Muslims -- Muslims from Bosnia who disobeyed the orders of the SS and the Bosnian Muslim collaborationists, Muslims from Turkey whose embassies all over Europe gave protection to Turkish Jews, Muslims from Kosovo and Albania.

Glbert writes, "When the German army occupied Sarajevo in 1941, the city's new commandant asked Dervis Korkut, the Muslim director of the city museum, to head the collaborationist Muslim community -- which was to provide a Bosnian Muslim SS division. Korkut refused.

"Not long afterward, one of the receptionists at the museum announced that a high-ranking German officer wished to view the famous 14th-century 'Sarajevo Haggadah,' a priceless ancient manuscript describing the Jews' flight from Egypt.

"Sensing danger, Korkut hid the document under a display. 'Alas,' Korkut told the German colonel, 'I regret to tell you that the book vanished two yeas ago.'"

One year later, the Korkut family, well aware that their lives would be at stake if they were discovered, followed the call of their consciences and love for the other, offering refuge in their home to a young Jewish girl without a family, a home or a document of identity. When one of the righteous from Bosnia asked why he had helped the Jews, he replied, "Because I love them."

It is nice to know that 50 years later, during the war in ex-Yugoslavia, the small remnant of the Sarajevo Jewish community was able to reciprocate to a degree by returning some of the heroic kindnesses of those who had helped them a half century earlier.

The Bosnian Jews were neutral during the interethnic conflict and offered the offices of their community as a safe haven for all sides, while members of the community crossed the lines of fire to deliver badly needed medicine, in cooperation with a Palestinian doctor who worked in the main hospital.

There were also many righteous among the Serbians, including representatives of the Orthodox Church. In Greece too, the Orthodox Church worked actively to save lives. "In Athens, General Stroop summoned Archbishop Damaskinos, and asked for his cooperation in deporting the Jews. Damaskinos left Stroop's office and immediately ordered the Greek Orthodox religious leaders to hide Jews, and to not turn them over to the occupiers. The Jews were also helped by many Italian soldiers in the city, who were regarded by the Germans as traitors to the Axis. Thanks to their support, and that of the archbishop and his church, most of Athenian Jewry was saved."

Then there is the story of Princess Alice of Greece, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria (and the mother of Prince Philip). She gave refuge in her own house in the center of the city -- opposite that of the archbishop -- to Rachel, the widow of Haimaki Cohen, and to Rachel's young daughter and son Michel. Princess Alice also helped Rachel Cohen's other three sons, Jacques, Alfred and Elia, to escape from Greece and join the Allied forces.

Bulgaria was another country where courageous actions by the Orthodox Church, including public protests, took place. When the deportations began, Metropolitan Stefan wrote at once to the king: "'The cries and the tears of the slighted Bulgarian citizens of Jewish origin are a lawful protest against the injustice done to them. It should be heard and complied with by the king of the Bulgarians.' In the northern part of Bulgaria, farmers threatened to lie down on the ...

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