Yom Hashoah is a sad day of reflection. Our thoughts and innermost feelings
reach out to the millions of victims of the Nazi extermination machine. This is
natural and understandable.
Less so is the fact that we have failed to
create a collective memory vis-à-vis the scores of heroes, women and men, who
risked their lives to save others. Not only the almost 25,000 people who
were recognized as Righteous among the Nations, but also tens of thousands of
rescuers who remain anonymous or who cannot gain such an official recognition
because they were Jewish. By “Jewish savior” we do not mean the trivial case of
a Jewish mother who saved her son, but we are talking of a sizable number of
Jews who took an extra risk in order to save their sisters and
To be sure, it is absolutely reasonable that the Jewish state
pays tribute to the Gentiles who saved Jews during the Shoah, but inevitably,
this creates discrimination. Therefore, we should create a day in which
we could celebrate the feats of all those who saved Jews, not only in the
Holocaust, but throughout history. This could serve as a precedent for the world
at large to institute a Universal Day of Saviors, dedicated to saviors who saved
people from all religions and nationalities.
Jewish history is packed
with tragic events (such as “17th of Tammuz,” “9th of Av”). The exercise of
remembering sad moments is important, but so is the need to celebrate and
highlight the positive.
We know this is not easy, but from the experience
we gained at the helm of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation,
following decades of implementing educational programs, we know for a fact that
the young generations are looking for role models, and what better role models
than those who were ready to sacrifice their own lives in order to save others?
Isn’t it sad that everybody knows who Hitler, Himmler or Eichmann were? But who
knows of the tens of thousand of rescuers? WE ARE proud to carry the name of
Raoul Wallenberg, the young Swedish diplomat who in less than nine months, from
July 1944 to January 1945, was able to rescue tens of thousands of Hungarian
Jews. Sad is the fact that he, who saved so many, became himself a victim of
oppression. On January 17, 1945, he was imprisoned by the Soviets, and his fate
and whereabouts are a mystery even today. He, who saved so many, could not be
Other heroes acted for longer periods of time, some also paid with
their own lives, but unlike Wallenberg they were left in oblivion. All of them
made a huge difference.
The State of Israel celebrates its Day of
Independence immediately after remembering its fallen soldiers, stressing that
the building of the nation is owed to these martyrs. Sorrow and joy are almost
intertwined. Similarly, Yom Hashoa, which remembers the victims and the
atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators, should be followed
by the Day of the Saviors, which should celebrate the legacies of the heroes who
represent the light in the midst of darkness, regardless of their religion,
nationality of background.
Remembering the tragedies is
important. Remembering the rescuers is imperative.
The writers are
the chairman and founder, respectively, of the International Raoul Wallenberg