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‘Meet’ some of the heroes who risked their lives to save Jews, sometimes strangers, during the Holocaust on the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.

The Monument to Jewish Soldiers and Partisans, whose granite blocks form a window in the shape of a Star of David. (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
The Monument to Jewish Soldiers and Partisans, whose granite blocks form a window in the shape of a Star of David.
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Vilna, Poland, December 31, 1941. Officers in the German army celebrate the New Year in an upstairs apartment. Members of the Jewish underground meet in the same building, downstairs.
Their host is German soldier Anton Schmid, who rushes from one group to the other to keep his comrades-inarms from becoming suspicious.
Schmid is a loyal German soldier. But earlier in 1941, when he was posted to the Vilna railway station, he witnessed countless Nazi atrocities. Almost immediately afterward, and at great danger to himself, he began saving Jewish lives.
During this holiday gathering, one of the Jews present tells him that when Israel becomes a state, Schmid will be honored for his bravery with a golden Star of David.
Shortly afterward, however, Schmid is arrested by the Nazis, convicted of high treason and executed.
A courier for the underground who was present at that New Year gathering wrote a report about the meeting that later reached the hidden Ringelblum Archives. She filed her mention of Anton Schmid under the heading, “hassidei umot ha’olam” – Righteous among the Nations.
At about the same time, kibbutz member Menahem Shenhavi presented a plan for a permanent Holocaust memorial in Israel. His proposal included a monument to gentiles who had rescued Jews at great risk to themselves.
Coincidentally, with no knowledge of the courier or of Schmid, he, too, called them “hassidei umot ha’olam.”
On August 15, 1953, the Knesset unanimously passed a law establishing Yad Vashem, outlining its objectives and framework. The ninth clause charged the institution with perpetuating the memories of non-Jews who jeopardized their lives to save Jews. They were to be known as hassidei umot ha’olam.
Together with others who risked everything they held dear to save Jewish lives, Schmid is remembered in the section of Yad Vashem that pays tribute to the Righteous among the Nations. Indeed, tree-lined avenues, landscaped gardens and ever-increasing memorial walls feature the names of over 25,000 incredibly courageous people.
When you stroll through the memorial garden, it serves as a reminder that there are good and virtuous human beings all over the world.
To follow one possible route, you can pass through the Visitors’ Center and begin on the Avenue of the Righteous among the Nations. Up the slope and behind a sculpted memorial for the Unknown Righteous, you will find a tree planted in honor of Joop Westerweel, a Dutch teacher who refused to countenance wrongdoing. In 1942, he joined an underground network that smuggled hundreds of Jewish youths out of Holland to safety in other countries. When the Nazis caught the group leader, Westerweel took over.
Captured in the act of helping two youngsters escape, he was sent to the Vught concentration camp in Holland. He was beaten and tortured, yet refused to reveal any information about his comrades. On August 11, 1944, he was executed by the Nazis.
On the left, just before the entrance, a tree honors Gertrude Babilinska, daughter of a Polish postal worker. The oldest of eight children, she left home at 19 and found work in Warsaw as a nanny with the wealthy Stolowicki family. She cared not only for their baby, but for Mrs. Stolowicki, who had become very ill.
When the Germans attacked Poland, the family’s father was in Paris and never returned home. The family’s other employees turned their backs on the now-pauperized mother and her three-year-old child, Michael. Not Babilinska; she fled with them to Vilna.
Terrified by bombs falling on the road, Mrs. Stolowicki was unable to function; Babilinska took responsibility for both mother and son.
While stranded with other refugees in Vilna, they survived on what scarce money she managed to earn.
Mrs. Stolowicki died, but not before asking Babilinska to take her child to Palestine. When the Jews were forced into a ghetto in Vilna, Babilinska managed to stay out by acquiring false papers and baptismal proof for five-year-old Michael.
After the war, she tried to take Michael to Palestine, but they were forced to remain in a displaced persons camp in Germany. Finally she wangled passage on the Exodus 1947, a ship bound for Palestine. When the British turned back the ship, she and Michael found themselves back in Germany. There they remained until they finally landed on the shores of the Promised Land in 1948. Babilinska, who remained a devout Catholic, stayed in Israel and raised Michael as her son – and as a Jew.
Inscribed on a plaque next to a tree on the opposite side of the path are the names of Zejneba and Mustafa Hardaga. Pious Muslims from Sarajevo, they strictly followed Islam’s religious laws and rites. Their Jewish friends, the Kabilios, lived next door.
On April 14, 1941, German bombs destroyed the Kabilio home, and the Hardagas immediately took them in. Soon afterward, the Nazis set up headquarters right across the street and circulated notices that promised death for anyone sheltering a Jew.
The Hardagas refused to turn the Kabilios out, but Joseph Kabilio worried about the danger to his friends.
He managed to send his wife and daughters into an Italian-occupied zone. Then he hid in a hospital until informers turned him over to the Nazis.
Heading for certain death, he somehow managed to escape. But with nowhere else to go, he returned to the Hardagas’ home. He hid there for several months, until he was the last Jew left in the city. Then, with the Hardagas’ help, he reconnected with his family and joined the partisans.
The Kabilios survived. And when they returned to Sarajevo after the war, the Hardagas presented them with an unopened box of jewelry that had been left for safekeeping. With this they were able to make a new life, eventually immigrating to Israel.
FOLLOWING THE sidewalk into a plaza and passing the sculptures will bring you to a road. If you stay on the pavement to the left, you can search the olive trees on the right for signs dedicated to two Dutch university students: Henriette (Hetty) Voute and Gisela Wieberdink-Soehnlein.
During the war, the two women belonged to an underground network intent on saving Jews. Voute became involved in finding shelter for Jewish children; her friend Wieberdink-Soehnlein acted as courier between underground organizations and escorted children to safe houses.
When the mass deportations began in Amsterdam, Jewish children were separated from their parents and sent to a transit center to await transport to the death camps. Voute and Wieberdink-Soehnlein spirited children out of the center by hiding them in milk cans, laundry bags, potato sacks, anything that they could get their hands on.
Both women were caught and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Somehow they survived and, years later, were recognized as Righteous among the Nations.
Remember the New Year’s Eve party in Vilna, where Schmid was told that someday he would receive a Star of David as a gesture of thanks? The soldier replied at the time that when that day came, he would wear it with honor. Today, instead of a medal, he is remembered with a tree. You will find it near the road, one level above the trees planted for Wieberdink-Soehnlein and Voute.
Almost immediately, you will see a staircase on your left. If you descend the steps, you will reach an enormous wall, engraved with the words of a survivor who was transported to the death camps in a cattle car like the one you will see before you. The steps turn into a path that eventually descends to the Wall of Names.
Only 30 of the 7,000 Jews in Liepaja, Latvia, survived the Holocaust. Eleven of them were saved by Robert and Johanna Sedul.
Robert was a janitor who began sheltering Jews in 1943. While they remained hidden behind a partition in the cellar of the building where he worked, he managed to provide them with food and keep their spirits up until a Russian shell killed him near the war’s end. His wife, Johanna, continued safeguarding the Jews until the final liberation in 1945. The Seduls’ names are engraved on a wall along with those of other Righteous Gentiles from Latvia.
After examining the many plaques, you can wind your way up the paths and steps next to a stone hut on the slope. If you turn left at the main road and continue as far as the Partisans’ Panorama (on your left), a path directly across the road and up a few steps will lead you to the Monument to Jewish Soldiers and Partisans – a fabulous sculpture whose granite blocks form a window in the shape of a Star of David. You can then cross through its plaza and turn left at the picnic tables.
There had never been a Jewish community in the Catholic Italian town of Assisi, birthplace of St. Francis.
Yet during the Holocaust, Assisi became a safe haven for hundreds of Jews. That’s because, soon after the German occupation, town bishop Monsignor Giuseppe Placido Nicolini ordered Father Aldo Brunacci to begin a rescue operation. Brunacci’s network sheltered some Jews in convents and monasteries; it provided others with false papers that enabled them to survive elsewhere.
The Gestapo arrested Brunacci one month before the liberation, but later released him. A plaque bearing his name is located under a tree next to a picnic table.
IN THE summer of 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, and in the fall, the massacres began.
Eleven-year-old Donia Rozen, an orphan, had been living with her grandparents in the Ukrainian town of Kosow. A neighbor took Rozen and her grandmother in; the grandfather was murdered by the Nazis. A year later, the only remaining Jew in Kosow, the child ended up fending for herself in the surrounding forests.
A 60-year-old peasant, Olena Hyrhoryshyn, found Rozen and took her home, despite the hostility of her neighbors. And when Hyrhoryshyn refused to turn Rozen in to the authorities as the situation worsened, her brother threw them both out of the house.
Captured by the Nazis, they managed to escape into the forests. Here Hyrhoryshyn built a hideout for Rozen and covered it with dry twigs. After working by day to provide them with food, Hyrhoryshyn would return at night and try to warm the child’s frozen body.
As the hunt for Jews continued, Rozen’s shelter was discovered. She jumped into the Prut River, reaching the Red Army and safety on the other side. She was free, eventually immigrating to Israel and becoming, after a time, head of the Department of the Righteous.
Hyrhoryshyn was never seen again.
To find the tree Rozen planted in her honor, you can follow the road past the plaza. There is a dirt path next to a red faucet and a black statue. As you descend the path, it will be the first tree on your right.
If you then backtrack and stay on the sidewalk to the right around the museum, you will see a tall statue in a grove in the near distance. Find the path that leads up to it, pass the Children’s Memorial and head for the exit, and you will have returned to the Avenue of the Righteous.
Between the avenue and the exit (Visitors’ Center), a tree stands alone. It honors Irene Sendler, a social worker who rescued Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto by smuggling them past Nazi guards in potato sacks and coffins. After finding adopted families for them or placing the youngsters in convents and orphanages, she buried their names in jars in a garden so she would be able to reveal their true identities after the war’s end.
Arrested in 1943, she was severely tortured, but refused to reveal the names of her colleagues or the hiding places of the children. Sendler was sentenced to death, but she escaped from prison and lived to plant her own tree right here in 2006.
Note: There are ramps leading to all of the sites on this route.