There are three kinds of Holocaust heroes, Chaim Roet, a child survivor, told President Moshe Katsav on Monday. There are gentiles who are regarded as Righteous among the Nations, there are partisans and there are Jews who rescued Jews.
Yad Vashem, he complained, recognizes only the gentiles but not the Jews.
"If it were not for a Jew, I would not be sitting here today," Roet who was rescued by a Jew in Holland, told Katsav.
The founder of an action committee which is lobbying for recognition of this kind of Jewish heroism, Roet was accompanied by a delegation of rescuers from Hungary, France and Greece, Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev and Alan Schneider, director of the B'nai B'rith World Center.
B'nai B'rith has in fact given recognition to Jewish rescuers, Schneider told The Jerusalem Post
, and for the past four years has held Holocaust Remembrance Day events in B'nai B'rith Martyrs Forest, with Jewish rescuers and public figures addressing between 200-400 schoolchildren each year.
According to Schneider, who has become heavily involved in trying to pay what he considers to be society's debt of omission vis- -vis the rescuers, many are embittered by the lack of general recognition. With few exceptions he said, they are not asking for their individual efforts to be recognized. They just want posterity to know that Jews took amazing risks to save other Jews.
In recent years, there have been publications about Jewish rescue. Spurred by B'nai B'rith, Yad Vashem has prepared a book about six rescuers and their exploits for dissemination in schools.
One of the rescuers, David Gur, originally from Hungary, has published a detailed book with photographs and biographies of Hungarian rescuers. Hungarian rescue operations, he said, were among the most comprehensive in Europe. Rescuers from the Zionist underground, working in close collaboration with Hungarian resistance groups, were able to provide 50 safe houses with beds and food for Jewish children.
Eitan Ginat, originally from France, said of some 320,000 Jews in France, including 20,000 who had fled from Belgium and Holland at the beginning of the war, approximately 200,000 survived. He attributed their survival to Jewish rescue operations and noted that, with rare exceptions, they could not have been carried out by a single individual. The securing of false papers, safe havens, food, transport, etc. was all part of an organized effort, he said.
Sabina Elzon, 95, worked with her husband in Lyon to secure false papers for thousands of Jews who arrived from Paris. They also provided food and shelter for the needy, often in their own home. They lived next door to a church and were able to enlist the aid of the priest.
Hannah Cohen, 84, who also worked in Lyon, was an OSE agent and found homes for Jewish children with kind-hearted farmers. She didn't look Jewish, so it was easy for her to travel around freely.
Ya'acov Maestro, originally from Greece, commented that while the rescue efforts of his colleagues had been a united effort working with people who were dressed, he had rescued naked people in the gas chambers, when it was thought that they were dead.
Katsav asked why criteria could not be established for Jewish rescuers as there had been for righteous gentiles, but Shalev said it was too complex.
Katsav saw no reason why those still living should not get a medal or a citation of some kind in acknowledgement of what they had done.
But both Shalev and Roest said that this was not feasible.
Gur suggested a monument of some kind with a plaque. "If there is a monument for the Unknown Soldier, there could also be a monument for Jewish rescuers," he ventured.
Schneider remarked on the fact that world will now commemorate two Holocaust days - one on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the other on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Since Holocaust days in the past commemorated those who were murdered by the Nazis and the heroism of those who resisted, Schneider proposed that the January commemoration be designated for those who perished at the hands of the Nazis and that April commemoration be dedicated to heroism and rescue.