Righteous Among the Nations
The State of Israel seeks for proper acknowledgement of the people who showed an exceptional heroism by saving Jews from Nazi genocide during the World War II.
In 1953, the Parliament of Israel – the Knesset – established the Yad Vashem institution in Israel and entrusted it with the task of commemorating the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis and their collaborators by designing memorial projects as well as collecting, studying and publishing the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, and distributing the lessons of the Holocaust. Today, Yad Vashem is the main database of the Holocaust, centre of scientific research and driving source for the education about the Holocaust in Israel and the entire world.
In Hebrew, the words “Yad Vashem” mean “memory and name”. These words are taken from the prophecy of Isaiah. The reason of choosing of these words is simple, but very important: every human being has a name, therefore every nameless victim of the Holocaust must have one too.
During those tragic times, when all human values were trampled, when hatred and hostility was all around, there were people who were not indifferent and outstretched their helping hands to the innocent people who were persecuted and killed.
Rescuing of Jews during the Holocaust was not a one-off phenomenon. The rescuers would sacrifice themselves for unfamiliar people for long months and years living together with the fugitives in fear of disclosure and arrest. The hard decision to help would often be taken by all family members after long discussions, because everyone in the family would share the same risk.
The heroism of the righteous can only be realised in the context of inhuman laws of those times: people would face capital punishment not only for hiding the Jews, but also for even the tiniest help provided to them. Many rescuers were disclosed and killed together with the Jews they hid.
From 1963, a public commission, responsible for the recognition of the gentile Righteous Among the Nations who rescued Jews during the war, is working under the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance memorial museum in Jerusalem.
People who are recognised as the Righteous Among the Nations are presented with a certificate of honour and a medal with the inscribed words “Whoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe”. If the Righteous to be awarded are no longer alive, the award is presented to their closest relatives.
The names of the Righteous are added to the Wall of Honour in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. 917 citizens of Lithuania were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations (June 23, 2020 data).
The search for the Righteous in the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum and their commemoration in Yad Vashem continues as we speak, although now, more than 60 years after the war, it is harder and harder to retrace each case of rescuing, and to find the survivors, who could confirm the facts of rescuing and tell the stories of their survival.
A monument erected in the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations reminds us of all anonymous rescuers and those who might never be identified...