By: Dale King
When one thinks of the brave men and women who rescued Holocaust victims from torture and death at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, the name of Oskar Schindler normally rises to the top.
But, in fact, dozens of other lesser-known folk living in Nazi-ruled nations like Germany and Poland refused to succumb to Der Furher’s directives and risked their own lives to keep as many Jews as they could out of Hitler’s crosshairs, be it one, two or many.
Houston-born photographer Gay Block and California writer Rabbi Malka Drucker spent three years and traveled thousands of miles to interview 105 people who hid, protected and saved Jews in Europe while the Second World War raged.
For its fall exhibition, the Adolph & Rose Levis JCC’s Sandler Center in Boca Raton is displaying the photographs and stories collected by Block and Drucker. Photographer Block discussed the exhibit, Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust during an opening reception Nov. 3
The exhibition that will run through Dec. 22 at the JCC, 21050 95th Ave. S. is being combined with a series of lectures, films and programs related to the Holocaust.
Christians in Nazi-controlled nations realized their Jewish neighbors, families and children were in dire danger “when they saw people disappearing,” said Block in her address to opening day crowds. It was then that they stepped in and used all manner of methods to help Jews find safety.
Debuting in 1996 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the work of Block and Drucker made a stop at Boca’s JCC that same year before returning to the New York venue.
“We first hosted the Rescuers exhibition in November of 1996, and I am thrilled to be bringing it back as it is even more relevant in these unsettling times,” said Terri Berns, director of the Judi & Allan Schuman Museum Gallery.
“By immersing oneself in these intimate photographs and inspirational stories, I hope others will be inspired to explore the universal need for humanity and heroism in their own lives.”
The photos and stories of Holocaust rescues have also been compiled in a book called Rescuers which was sold at the event. Block spoke at a podium in front of a screen showing the cover of the volume featuring a variety of interviewee pictures.
The woman responsible for creating the photo array depicting Christian liberators said they never spoke of themselves as heroes. She said she got the idea for the series after touring schools and discovering that “many young people are unaware of the Holocaust.”
Drucker was quoted as saying that a 1979 visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, spurred her interest in interviewing rescuers.
Block and Drucker placed newspaper ads to locate some of these unknown and unheralded savers. And with dozens of names in hand, they soon began their journey of discovery.
“Rescuers cannot easily explain why they had the strength to act righteously, nor do their life stories always offer a clue,” Block told the crowd. “History gives no promises, but rescuers offer hope, revealing that goodness is, indeed, part of the human spirit.”
Gay plucked a few plums from the 49 stories in the Rescuers book:
- Marion P. van Binsbergen Pritchard was a Dutch woman that Drucker and Block met in Vermont. She saved 150 Jews during the war years by hiding them in her basement.
- Block remembered Zofia Baniecka, one of the first rescuers interviewed, as a woman who smoked cigarettes throughout the interview. “She hid people in her flat, and when she learned of an air raid, moved them to another apartment. We met her in Staten Island, at the home of someone she rescued.” She spoke no English.
- Jan Karski, shown in the book dressed in a smartly tailored suit, also smoking a cigarette, was a Polish diplomat. He reported to the Polish, British and U.S. governments on the grim situation in Poland, especially on destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. He also carried out of Poland a microfilm with information from the underground movement on the extermination of European Jews in German-occupied Poland.
- Maria, Countess von Matzan, “saved so many in her flat in Berlin. She was still rescuing people into her 80s.”
- One woman cried throughout her interview because she only saved one child.
- Tony Colinin, a political prison in Buchenwald, saved 44 Jewish boys by moving them to a specific section of the camp and telling the Nazis the children had typhus. Germ-fearing Nazis stayed away.
Lectures and events continue through Dec. 17. Individual lectures are $18 unless otherwise noted. For information or tickets, call the Sandler Center at 561-558-2520 or visit levisjcc.org/box office.