Focus on Issues Remembering the Righteous Christians
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Focus on Issues Remembering the Righteous Christians

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In the early 1960’s, Rabbi Harold Schulweis, then a Conservative rabbi in Oakland, Calif. came to know Herman “Fritz” Graebe, superintendent of a building in San Francisco, of meager financial means, who had once been a prestigious engineer in Germany. Graebe was assigned in August 1941 to manage a railroad engineering project for the Germans in the Ukraine. And there he witnessed the murder of nearly 1,500 Jews by Nazi extermination squads.

Graebe then engineered his greatest project: a rescue network that saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish refugees in a dozen Ukrainian cities and villages. For his rescue work, at tremendous personal risk, in which Graebe organized the Jews into work squads, Graebe became known as “The Moses of Rovno.”

Graebe was the only German to volunteer to testify at the Nuremberg trials of war criminals. And for this he was hounded, his family taunted. His position taken from him, his money completely gone, Graebe came to America with his family in 1948.

MANY SIMILAR CASES

That such a man should be forgotten by those he had rescued haunted Schulweis, who began to think about starting a foundation to help Righteous Gentiles. The ailing Graebe was “just one of many that I came across,” Schulweis told JTA. In 1962, Schulweis founded the Institute for Righteous Acts, whose archives were placed in the Judah Magnes Museum at Berkeley. “And not one rescuer of Jews wrote us,” he said.

Schulweis said he also received reports from individuals who had visited in Canada with one of the people who hid the family of Anne Frank in Amsterdam, Viktor Kugler, who was in dire economic and health straits.

And he began to hear stories, such as the one of Mother Maria of Paris, who was sent to a concentration camp, where she gave her identification papers to a Jewish woman, who survived because of them, while Mother Maria went to the gas chamber.

Almost all the rescuers he learned about were impoverished and forgotten. Many had been turned out of their communities for helping Jews. Schulweis’s thoughts were then clear: “If a Christian risked his life to save a Jew, don’t I as a Jew have an obligation to help him live out his life in dignity?”

FOUNDATION TO BE PART OF ADL

Since 1981, Dr. Eva Fogelman in New York has been director of the Rescuer Project at the City University of New York Graduate Center, which was initially sponsored by the John Slawson Fund of the American Jewish Committee. For the past 10 years, Fogelman, a social psychologist and psychotherapist, has been involved with research and therapy related to the impact of the Holocaust on survivors and their children.

Fogelman, who recently received her Ph.D. as a result of this work, told JTA that “As a result of my research in this area, I have encountered many rescuers who were socially isolated because of the good deeds they had done for Jews during the Holocaust. Rescuers were attacked, some were killed after the war. We have information that rescuers were physically threatened and ostracized by their communities for being ‘Jew-lovers.’ And some continue to have fears until today.”

And so Schulweis and Fogelman joined forces last year to bring this shame out of the closet. Together they worked on a bicoastal project, the Foundation to Sustain Righteous Christians.

It has just been announced that on September 15, the foundation will become a project of the International Center for Holocaust Studies of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. ADL’s national director Abraham Foxman said that Schulweis came to him a year ago and said, “It’s bigger than I am.” Thereafter, plans were set in motion to make the foundation an integral part of the ADL.

Foxman told JTA, “There’s a lesson, in that there is good and bad in all of us, and we must recognize both. If we are to survive as a people, it’s to laud and applaud and use as examples people who did what is just and right. It’s a fitting part of our institution. It’s part of what we’re all about.”

AN IMPORTANT STEP

Dennis Klein, director of the ADL Holocaust Center, is also enthusiastic about the transfer of the foundation to the ADL. “We’re all really excited about it,” he said, adding: “It supplies an understanding of that period that I don’t think any program will give that much attention to, certainly not within the Jewish community. To my knowledge, there’s been no full-time program addressing this issue.”

The ADL has allotted close to $100,000 for the foundation, Foxman said. The foundation will have a full-time ADL administrator, Frank Reiss, Fogelman remains the foundation’s director, Schulweis is founding and continuing chairman, and John Ruskay, who is vice chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America here, is foundation secretary.

SEEKING TO BEFRIEND THE RESCUERS

And, said Fogelman, the foundation is seeking volunteers “who will befriend rescuers who are socially isolated, setting up speakers’ bureaus, and recording the stories. We’re also facilitating to help survivors write testimony to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in order to get these rescuers recorded as Righteous Among the Nations.”

Schulweis, now rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, a Los Angeles suburb, has written a letter to be sent to all rabbis of all divisions of Judaism to ask them to appeal from their pulpits on Rosh Hashanah for those who were rescued by Righteous Christians to come forward with their stories, and with the current whereabouts of those who survive.

Schulweis said the foundation has already received contributions from rabbis, as well as laymen from all over the world. The concept of helping the rescuers comes from the Jewish ethic, he explained: “hakarat hatov” — recognizing the good. This recognition of the rescuers “really provides an opportunity to relate differently to the world out there and to change an inner perception,” he said.

Schulweis explained the foundation’s goals as “to make a conscious, systematic effort to find out the numberless rescuers who have been accounted for. We need a (Simon) Wiesenthal and a (Beate) Klarsfeld to search out the good as we have spent our energies–correctly–to hunt down the evil. The evil has been well researched, but the good, tragically, have been unsung–and that has to be acknowledged.

“In the last year, we’ve gotten hundreds of letters from Jewish survivors whose conscience has been pricked. The Jewish world community has not engaged in a systematic and active search for the rescuers, who clearly exist in greater numbers than we imagined.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund