NEW YORK (Jul. 21)
The director of a new foundation to aid needy Christians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust said many of the rescuers live impoverished lives and face persecution for their war-time activities.
Eva Fogelman, director of the Foundation to Sustain the Righteous Christians, told the JTA that the project aims to raise funds to ease their living conditions and provide a network of social support for these neglected heroes of European Jewry.
Founding chairman Rabbi Harold Schulweis conceived the idea after studying the importance of rescuers in terms of educating about the Holocaust, Fogelman said.
“In order for people not to lose faith in humanity, they must see that it was possible to maintain a sense of humanity during the Holocaust,” Fogelman said.
Schulweis has studied the rescuers since the early 1960’s and Fogelman directs a rescuer research project at the City University of New York Graduate Center for Social Psychology.
Both have met rescuers in Israel, Canada, the U.S. and Europe in the course of their research and have learned first-hand of their indigence and abuse, both from Jewish and non-Jewish communities.
DIFFICULTIES FACED IN ISRAEL
Even in Israel, where rescuers ostracized by their communities in Europe for helping Jews relocated, the 31 rescuers now living there have not always been hailed for their deeds. Just recently, Fogelman noted, the Knesset voted to raise the scant pensions for rescuers.
But money is not the only difficulty these Christians face in the Jewish homeland. Fogelman said she knows of several cases where Jewish children in religious neighborhoods taunted the rescuers calling them “goyim” and in one case physically attacked and almost killed an 80-year-old rescuer who converted to Judaism.
Perhaps less astonishing, the rescuers often conceal their war-time activities from their neighbors in European communities for fear of this type of abuse. Still others, who have not been able to or chose not to conceal their roles, have been ridiculed for their “love of Jews” in Europe.
The first task of the foundation will be locating the rescuers. Some 4,000 appear on a list at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Others can be located through the testimonies of survivor organizations to locate rescuers and reunite them with the people they saved.
The international effort of the foundation will also seek out other social support organizations to serve as extended families for lonely rescuers of all countries.
Finally, the foundation will raise funds to improve the living conditions of the needy rescuers and possibly sponsor a group of rescuers to travel to Israel and be reunited with survivors.
In a letter to the JTA, Schulweis wrote, “While there are many Holocaust memorials which reverently preserve the memory of the cremated victims and record the villainy of the persecutors, there is no Jewish undertaking to look after the well-being of these rescuers of our people.”
Mazon, the Jewish philanthropic group to combat hunger, contributed the first grant of $2,500 to the foundation last month.