PRAGUE, Sept. 25 (JTA) — On Christmas Eve, 1941, Czech farmer Frantisek Kytlic left his home in Zamberk to scour the local woods for a Christmas tree.
During his search, he stumbled across two men in hiding and learned that one was a Polish soldier and the other a Jew.
Kytlic immediately took them home and shared his Christmas dinner with them. His Jewish guest, Jan Hostovsky, spent the rest of World War II in hiding with the farmer and his wife, helped by three local women who were also prepared to share the risk of discovery.
The story was one of several moving accounts given at a special Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial awards ceremony in Prague when the Israeli ambassador to the Czech Republic, Erelly Hadar, presented Righteous Among the Nations certificates, most of them posthumously, to 15 citizens of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Hadar told the assembled guests, who included the ambassadors of Slovakia and Slovenia, that those people who had put themselves in great danger to save Jewish lives during the war had acted out of “human kindness.”
She said Israel continued to keep and cherish the names and lives of the millions who perished during the war.
“That is why we cherish and respect so much those very noble people who took upon themselves the responsibility to save somebody, even one person, from certain death,” Hadar said.
Jaroslav Homolka was one of the few rescuers able to attend the ceremony. In 1942, when he was 20 years old, his parents hid a Jewish couple, Ruzena and Frantisek Ehrmann, at their farm near Pilsen, even though they barely knew them.
The Ehrmanns spent the rest of the war in a tiny shelter hidden behind a wardrobe. The Homolka family brought them food and regularly took them to the nearby woods at night for fresh air. They narrowly escaped detection when the police raided their home after the 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the highest Nazi official in wartime Czechoslovakia.
“We were terrified of being found out at first because we knew what would happen to us if the Nazis discovered the Ehrmanns,” Homolka told JTA. “But after a while we got used to it, and it didn’t really worry us anymore.”
Others who received awards included a Slovak couple who gave sanctuary in Bratislava, Slovakia, to three Jews, including a member of the Jewish underground, and three friends who hid a young Jewish man in their apartment in Prague.