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10 Lesser-Known Rescuers Who Saved Thousands of Jews

6. The mayor and the bishop of the Greek island of Zakynthos saved all the 275 Jews living on the island by keeping their identities hidden from the Nazis and instead handed over a list containing just their own names.

Mayor Lucas Carrer and Metropolitan Chrysostomos
Mayor Lucas Carrer and Metropolitan Chrysostomos Image credits: yadvashem

On September 9, 1943, a Nazi commander called on the mayor of the Greek island of Zakynthos and asked him to hand over a list of all the Jews living on the island. The island was at that time home of 275 Jews.

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Taken aback, Mayor Loukas Carrer consulted with the local bishop, Chrysostomos, and made the decision to not give the commander any such list. The next day when the commander asked for the list, the mayor and the bishop tried to reason with him and explain that the Jews and the Christians had been living on the island together for hundreds of years without confrontation, and both the communities are equal citizens of Greece. When the commander was not convinced and insisted that a list should be provided, the bishop handed over to him a piece of paper in which were written just two names: the names of the bishop and the mayor. The bishop also gave the commander a letter from the bishop working with Hitler in which he had mentioned that the Jews of the island were his personal responsibility. The commander, stunned, sent the papers to his superiors.

Meanwhile, the Jews of the island were instructed to hide in Christian homes in the remote villages. Unexpectedly, the command to gather the Jews of the island was canceled eventually, and all the Jews there survived the war. On October 1944, the Germans left the island. (source)

7. A Nazi officer, Karl Plagge, disgusted by the atrocities of the government, used his position to employ as many Jews as possible under him describing them as skilled laborers, and saved about 300 of them.

KarlPlagge
Lithuanian collaborator with Jewish prisoners, from July 1941 Image credits: Erika Vogel, Bundesarchiv via wikipedia

Major Karl Plagge was a Nazi officer heading the army vehicle repair unit in Vilnius, Lithuania. He was an engineer by profession, and as the racism in the government became paramount, he was disgusted by the ideology and saw it his responsibility to save the Jews to the extent he could. He was a World War I veteran and was initially drawn towards the party because of Hitler’s promise to make Germany a progressive country.

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He was an eyewitness to the genocide carried out by the Nazis. Any Jew found without work papers were taken to a nearby execution ground and killed. Karl, in order to save some of the Jews, at least, started to employ as many Jews as possible under him certifying them as skilled mechanics which they weren’t. When he would be questioned by his superiors, he would say with straight face that they were capable laborers. He even managed to convince others to let the workers have their families with them in order to improve productivity. This way, he employed more than 1,200 men under him and treated them well.

In 1944, when the Soviets were reaching Vilnius, Karl knew that before the Nazis would evacuate the city, they would try to kill every Jew possible. So, on July 1, he went into the camp and made a careful speech to the laborers in the presence of another SS officer mentioning that he was leaving and he wasn’t allowed to take his skilled laborers along with him. He told them that they should not worry as they would be relocated soon by the SS who were meant to protect the refugees. Some of the Jews were able to get the hint and managed to escape, but many were killed in the subsequent days. The Nazis were able to kill more than 900 Jews in the camp, but still, about 300 survived because of Karl. (source)

8. In 1943, three young Belgians equipped with one pistol, a lamp, and wire cutters stopped a train taking Jews to death camps in the middle of the night and freed more than 200 Jews while bullets showered upon them.

Three Men Stopped the Train
Image credits: infocenters via wikimedia, Antoine.frank via wikimedia, randompottins

On the night of April 19, 1943, three young Belgian students, Youra Livchitz, 25, Robert Maistriau, 22, and Jean Franklemon, 22, executed a plan that was rejected by the partisans because it was too dangerous.

Equipped with a single pistol, a lamp, and a few pliers, the trio cycled miles to reach the spot where the plan was to be carried out. The plan, precisely, was to stop a train carrying 1,631 Jews from Belgium to the most infamous extermination camp of all in Auschwitz, Poland and free the prisoners. They covered the lamp with red tissue papers and placed it in front of the approaching train. Assuming it to be a stop sign, the train made an emergency halt, and instantly, the three started to cut open the doors with the pliers and shouted “Sortez! Sortez!” meaning “get out.” The train started to move. Meanwhile, the Germans had started to shower bullets on them and those trying to escape. They were but able to free 17 immediately, but further down the track, 216 more jumped out of the train, of which 89 were recaptured, 26 died there due to falling or the bullets, but 101 escaped. The train had a special wagon the prisoners of which were meant to be killed immediately on their arrival at Auschwitz. Three from that wagon managed to escape while another was shot dead.

All three of them escaped that night, however, Youra Livchitz was eventually caught and executed. Robert Maistriau was arrested but freed in 1945 and died in 2008. Jean Franklemon was captured and sent to a concentration camp from where he was freed in 1945 and lived until 1977. (source)

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9. Hugh O’Flaherty, an Irish cleric and a master of disguise, saved about 6,500 Jews and POWs from the Nazis masquerading them as nuns and monks and hiding them in convents, farms, and homes.

Hugh O'Flaherty
Mural of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty in Killarney, Ireland Image credits:: Dmol/wikipedia

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, popularly known as the “Irish Schindler,” was a Vatican diplomat serving in Italy during the fall of Mussolini which resulted in the release of thousands of POWs, but they all were at the risk of being recaptured as Germany took over Italy. Since Hitler had recognized Vatican City’s neutrality, it was out of the reach of the Nazis and this is from where Monsignor O’Flaherty carried out his mission to save the Jews, POWs, and others at risk.

Monsignor O’Flaherty had a charismatic and compassionate personality, was well traveled, knew many languages, and had a vast network of people. People flocked to him to save them, and Monsignor O’Flaherty did all he could. He disguised them as monks and nuns and kept them hidden in safe places and passed off partisans as Swiss guards among many of his tactics to evade the Nazis. The Nazis became aware of his activities and drew a white line marking the border of Italy and the Vatican and were instructed to execute him if he was found inside Italy.

This line could not stop him and he continued to venture out in disguise as a coalman, nun, etc. He was such convincing in his disguises that he earned the nickname the “Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican.” Monsignor O’Flaherty and his associates were able to keep safe about 6,500 lives until the Allied forces finally chased away the Germans. Even after the war, he kept visiting the prisoners. Surprisingly, he paid a visit at least once a month to a former Nazi officer who wanted him dead for several years, and they became close friends. Monsignor O’Flaherty died in 1965. (source)

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10. Also known as the “Chinese Schindler,” Dr. Feng Shan Ho saved more than 2,000 Jews by issuing them visas going against the direct directives of his superiors who wanted a good relationship with Germany.

Much like Chiune Sugihara of Japan, Dr. Feng Shan Ho also took measures in order to provide a safe escape to the Jews from Europe issuing visas which were in contrary to the instructions he was given by his superiors.

Dr. Feng Shan Ho was the first consul-general of the Republic of China in Vienna in Nazi-occupied Austria. Austria at that time had about 200,000 Jews, and the only way they could get away from the Nazis who were rounding them up and sending them to concentration camps was to get exit visas. The Chinese government wanted a better relationship with Germany and so had instructed Dr. Ho to issue a limited number of visas. At that time, visas were not a prerequisite to enter Shanghai but were necessary to leave Europe. He issued about 1,200 visas during the first three months of holding the office which got the Chinese government concerned. Many of those who received the visas ended up in Shanghai, while many left for other places like Hong Kong and Australia. It is debatable how many visas he actually issued, but it was easily multiple thousands, thereby saving a minimum of 2,000 Jews by disobeying his superiors. When the Nazis captured his office because the building was Jewish-owned, he had to find smaller facilities, paying money from his own pocket. The Chinese government refused to fund him after the confiscation.

In his later life, he continued to disobey orders for which he was denied his pensions. His efforts to save the Jews from the hands of the Nazis only became widely known after his death in the year 1997, and he was awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations” posthumously in the year 2001 by the Israeli government. (source)

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