Yad Vashem is the World Centre for Holocaust Research, Documentation, Education and Commemoration, in Jerusalem. It was established after World War II to perpetuate the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. One of its principal duties is to express the gratitude of the Jewish people to those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust – The Righteous Among the Nations.
Specific conditions need to be adhered to before the honour can be awarded. Recipients must have actively been involved in saving one or more Jews resulting in the rescuer’s own life being at risk. All help had to be purely humanitarian and not for any monetary gain. Also, there has to be verifiable witness testimony to corroborate the deeds. Due to the turmoil of the times and the trauma that engulfed post-war Europe, it is inevitable that many genuine acts of righteousness have been lost to history. Despite that, to date over twenty-six thousand medals have been award to rescuers from 44 countries – the largest contributor being Poland, whose current total of 6620 is still rising, as yet more stories of rescue come to light.
THE MEANING OF THE RIGHTEOUS MEDAL
The hands pulling a barbed wire rescue line rotate a globe, as the deeds such as those performed by the rescuers make the world go around.The surrounding inscription says “WHOEVER SAVES ONE LIFE, IT IS AS IF HE SAVED THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE”. The full meaning of this saying is demonstrated when many generations of survivors’ families come together to honour a rescuer.
In 2012 the European Parliament dedicated a day to the Righteous in all genocides, celebrating the values of responsibility, tolerance and solidarity. The day is held on 6th March, the anniversary of the death of Judge Moshe Bejski, President of the Righteous Commission of Israel’s Memorial to Jewish Holocaust Victims and a survivor himself, who was saved by Righteous Among the Nations Oskar Schindler
Now I understand what the writing on the back of the Yad Vashem medal means –
saving one life is like saving the world. It took so much courage for these people to do what they did.
Jonah McCarthy age 11, New North London Synagogue