The Righteous The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust

Martin Gilbert

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592 Pages



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Having chronicled the horrors of Nazi-dominated Europe in major works on the Holocaust and the Second World War, the distinguished historian Sir Martin Gilbert now turns his attention to the subject of altruism in that period. In this volume, Gilbert re-creates the stories of hundreds of non-Jews who, during the Holocaust, risked their lives to help save Jews from deportation and death.

Drawing on twenty-five years of original research, Gilbert takes us through Germany and every occupied country from Norway to Greece, from the Atlantic to the Baltic, where the Righteous, by their lifesaving actions, challenged Nazi barbarism.

The Greek Orthodox Princess Alice, who hid Jewish families in her Athens home; a Polish woman, "the Angel of Lvov," who worked closely with the Roman Catholic Church to obtain false certificates of baptism for those in imminent danger; and Albanian Muslims, who disguised Jews as their own brethren in order for them to be saved, are just a few of the Righteous whom we encounter within these pages. Others were priests and nuns, teachers and diplomats, colleagues and neighbors: above all, "ordinary" men and women, decent human beings.

According to Jewish tradition, "Whoever saves one life, it is as if he saved the entire world." The Righteous of Martin Gilbert's book certainly upheld that ideal, as they inspire us with their righteous acts to this day.


Praise for The Righteous

"As a researcher and collector of historical source material, Mr. Gilbert has no peer among contemporary historians; a man of awe-inspiring initiative and indefatigable productivity, he will leave no stone unturned in his searches. His enterprise is admirable, for while many of the stories told in [this] book have been told before, only a few have reached a wider public . . . [The Righteous] is a work of deep commitment; more than that, a labor of love. It deserves to be read side by side with the studies claiming that there were no rays of light, no manifestations of humanity and goodness in those dark days . . . One should be grateful for Mr. Gilbert's Herculean labors."—Walter Laqueur, The New York Times

"Mining the extensive archives of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Authority, along with memoirs and personal reminiscences, Gilbert narrates the story of those gentiles acknowledged by Vashem as 'Righteous Among the Nations.' Why some people chose to perform heroic deeds during the Holocaust often varied according to local circumstances. One of the book's virtues is Gilbert's ability to set the local context briefly before recounting the personal stories, thus keeping the human dimension paramount. A major criticism of 'rescue studies' is that rescuers were in the minority; clearly, had there been more righteous, there would have been more survivors. Although Gilbert acknowledges that the sheer weight of Nazi power, along with the depth of local collaboration, certainly ensured that the number of rescuers would remain small, he justly claims that this makes their acts all the more worthy of study."—Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Library Journal

"This is a book that should, that must, be read."—The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

"A timely [book] for a new century . . . The questions raised in this book lie at the heart of our humanity."—The Guardian (London)

"[Gilbert] recounts, in the same methodical, precisely meticulous and austerely moral fashion as his other books, heartwarming accounts of extraordinary bravery and sacrifice."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"These 'Righteous Among Nations,' the Yad Vashem, were comparatively rare in WWII-era Europe, where homegrown fascists, nationalists, criminals, and ordinary people with scores to settle visited murder upon the Jews or stood by as it was committed en masse. Gilbert gathers some truly remarkable stories of the brave deeds of the Righteous: poor Polish farmers, for instance, who hid Jewish families under barn floors or in attics; Italian priests and nuns who disguised refugees as monks and novices (as in Assisi, where one hiding place was 'the only convent in the world with a kosher kitchen'); British prisoners of war who smuggled Jews scheduled for annihilation into their own camps, keeping them fed and hidden for months at a time at grave risk to their own safety. These stories are marvelous moral lessons."—Kirkus Reviews

"Books have been written about individuals who risked their own safety to aid Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. Yet this comprehensive examination by noted historian Gilbert, recounted largely through first-person accounts by the Jews they rescued, is an important contribution. These thumbnail sketches of rescuers, their methods and, in some cases, the horrors they endured as a result of their courageous choices haven't previously been gathered in one volume. The result of 25 years of research sparked by witnessing Oskar Schindler's 1974 funeral procession in Jerusalem, Gilbert's country-by-country examination reveals as much about quiet dissent in Nazi-occupied Europe as it does about the human spirit. 'For anyone who is honoured today for saving Jewish lives, there were ten or more who did the same,' says one rescuer. In Vilna, a German officer, Maj. Karl Plagge, protected Jews from 1939 until 1944, by employing them in his Motor Vehicle Repair Park. In Germany, a young slave laborer, her feet frozen from working outdoors in the snow, was given a pair of shoes by an elderly couple in a remote wooded area; she never learned their names. The number of accounts is overwhelming, and fitting them all in one volume requires that each, to a degree, be given short shrift. But the very fact that there were so many tales of courage is reason to take heed of this heartening aspect of one of history's darkest moments."—Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

From The Righteous:

"What were the motives of those who tried to save Jews from deportation and death?" This question is raised with every account of rescue, as the reader, like the historian, wonders whether they would have behaved in such a courageous manner. First and foremost, the Righteous of this book chose to act; theirs was a deliberate decision to behave in a civilized, humane manner, rather than to do nothing, or to refuse to be involved, or to take the route of barbarism.

In the circumstances of a combination of Nazi rule, SS power and Gestapo terror, inaction motivated
Read the full excerpt


  • Martin Gilbert

  • Sir Martin Gilbert was knighted in 1995 “for services to British history and international relations.” The author of an eight-volume biography of Winston Churchill, among his other books are Churchill: A Life, The First World War, The Second World War, and most recently The Somme. He lives in London, England.

  • Martin Gilbert ©Sigrid Estrada