Righteous Among the Nations is an official title awarded by Yad Vashem on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. The title is awarded by a special commission headed by a Supreme Court Justice according to a well-defined set of criteria and regulations.
The term “Righteous Among the Nations” (Chasidei Umot HaOlam) was taken from the Jewish tradition – from the literature of the Sages. A number of explanations of the term exist, such as: non-Jews who came to the aid of the Jewish people in times of danger; in other cases it is used to describe non-Jews who observe seven basic tenets set down in the Bible – including the prohibition of bloodshed. The lawmakers took the existing term and added new meaning to it. The Yad Vashem Law went on to characterize the Righteous Among the Nations as those who not only saved Jews but risked their lives in doing so. This was to become the basic criterion for awarding the title.
The basic conditions for granting the title are:
- Active involvement of the rescuer in saving one or several Jews from the threat of death or deportation to death camps
- Risk to the rescuer’s life, liberty or position
- The initial motivation being the intention to help persecuted Jews: i.e. not for payment or any other reward such as religious conversion of the saved person, adoption of a child, etc.
- The existence of testimony of those who were helped or at least unequivocal documentation establishing the nature of the rescue and its circumstances.
Persons recognized as a "Righteous Among the Nations" are awarded a specially minted medal and a certificate of honor – both bearing their name – as well as the privilege of their names being added to the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
The Yad Vashem Law authorizes Yad Vashem "to confer honorary citizenship of the State of Israel upon the Righteous Among the Nations, and commemorative citizenship if they have passed away, in recognition of their actions."
One of Yad Vashem's principal tasks is to honor the Righteous Among the Nations. We therefore welcome any information about rescuers. All information will be examined, and if there is sufficient evidence, the case will be presented to the Commission for consideration.
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Yes. Rescuers can be honored posthumously. The Righteous Among the Nations is an ongoing project, and we will continue to pursue the program for as long as petitions for this title are received and are supported by solid evidence that meets the criteria.
Rescue of Jews took many forms and required varying degrees of involvement and self-sacrifice. The title of the Righteous is reserved for the smaller group of those who actively risked their lives or their liberty for the express purpose of saving Jews from persecution and murder. There is a wider circle of men and women who assisted the persecuted in the darkest hour of Jewish history, but whose help did not involve the taking of risks. These humane people have our greatest appreciation and their deeds are being documented by us. Nevertheless, even though their aid was crucial to the Jews' survival, in the absence of risk, they do not qualify for recognition within the framework of the Righteous program.
The Righteous Among the Nations are non-Jews who risked his lives or liberty to save Jews during the Holocaust. The title is not attributed if the motivation is other than the rescue of persecuted Jews. Such other motivations can be: (1) financial gain; (2) the wish to religiously convert the rescued persons, or the protection of converted Jews because they are viewed as Christians and the rescuers feel that they shouldn't be treated as Jews; (3) the wish to take in a Jewish child for the purpose of adoption; (4) rescue as a result of resistance activity that was not aimed at saving Jews.
Another reason for not attributing the title may be that while saving one or several Jews, the very same rescuer was involved in murder, war crimes or causing harm to others.
In cases of convents, monasteries and religious orders the title will be attributed to the head of the institution who was in charge and bore the responsibility. It is assumed that the members of a religious institution are bound by the vow of obedience, and therefore, unless acted above and beyond the call of duty and obedience, they will not be recognized.
Some deserving acts of rescue were not recognized because no application was made. Grappling with painful memories is very difficult for survivors. Some didn't apply to Yad Vashem to have their rescuers recognized; others died before an application was made or didn't know of the program.
Some rescuers will forever remain anonymous because the rescue attempt was discovered and both rescuers and their wards were killed, leaving no one who could testify. Knowing that there are cases that will never be documented, Yad Vashem erected a monument to the anonymous rescuer in the Avenue of the Righteous. See anonymous rescuer section.
Why isn't the title of Righteous awarded to people who helped the Jews or the State of Israel at other moments in Jewish history?
Yad Vashem's mission is Holocaust commemoration, documentation, research and education. The Righteous Among the Nations program is a part of this mandate, and it is therefore our task to honor rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust.
Why is the title of Righteous awarded only to rescuers of Jews, and not to members of the resistance who fought against Nazi Germany?
Yad Vashem’s mission is Holocaust commemoration, documentation, research and education. Not only Jews were victimized by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, but Yad Vashem, as the Jewish people’s memorial to the Six Million, focuses on the Holocaust – the unique attempt to murder every single Jew only because he was born Jewish. Within this mandate, the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) also defined the Righteous Among the Nations as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. There were many instances of courageous resistance to the Nazis and their collaborators. These brave people deserve to be honored, and this is done in most cases by their countries and organizations.
Jewish defiance and resistance during the Holocaust took many forms and Holocaust history is laden with stories of Jewish heroism, solidarity and self-help. Such acts were: helping someone to evade forced labor or deportation, setting up a rescue network, assisting in escape attempts, passing letters and information, giving a fellow inmate a piece of bread, providing encouragement, smuggling food or false papers, etc. Almost all survivor testimonies describe instances of help extended by one Jew to another. These awe-inspiring expressions of courage, self sacrifice and solidarity deserve to be documented, researched and imparted, and Yad Vashem is committed to dealing with this topic in all its manifold activities, including on our website. However it is practically impossible to define criteria which will enable to decide what act of help deserves special distinction or a medal. With non-Jews the basic criteria is the element of risk to the rescuer. i.e. a person who knowingly chose to put himself or herself in danger and chose to leave the safety of the bystander’s position and identify with the victims to the extent of being willing to share their fate. In what concerns Jews, this distinction cannot be made, since all Jews were destined for extermination and therefore were in mortal danger no matter what they did. Helping fellow Jews could have augmented that danger in a particular instance, but evading danger altogether was not an option.
The numbers of Righteous recognized do not reflect the full scope of help given by non-Jews since many of the rescue stories remain unknown. They are rather the result of the material on rescue operations made available to Yad Vashem. The number of rescuers in the different countries depends on a multitude of factors and therefore does not necessarily indicate the attitude of the local population to the Jews and their murder. Moreover, in view of the great difference in circumstances between different countries and regions, one should proceed with great caution when making such comparisons.
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