25 January 2022
Gideon Taylor, President of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), announced today a new social media campaign in partnership with Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, called #DontBeABystander: Those Who Risked It All To Save A Life. This initiative is a Holocaust education campaign that highlights a lesser-known aspect of the Holocaust – stories of “Righteous Among the Nations,” those brave non-Jews who risked everything, including their own lives, to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Gideon Taylor, President of the Claims Conference:
“The Jewish people owe a debt of gratitude to their Righteous rescuers. For some Jewish families at their most desperate hour, their saviors were guided by conscience and moral imperative, even above their own safety. It is our duty not only to honor the rescuers for their refusal to be bystanders, but also to share their heroic endeavors as a counterbalance to humanity’s darkness and indifference during the Holocaust. The Claims Conference is proud to be partnering with Yad Vashem in this important campaign.”
In a series of two-minute videos, the campaign highlights the heroic actions of non-Jewish individuals from all walks of life, including the dangers they faced to save Jewish men, women and children in German-occupied Europe. Included in the law establishing Yad Vashem that was enacted by the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) in 1953 is the official recognition of non-Jews who took great risks, endangering their lives and often the lives of their families, and received no reward or compensation for their efforts to help save Jews during the Holocaust. Over the years the title “Righteous Among the Nations" has become a most coveted title, bestowed by Yad Vashem on behalf of the Jewish people. These individuals were rays of light in one of the darkest chapters in modern history. Their stories are a source of inspiration in today's fractured world and will remain so for generations to come.
#DontBeABystander offers a unique perspective in Holocaust education – highlighting those individuals who put morality and humanity ahead of personal preservation. This lens has not been widely explored in the context of Holocaust education or on social media for a mainstream audience. As is the case with Holocaust survivors, the Righteous Among the Nations population is waning, and time is of the essence to hear their first-hand accounts. [Please visit DontBeABystander.org to see videos.]
Greg Schneider, Executive Vice President of the Claims Conference:
“Whomsoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe is inscribed on the medals awarded by Yad Vashem to Righteous Among the Nations. Though not literal, the concept is not difficult to imagine; if a teenager was saved by a Righteous rescuer, we can look at that child's family tree and see the subsequent generations with its branches intact – children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Without these rescuers, refusing to be a bystander, they acted and saved the lives of Jews, otherwise this family tree could not exist.”
Throughout this new social media campaign, individuals awarded the title Righteous rescuers from around the world share what compelled them to save Jewish neighbors, friends, entire families and even strangers. As they look back more than 75 years; how do they recall their acts? What did their families think of their actions? Did they keep in touch with the people they saved? Did these brave endeavors impact their lives in an ongoing manner? Would they risk it all again?
Dani Dayan, Yad Vashem Chairman:
"Yad Vashem's mission has always been, and continues to be, to perpetuate the memory of the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. Yet from its inception, Yad Vashem has also been dedicated to recognizing the bravery and selflessness of non-Jewish individuals who stood up in the face of the absolute evil that swept across much of Europe and areas of North Africa, and protected Jews at a time when hostility and indifference prevailed. This project of the Claims Conference highlights a few of the some 28,000 Righteous Among the Nations recognized so far by Yad Vashem who are still alive today."
Since 1963, the Claims Conference has been supporting and honoring those Righteous Among the Nations recognized by Yad Vashem through a special assistance program stemming from the Jewish value obligation to show gratitude. The Claims Conference was the first organization to establish such a program and continues the program to this day. #DontBeABystander takes this recognition to the next level, honoring those who risked it all by elevating their stories, and bringing them to a far wider audience, including the next generations. An obvious dovetail to the recent #ItStartedWithWords campaign, #DontBeABystander shows the impact of those who choose to take action and not just stand idly by while injustice is perpetrated.
In 2019, Sidney Zoltak, Holocaust survivor and a member of the Claims Conference Board of Directors representing the Canadian Jewish Congress, was in Poland for his sixth March of the Living trip and gathered with the Polish family that hid his family for 14 months on their farm. Standing in the field where Sidney and his family had been hidden underground, never seeing the light of day, stood three generations of Zoltaks with three generations of Krynskis, the family that rescued them.
Sidney Zoltak, Holocaust survivor:
“My son and his three children joined me in Poland, and we walked over the area where there was once an underground bunker,” Sidney recalls. “There are really no words that can express my gratitude. Were it not for the bravery, humanity and simple kindness of this very religious Polish-Catholic family, I wouldn’t be here today and neither would my son and grandchildren and eventually their grandchildren.”
In February 1995, Yad Vashem recognized Andrzej Sitkowski and his mother as Righteous Among the Nations for saving the Kosak sisters, Marion and Hadassa. Even long after the war, Andrzej has kept in contact with the sisters. The Kosak’s referred to the Sitkowski’s in their testimony after the war saying, “There is a uniqueness about the history of this family in that we formed firm bonds of friendship which survived the war.”
Andrzej Sitkowski, Righteous Among the Nations:
“I did help to some people in the war time and that was a very important part of my life. That in the difficult circumstances we didn’t say ‘we want to save Jews,’ but it was a coincidence; and in this coincidence we found ourselves to be ‘menschlich’ (human). I say to young people not to be indifferent when they see something wrongdoing and you could help. Don’t forget in any situation that you are a human being and human beings can do much more than you may expect.”
Hadassah Kosak, Holocaust survivor (saved by Andrzej): “It was the bravery and heroism of Andrzej Sitkowski and his family to offer two girls and their mother a shelter in their home where we survived the Nazi horrors. We were treated as family, and, to this day, our extended families keep in touch.”
About the Claims Conference: The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), a nonprofit organization with offices in New York, Israel and Germany, secures material compensation for Holocaust survivors around the world. Founded in 1951 by representatives of 23 major international Jewish organizations, the Claims Conference negotiates for and disburses funds to individuals and organizations and seeks the return of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust. As a result of negotiations with the Claims Conference since 1952, the German government has paid more than $90 billion in indemnification to individuals for suffering and losses resulting from persecution by the Nazis. In 2021, the Claims Conference distributed approximately $820 million in direct compensation to over 210,000 survivors in 83 countries and allocated approximately $650 million in grants to over 300 social service agencies worldwide that provide vital services for Holocaust survivors, such as homecare, food and medicine. For more information, please visit: www.claimscon.org
About Yad Vashem: Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, was established by the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) in 1953. As the world's largest and preeminent Holocaust institution, Yad Vashem maintains the most extensive archive and collections of Holocaust-era artifacts, documentation and artworks worldwide, which serve as the foundation for its activities both on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem and online. Yad Vashem's educational method integrates a multigenerational and interdisciplinary approach to telling the story of the Holocaust as the unique and unprecedented event perpetrated against the Jewish people, as well as its universal significance. For more information, visit us at www.yadvashem.org