by Elizabeth Altham
Elizabeth Altham is a former corporate speech writer and a convert. Much of the research for this article was prepared by Jeffrey Rubin, former editor of Sursum Corda and a Jewish convert to the Catholic Church.
Przemysl, Poland, 1944: Two SS men knock at the door of Stefania Podgorska, a Catholic seamstress. Her cottage is wanted for personnel of the field hospital across the street; she and her younger sister, Helena, have two hours to move out, on pain of death. The challenge of finding a new place to live is a bit stiffer than the SS men can imagine: Stefania, seventeen, is sheltering thirteen Jews in her little house.
She spends nearly two hours running from house to ruined house. After occupation by the Germans, the Soviets and the Germans again, there is nothing left that she could even make shift in. She returns home. Her guests beg her to escape with Helena, who is only seven.
Eva Fogelman, a psychotherapist whose father was rescued by Lithuanian Catholics, has written a splendid book about people who saved Jews, Conscience and Courage. In it she reports Stefania's own account of what happened next. Stefania asked her guests to pray with her. She knelt before a picture of Jesus and Mary.
"And I asked God not to let us be killed. Help, somehow. I cannot leave this apartment. I cannot leave thirteen people for a certain death. I will be alive if I go, but thirteen lives will be finished—children too, and young people. I asked God, 'Help, somehow.'
"And…I heard a voice, a woman's voice. It was so beautiful, so nice, so quiet. She said to me, 'Don't worry. Everything will be all right. You will not leave your apartment. You will stay here, and they will take only one room. Everything will be all right. I am with you.' And she told me, 'Be quiet. I'll tell you what to do.' She said, 'Send your people to the bunker a hidden space in the attic. Open the door. Open the windows. Clean your apartment and sing.'"1
Stefania obeyed the voice. Her neighbors came and remonstrated with her: the SS would surely kill her. She continued to clean her house, and to sing. Ten minutes later, an SS man arrived—smiling. It was a good thing, he said, that she had not moved, because they needed only one room; she could keep the rest.
There were more close calls before the Soviets finally liberated Przemysl (and there had been many before this one), but Stefania and Helena Podgorska and the thirteen Jews all survived the war.
Eva Fogelman interviewed more than three hundred rescuers, and checked their stories with the Jews they saved and with official records. She wanted to understand what motivated people to risk their lives to help others. She concluded that in many cases the critical motive was religious faith: the conviction that Christ would want them to do this.
But what of the official Church? In the past year there has been a fresh irruption of stories about the alleged inaction of the hierarchy, and especially the "silence" of Pope Pius XII, stories worse in some ways even than Rolf Hochhuth's scurrilous 1963 play, "The Deputy." Even The New Yorker, in its April 7, 1997 edition, printed an article that asserted Pius and the hierarchy turned their backs on the Jews; and journals such as The Catholic Times and The National Catholic Register (owned by the Legionaries of Christ) in reporting the progress of a document on the Holocaust being prepared by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, treat the question as open.
Probably the most systematic and comprehensive study of the Pope's and the hierarchy's handling of the Holocaust is Pinchas Lapide's 1967 book, Three Popes and the Jews. Lapide, an Israeli diplomat, was a member of the Palestinian Brigade that found many interned Jews in Italy at the end of World War II. After exhaustive research, Lapide concluded that at least 700,000 Jews, and more likely 860,000, owed their lives directly to the Church; he also concluded that Pius simply could not have done more than he did. The suggestion that Pius ought to have spoken more forcefully he treats with near derision; he quotes many Jewish leaders, many of them rescued by Catholics, to the effect that more forceful speeches would certainly not have caused the Nazis to moderate the persecutions, and would most probably have induced them to intensify them.
Not that the Pope was silent. As early as April 1935, as Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli addressed 250,000 pilgrims at Lourdes: "These [Nazi] ideologues are in fact only miserable plagiarizers who dress up ancient error in new tinsel. It matters little whether they rally round the flag of the social revolution...or are possessed by the superstition of race and blood." He was responsible for the final wording of Pius XI's March 1937 encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge ("With burning sorrow"), and made it more strongly antiracist. The encyclical, the first ever written in German, was read in all German churches on Palm Sunday; the Nazi Foreign Office characterized it as "a call to battle…as it calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the Reich."2
In 1938 Italy passed its first anti-Jewish laws. Pius XI condemned them. He took action, as well. In January 1939 he asked the ambassadors to the Vatican to procure entry visas to their countries for German and Italian Jews. He also called a German bishop to Rome to plan a resettlement project in Sao Paulo. Presumably his Secretary of State was involved in these initiatives (General Ludendorf wrote: "Pacelli was the live spirit which stood behind all the anti-German activities of Rome's policy"3); but he would not be Secretary of State much longer. Pius XI died in February.
Cardinal Pacelli was elected as Pius XII in March. As one of the standard first steps in the persecution, Jews were now banned from the learned professions. The new Pope invited many to the Vatican and offered to help them to emigrate; many accepted, and Pius intervened with the diplomats of other countries to obtain entry visas for them.
Italy declared war on France on June 10, 1940. The Pope was determined to keep the Vatican neutral, and to make it a refuge. He brought the diplomats of nations at war with the Axis into the Papal Hospice of Santa Marta, close to the Holy Office and the German College. He assigned the Holy Office to develop its contacts throughout Europe into a chain of agents who would deal with intelligence, prisoners of war and refugees. One of the most fascinating rescuers of the war, Msgr. Hugh O'Flaherty, Primo Notario of the Holy Office, thus became involved early on in the Vatican's information-gathering and humanitarian activities—informally, also, as he lived in the German College, next door to the diplomats' new quarters.
Also during June, some 500 Jews left Bratislava on a small boat bound for Palestine. Four months later the boat tried to enter the harbor at Istanbul and was denied permission. An Italian patrol boat picked up the passengers and took them to a prison camp on Rhodes. Warned that they were to be handed over to the Germans, these Jews sent one of their number to Rome, where he obtained an audience with the Pope. Pius intervened with the Italian government and all 500 were interned in southern Calabria, where they survived the war.
Pinchas Lapide reports arriving at Ferramonti-Tarsia to find 3,200 Jews, mostly refugees from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. "They had been not only saved by papal intervention but also fed, clad and looked after at Vatican expense by two papal emissaries who set up a kosher kitchen, organized a school for the children…."4
But do the Pope's efforts qualify him as a rescuer, as someone who risked his life to save Jews? In 1940 Martin Bormann prepared "Operation Pontiff" on Hitler's instructions. Pius was to be imprisoned in a monastery on the Wartburg. Lapide thinks it probable that Pius knew of the plan. If so, it did not deter him. As the Nazi persecution of the Jews intensified, and as it spread to the countries occupied by German forces, so did Vatican efforts at rescue and shelter. And Pius instructed the European hierarchy to follow his lead. "There is no doubt," says Leon Poliakov, a Jewish historian of the Holocaust, "that secret instructions went out from the Vatican urging the national churches to intervene in favor of the Jews by every possible means."5
Even in Germany, Catholic bishops protested the treatment of the Jews. Priests spoke out against Nazism and paid for it with their lives; laymen sheltered Jews.
Hitler came to power in 1933. In December of that year, Cardinal Michael Faulhaber, the "Lion of Munich," delivered a sermon in defense of biblical Judaism. When the persecution escalated, he spoke more directly to the point:
"History teaches us that God always punished the tormenters of…the Jews. No Roman Catholic approves of the persecutions of Jews in Germany."6
In October 1938, the chief rabbi of Munich told Cardinal Faulhaber that he feared his synagogue would be burned. The Cardinal provided a truck to transport the Torah scrolls and other important things from the synagogue for safekeeping in his palace. Nazi mobs gathered outside the palace, screaming, "Away with Faulhaber, the Jew- friend!"7
But Faulhaber and other bishops, including Conrad Cardinal Count von Preysing of Berlin and Bishop Clemens August Count von Galen of Muenster, continued to speak out in defense of the Jews in sermons and pastoral letters. (It was von Galen who went to Rome to plan the resettlement in Sao Paulo with Pope Pius XI.)
Faulhaber's books were banned, and in 1934 and 1938 attempts were made to assassinate him. He continued to preach against the Nazis until the end of the war.
In Stuttgart, the Resistance developed a well-organized underground to help the Jews to escape. In Hamburg, Raphaels Verein, a Catholic lay association, helped Jews to emigrate until they were shut down by the Gestapo in 1941.
Also in 1941, Fr. Bernard Lichtenberg, a priest at the St. Hedwig Cathedral Church in Berlin, declared in a sermon that he would include the Jews in his daily prayers "because synagogues have been set afire and Jewish businesses have been destroyed."8 He was arrested for subversive activities and sent first to prison and then to a concentration camp. He asked to be sent to the Jewish ghetto at Lodz, but died on his way to Dachau.
Caritas Catholica, another lay organization, was originally founded to help non- Aryan Christians, but extended its mission to assisting Jews. In the spring of 1943 the Gestapo arrested its leadership, including Dr. Gertrude Luckner. "[T]he Gestapo demanded to know who was behind her operation. 'My Christian conscience,' she told them."9 She was sent to Ravensbrueck concentration camp, where she survived until the Allied liberators arrived.
Almost incredibly, after ten years of Nazi rule there was still an organized Resistance in Germany. In 1943 Count Helmuth von Moltke, its leader, wrote to a friend in England: "We now have nineteen guillotines working at full speed."10
A close friend of von Moltke, Fr. Alfred Delp, SJ, had been asked by his provincial the previous year to join the Kresau Circle, "a discussion group including Lutherans and Catholics, aristocrats and labor leaders, that met to plan how German society could be reconstructed according to Christian principles after the war."11 Von Molke was the founder of the Kresau group.
Father Delp had written and edited for the Jesuit journal Stimmen der Zeit ("Voices of the Time") until the Gestapo closed it in 1941. Now he helped Jews to escape, often guiding them to the Swiss border; and he urged others, especially priests, to help also. His writings and his sermons emphasize Christ as "the judge of history,…the only ruler in whose service men can find the free and truly human life they long for; any other course means delusion and ultimate tragedy."12
When the German generals' plot to assassinate Hitler failed in July 1944, the members of the Kresau Circle were arrested. On Christmas Day 1945, after nearly eighteen months of interrogation and torture, Fr. Delp was led from his prison cell to be hanged. To his friend the prison chaplain he said, "In half an hour, I'll know more than you do!"13
Of the 240,000 Jews who remained in Germany and Austria when the killing began, 7,000 survived.
The rescue and shelter of Polish Jews was probably the most difficult and dangerous task of the war. Jews formed the largest percentage of the population in Poland of all the occupied countries—ten percent, three million people; and they were nearly all unassimilated, with distinctive dress, speech and manners. Only twelve percent spoke Polish. And although in other countries people were often killed for helping Jews, only in Poland was there an official death penalty for doing so.
There was some indigenous anti-Semitism in Poland. There are cases, however, of the war changing the minds of hostile or indifferent Poles. Emanuel Ringelblum, a Jewish historian whose Warsaw diary is one of the most important primary sources in Holocaust studies, wrote during the riots of October 1939: "Today I witnessed schoolboys from the Konarski High School beating up Jews in the streets. Several Gentiles intervened…. Such things happen frequently of late: Poles protesting against assaults by Gentiles, a thing unheard of in prewar Poland."14
Ringelblum and others report many specific instances of even prominent anti- Semites undergoing changes of heart as the occupation proceeded. One Witold Rudnicki, a member of the anti-Semitic National-Democratic Party, became the commander of an Underground unit. He turned his Warsaw apartment into a shelter for Jews; he was killed during the autumn 1944 revolt. Another National Democrat, Alexsander Witaszewicz, sheltered and fed nine Jews on his estate for two years. Franciszek Kowalski, a lawyer from Zakopane who hid a Jewish girl in his home, explained afterwards: "I was an anti- Semite before the war. Hitler's bestiality towards the Jews changed me."15
Ringelblum, his family and twenty other Jews would later escape together from the burning Warsaw ghetto and be hidden by a gardener, Pan Wolski. Wolski dug an underground bunker for them and erected a greenhouse on top of it. An informer told the Gestapo; the Jews and Wolski were all killed.
Hitler regarded Poles as only slightly superior to Jews; he was resolved to exterminate Polish culture and identity. His first step was the elimination of the intelligentsia—including the clergy. By the end of 1940 in several regions only ten or twenty percent of the priests remained; the rest were dead or in concentration camps. Bishop Kozal of Vladislava was in Dachau; many other bishops were in exile or in prison. By the end of the war several more Polish bishops would be sent to the camps, 3,000 Polish clergy would have died in them and 800 would be liberated from them by the Allies. It isn't possible to know exactly how many had already been killed or imprisoned by November 1940, but Archbishop Andreas Szeptycki of Lwow must have had some idea. Nevertheless he publicly threatened "with Divine punishment" any who "shed innocent blood," and ordered those who cooperated with the Nazis excluded from the sacraments. Szeptycki also led by example: he hid 21 Jews in his own cathedral, and 183 more in convents and monasteries. "Approximately 500 monks and nuns had knowledge of these facts, but in spite of the death penalty for sheltering Jews and financial rewards for all informers, none of the Metropolitan's wards fell into Nazi hands."16
As Archbishop Szeptycki followed the Pope's lead, his priests followed his. Emanuel Ringelblum noted in his diary entry of December 31, 1940 that the priests of all of Warsaw's churches warned their people against anti-Semitism.
By the end of 1943, some 650 Jewish children were hidden in Warsaw churches and convents. According to Lapide, in Poland as a whole, hundreds of Catholic clergy and religious saved at least 15,000—perhaps as many as 50,000.
The ghettos and camps seem to have focused Poles' attention on the sufferings of the Jews. There are records of priests exhorting their parishioners to help the nearby Jewish prisoners, and of the people responding by throwing packages of food and clothing over the walls and fences, or smuggling them in—not only into the ghettos and labor camps, but even in some instances into the concentration camps.
Janina Bucholc-Bukolska worked in a small translating firm in Warsaw; she also managed a forging operation. Until the burning of the Warsaw ghetto, she produced birth certificates, marriage records, school diplomas, food ration cards and letters of recommendation from employers for Jews. Her desk was on the ground floor, within sight of the window. In the evenings she visited her neighbors and persuaded them to shelter Jews.
Stefania Podgorska, the end of whose rescue story began this one, grew up on the country estate of her wealthy Polish grandfather. In 1938, she went with her mother to visit her older sisters in Przemysl, a city in southeastern Poland with a Jewish population of about 20,000.
Stefania liked the city. She remained there when her mother returned to the country; she found a job in a small grocery store, and became friendly with the owner, Lea Adler Diamant. Mrs. Diamant was an elderly Jewish woman with four sons, a hospitalized daughter and an ailing husband.
The Nazis occupied Przemysl in 1941, and began to enforce the usual laws. "Stefania's reaction," Fogelman reports, "at age sixteen, was pure perplexity. What was behind this? Was there something wrong with the Jewish people that she, in her inexperience, had never known? Or were the Germans just being unfair? …With a mixture of sadness, fear and confusion, Stefania helped the Diamant family to pack their belongings and move into the ghetto."17
The Diamants asked her to live in the apartment over their store, so she could keep an eye on it. Her six-year-old sister, Helena, came to join her. Stefania took a job in a local factory; she bought food and smuggled it to the Diamants regularly.
Then the deportations began. Mrs. Diamant was sent to Auschwitz. One of her sons, Isaac, was moved to the Lvov concentration camp; he was killed while trying to escape. Two other sons, Joseph and Henek, were deported from the ghetto. They jumped from the moving train. Joseph had a loaf of bread that Stefania had smuggled to him hidden in his shirt. When he jumped, he was impaled on a spike sticking out of a telegraph pole. The bread saved him: only his clavicle was broken. Two days later he appeared at his old home—at Stefania's door. After she nursed him back to health, he returned to the ghetto and brought back a young woman named Danutta, who was engaged to marry Henek.
Joseph and Danutta took over the smuggling of food to the ghetto. Henek had returned there; and there were many other friends still inside. Stefania continued to work at the factory; she also found a place--a thirteen-mile walk each way--where she could sell her clothes for milk and butter.
But there was little point in keeping their friends in the ghetto alive until the Nazis got around to sending them to Auschwitz. Stefania went to look for a house for them in the deserted Jewish quarter. Fogelman records her memory of that day:
"I didn't know where to go. Everything was empty, and I was scared. It was so ghostly. And then—you will laugh when I say this, really—then I heard a voice. I heard a voice. While I stood there thinking, asking, 'Dear God, where am I supposed to go now for an apartment? Where?' I looked around and I was frightened, because nobody was there. And then I heard the voice. Some voice told me, 'Don't be afraid. Go a little farther. After this corner, two women are standing, women who clean the street. They are supporting themselves on their brooms. Ask them for an apartment. They will tell you.'
"…And I felt like a little push, and the voice said, 'Go and ask for a janitor there.'"
Stefania walked past the corner and found the two women with their brooms. She asked them about an apartment. They told her of a cottage; they told her to ask for the janitor, who would show it to her.
Stefania rented the cottage. She, Joseph and Danutta brought Henek, a neighbor and two children there from the ghetto. Two Jewish businessmen, the fathers of the two children, were to follow. They planned to bribe the Polish mailman to bring them in his cart.
Ten minutes after these men were due to arrive, two German soldiers and two Polish policemen appeared in front of Stefania's house. They remained there for three hours, and the mail cart did not come. Over the protests of her guests, Stefania went out to talk to the policemen. They told her that the Germans had been warned that two wealthy Jews would be leaving the ghetto and coming to her street.
"The Germans ordered us to catch the Jews, but they don't trust us. We don't believe any Jews are coming. So they're watching us watching them."
Stefania managed to smile; then she walked to a nearby church and begged God to send the soldiers and the policemen away.
When she returned to the cottage, the soldiers and the policemen were gone, and the two men had arrived. The rest of Stephania's thirteen guests would escape the ghetto during its final liquidation, and find their way to the cottage. Stephania would feed and clothe them all, and keep them hidden from the German nurses who occupied that one room the Nazis had taken.
Helena helped. Now seven, she was quick and nimble; she became expert at smuggling messages to and from the ghetto. Once she was chased by a gang of boys. As she ran, she tore the note she carried into small pieces and swallowed them. The boys caught her and beat her.
A few weeks before the end of the war, the hospital across the street was closed and the nurses moved west. When Przemysl was liberated, two Soviet soldiers came to the cottage, hoping to barter chocolate for vodka. When Stefania's guests heard that the Germans had retreated, they came out of hiding. The soldiers were astonished. "Two girls," they said to each other. "Not even two—a girl and a half."18
There were 250,000 Jews in Lithuania at the beginning of the war; 50,000 survived. Lithuania's particular horror was bands like the Klimatis unit, a group of thugs organized around an undistinguished journalist of that name to stage a pogrom in Kaunas. This first pogrom was so successful, similar units were organized in Vilna and Shavli. Some were exported to Latvia and Estonia; there and in Lithuania they killed nearly 150,000 Jews.
Church and Underground leaders protested. Priests, peasants and nuns hid many Jews. Some Jews found refuge in the forests, where people brought them food and clean clothes.
Anna Simaite, a noted literary critic, was in charge of the cataloguing department at Vilna University.
"When the Germans forced the Jews of Vilna into a ghetto," she recalls, "I could no longer go on with my work. I could not remain in my study. I could not eat.... I had to do something. I realized the danger involved, but it could not be helped. A force much stronger than myself was at work."19
Non-Jews were not allowed in the ghetto. Anna Simaite went to the German authorities and got permission to go in to retrieve books that Jewish students had borrowed. She found people outside the ghetto who would shelter Jewish children, and spirited them out. Helped by a small group of friends, she procured forged identity papers for Jews who climbed over the ghetto wall, and smuggled in food, small arms and ammunition. Besides the library books that were her ostensible mission, she carried out letters from ghetto leaders and diaries of ghetto life. The latter invaluable records she hid in the university vaults.
Jadzia Duniec, another Catholic young woman, also brought weapons to the Szeinbaum fighting unit in Vilna, and served as courier and liaison between the ghetto and the outer world. She was captured and executed by the Nazis.
Joseph Stokauskas was in charge of the archives of Vilna; he hid twelve Jews in his office. Dr. Marc Dworzecki, who kept a chronicle of the Vilna ghetto, mentions fifteen other Lithuanian scholars and professors who helped Jews.20
At a Benedictine convent near Vilna there were seven nuns. The Mother Superior was only 35. The nuns established an underground railroad from the Vilna ghetto to their convent; they hid escaping Jews there and in other places. They smuggled knives, guns and even hand grenades into the ghetto; the Mother Superior acted as liaison between the ghetto leaders and the Underground outside.21
Hiding to Survive22 is a moving and informative collection of stories of Jewish children sheltered during the Holocaust. The story of Debora Biron offers a rare glimpse of the workings of a rescue network.
In 1941 Debora Biron was six years old. She had been living with her parents in a ghetto near Kovno for a year and a half. One night her mother told her that when the forced-labor detail returned through the ghetto gate, she and another little girl would pass among them and leave. They were to look for a woman in a black coat with a white flower.
The two girls did as they were told. The woman, a Lithuanian Catholic who became known to them only as Nastasha, tossed them into a hay wagon. A German officer standing nearby told her, "I know what you are up to. You have exactly one minute to get out of here with the children, or I will shoot."23
Natasha drove the wagon for three hours to a farm. She left Debora there, and took the other child to another farm.
At first Natasha often came to visit Debora. She told her that there were several other farms in the area that were sheltering other children. After a month, Natasha took Debora to another farm, which belonged to people called Karashka. Eventually Debora's mother joined her there; another Jewish woman and her daughter came, as well, and that child's godparents, and a man named Herman whom Debora remembered from the ghetto.
When the Nazi persecution intensified, the Karashkas and their guests built a bunker next to the cellar. They worked at night, loading dirt into sacks which Mr. Karashka dumped in his fields, and slept during the day.
When the Soviet air raids began, the Karashkas started sleeping in the regular cellar. Debora Biron vividly recalls one night when German soldiers came to the farm. Herman closed the trap door of the bunker just in time.
"'Who's down there?' a soldier shouted.
"'It's only my child and me,' Mrs. Karashka called from the cellar under the kitchen.
"'Where's your husband?' he yelled.
"'He's at the front,' she said.
"The soldier went downstairs and took a look for himself. None of us dared to breathe. When the soldier was satisfied with what he saw, he and the others left….
"Now I could better understand how the Karashkas were protecting us. All along Natasha and my mother had told me what wonderful people they were, and although I liked them a lot, I didn't realize until that night how they were risking their lives for us."24
An elderly Lithuanian peasant couple, known only as Thaddaeus and Barbara, had many Jewish guests in their cottage in the forest. They "spent many hours foraging for food to maintain those whom they sheltered.... 'I only want to prove that not all Lithuanians are like Klimatis,' " Thaddeus told them.25
Many Holocaust historians record Hitler's apoplectic vituperations about Pope Pius XII. Holland's special horror was to serve as the stage for Hitler's definition of the terms of what he very evidently regarded as a personal contest of wills between himself and the Pope.
In May 1940 the Nazis occupied Holland and began to register Jews. The Catholic and Protestant clergy issued a joint protest. They would continue to protest until July 1942, when Hitler made a definitive close to the conversation.
In February 1941 the Nazis provoked a first anti-Jewish riot in Amsterdam. "They counted," says Lapide, "on the usual stage-managed pogrom carried out by local rowdies, directed by a few expert SS men. They did not expect the…boys of the adjacent Jordaan quarter in Amsterdam to march in serried ranks to the center of the Jewish quarter and to fight—and to beat—the goons who attempted to engineer the anti-Jewish riot."26
Ten days later the Nazis deported the first 425 Jews. A general strike was called in Amsterdam and six other cities to protest the deportations; more than 18,000 workers walked out. Martial law was declared; the strike was broken. The persecution escalated.
In June 1942, the badge—the yellow star of David—was instituted. Dutch Christians wore yellow flowers on their clothes; in Rotterdam signs appeared, reminding residents to show respect for Jews wearing stars.
In July 1942, converted Jews and Jews married to Gentiles were exempted from deportation on the condition that the protests cease. The Protestants complied. The Archbishop of Utrecht issued another protest; the Germans deported all Catholics of Jewish blood, including Edith Stein. To make the message very clear, the Nazis continued to exempt the 9,000 Protestant Jews. Many Holocaust historians cite this as the definitive moment in which the Church understood that bold talk would only exacerbate the plight of the Jews.
In February 1943 massive deportations began throughout the country. With nothing left to lose, a pastoral letter was read in all Catholic churches, deploring the injustice and asserting the Church's obligation to testify to immutable laws. The pastoral cited the Pope's defense of the Jews, and concluded: "Should the refusal of collaboration require sacrifices from you, then be strong and steadfast in the awareness that you are doing your duty before God and your fellow men."27
To judge by the numbers, many Catholics heeded this admonition. By the end of the war, 110,000 Dutch Jews were deported; 10,000 were helped to escape; 40,000 were hidden. Of the latter, 15,000 survived. Forty-nine Catholic priests were killed for assisting Jews.
The Belgians did a far better job of rescuing Jews. On the eve of the occupation, there were 90,000 Jews in Belgium, including about 30,000 refugees from Germany and Austria. Approximately 65,000 survived.
The Nazis were no less determined to exterminate Jews in Belgium than in Holland. According to Lapide and Poliakov, there were two reasons for their relative failure in Belgium: Queen Elisabeth and Cardinal Joseph-Ernest van Roey appealed to Commander-in-Chief von Falkenhausen; and the bishops strongly supported rescue efforts.28 "It is forbidden to Catholics," van Roey said, "to collaborate in the formation of an oppressive government. It is obligatory for all Catholics to work against such a regime."29
It also seems to have made a significant difference that many municipal and police officials engaged in both active and passive resistance. They lost files and orders, "forgot" to cooperate with the Nazis and forged identity papers. Postal workers intercepted denunciations. Sometimes they warned the Jews concerned so they could flee; other times they simply destroyed the mail.
On April 19, 1943, Catholic railroad workers helped the Jewish Underground to derail a deportation train. Hundreds of Jews escaped and found refuge with farmers.
Bishop Kerkhofs of Liege ordered all his priests to assist the Jews; he hid the Rabbi of Liege in his own residence until the end of the war. "When the Germans came on a search," Lapide reports, "he disguised him in a soutaine and introduced him to the Gestapo as his private secretary."30 In his diocese some 650 Jews were successfully hidden by priests, monks and laymen.
Abbe Joseph Andre of Namurs rescued hundreds of Jewish children and sheltered them in convents and homes—and in his own rectory. He was helped by the bishop, the Jesuits and the Sisters of Charity. City officials gave him forged papers and food for the children. One of the children he sheltered, Jacques Weinberg, recalls:
"He [Fr. Andre] used to sit up all night, napping in his chair. He would not think of undressing and going to bed. There was the constant fear of a raid. If someone knocked on the door, Fr. Andre was on his feet. In a minute he had the children fleeing through a camouflaged exit to the neighboring house, where a doctor lived. All the neighbors cooperated. Without their help Fr. Andre could not have accomplished so much. The butchers of Namur, as well as the grocers and other merchants, provided him with food and necessities for the children."31
Father Edouard Froidure organized and ran a camp for children; he rescued 300 Jewish children before he was arrested and sent to Dachau, where he managed to survive until the camp's liberation.
Jeanne Damman, a young Catholic teacher before the War, served as principal of an underground school for Jewish children in Brussels. When the school closed because it had become too dangerous for the children to attend, she joined the Jewish Defense Committee. She rescued many children. The Jewish Defense Committee overall is credited with saving more than 2,000, and with procuring false identity papers for many more.
The Sisters of Notre Dame de Zion hid 200 Jewish children in several convents. Abbe Antoine de Breucker rescued 250 Jewish children and hid them with friendly families; he also helped 86 adults to escape and himself sheltered forty more. Fr. Bruno Reynders, a Benedictine from the Louvain area, saved 307 Jews.
There were 350,000 Jews in France at the beginning of the war. Of these, 150,000 were deported, of whom only 3,000 survived. The Vichy government cooperated with the Nazis from the top, but compliance was spotty at the local level.
In June 1942—the same time the badge was ordered in Holland—the Germans directed all Jews in France to wear the star of David. The French reaction was similar to the Dutch, if not stronger. Bishops pinned yellow stars to their robes. Priests uncovered their heads to Jews in the streets. Lay people stopped Jews walking on the sidewalks to kiss them, and offered their seats in trains and buses to them. Many Frenchmen wore yellow handkerchiefs in their breast pockets and carried bouquets of yellow flowers. Some of these were arrested as "saboteurs," and sent to concentration camps, where they wore white armbands inscribed, "ami des Juifs."
Nazi officials stationed in Paris, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Limoges, Clermont- Ferrand, Lyons, Nice and Toulouse reported lack of cooperation or even outright interference with the persecution of Jews on the part of local French police and officials. They complained that these officials would warn Jews who were about to be arrested, so that they could disappear.32
By mid-July 1942, the Nazis were impatient at their lack of progress. They scheduled a round-up of the Jews remaining in Paris for July 16. The French police and city officials warned the Jews. Still, the Germans rounded up 22,000, including 4,000 children. The French were horrified; ad hoc resistance and organized Resistance were strengthened.
Archbishop Saliege of Toulouse, Bishop Theas of Montauban and Cardinal Gerlier of Lyons, the Primate of France, protested vehemently. Bishop Theas was imprisoned. Saliege's pastoral letter was banned by the Prefect of Toulouse, but still read in some 400 churches. It became known as the "Bombe Saliege." The Vichy government warned the Nuncio's deputy that if Jews were hidden in churches or monasteries they would be dragged out.
One night in September 1942, six stateless Jewish families were arrested in Lyons. The French agents gave them the choice of bringing their children along or leaving them behind; they had an hour to decide. They woke up Cardinal Gerlier, who accepted the nine children. Four days later the Prefect of Lyons was ordered to Gerlier's residence by Eichmann to pick up the children. They were gone. When the Prefect demanded their address, Gerlier replied: "Monsieur le Prefet, I would not consider myself worthy to be the Archbishop of Lyons if I complied with your request. Good day."33
Cardinal Gerlier's aide, Fr. Elder Chaillet, SJ, was arrested shortly thereafter and charged with hiding eighty Jewish children. "Actually," Lapide writes, "he had hidden over two hundred, in various public institutions and religious homes, with the active assistance of his Cardinal, who spirited them away as Chaillet went to jail."34 Chaillet's friends and the Cardinal's took over his work. Chaillet was later released; by the end of the war he had hidden 1,800 Jews in monasteries and farms.
Also in September 1942, the military commander of Lyons, General de St. Vincent, refused to obey an order for mass arrests of Jews; he was dismissed.
Many French bishops protested the persecution; some were deported. Archbishop Gerlier issued pastoral letters to all Catholics of France, urging them to give the Jews every assistance, and to refuse to surrender the hidden children of deportees.35
The Catholics of France obeyed their shepherds. A pro-Nazi French newspaper of Lyons printed the following: "Every Catholic family shelters a Jew. The French authorities provide Jews with false identification papers and passports. Priests help them across the Swiss frontier. In Toulouse, Jewish children have been concealed in Catholic schools; the civilian Catholic officials receive intelligence of a scheduled deportation and advise a great number of the refugee Jews about it, and the result is that about 50 percent of the undesirables escape."36
In 1943 the Vichy government ordered the arrest of all Catholic priests who sheltered Jews. Within two months 120 were arrested and deported. Four hundred police officers were also arrested, and twenty shot, for refusing to round up Jews. More priests took over for the ones who were deported. According to Leon Poliakov, "Priests, members of the religious orders and laymen were rivals in giving asylum, thereby saving, as Mauriac wrote, the honor of French Catholics."37
In Nice, which was occupied by the Italian Army during most of the war, Police Prefect Andre Chaigneau invited representatives of the Jewish community to his office to tell them, "I will not allow any arbitrary acts against the Jews; nor will I leave the privilege of defending Jews to the Italians."38
In some countries Jews formed largely separate Resistance units; in France they were almost entirely integrated into the regular Resistance. Poliakov recalls that a French duke came to London to join the Free French volunteers. Advised to change his name to protect his family, he chose the name Levy "as a gesture of solidarity."39
In 1942 the Peres de Notre Dame de Sion, headed by Father Superior Charles Devaux, organized a temporary shelter from which they would transfer Jews to the homes of workmen and peasants, and to convents and monasteries. Eventually the Gestapo brought Fr. Devaux in; an officer slapped him and warned him to stop helping Jews. He continued his work until the end of the War, saving a total of 443 Jewish children and 500 adults.40
Father Marie-Benoit, a Capuchin, had served in World War I and been wounded at Verdun. After the war he earned a doctorate in theology at Rome; he also became a recognized authority on Judaism.
At the outbreak of the war, Fr. Marie-Benoit was stationed in Marseilles. In the cellar of the Capuchin monastery there, he organized a forging operation which produced hundreds of identity cards, baptismal certificates and other forms of identification. He and other Capuchins arranged the smuggling of Jews from Marseilles to Spain and Switzerland—the routes were so well organized, groups left regularly twice each week— and they organized several other rescue centers in the city.
In November 1942 the Nazis occupied the Free Zone of France, which included Marseilles. The routes to Spain and Switzerland were closed. Father Marie-Benoit turned his attention to the Riviera and Haute-Savoie, then occupied by the Italians. He went to Nice, and persuaded some Italian officials to permit Jews to cross into the Italian Zone.
The German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, protested to Mussolini, who sent General Guido Lospinoso to Nice as Commissioner of Jewish Affairs. But Fr. Marie-Benoit paid a call on General Lospinoso, and the Jews continued to cross into the Italian Zone; only a relative handful were caught by the French. A record of Fr. Marie- Benoit's conversation with General Lospinoso would constitute the Grail of Holocaust rescue studies, but none has ever been found.
This time the German government protested Fr. Marie-Benoit's activities directly to Rome; in June 1943 he was summoned to the Vatican. He was granted an audience with Pius XII, although it is not clear in how much detail he explained his ideas to the Holy Father. In any case, the relevant Vatican authorities agreed to allow Fr. Marie- Benoit to negotiate with the Spanish government for the repatriation of all French Jews of Spanish ancestry, and with the Italian, British and U.S. governments for the transfer of 50,000 Jews remaining in the South of France to Morocco, Algiers and Tunisia.
But the negotiations took time. Mussolini was deposed on July 26; the successor Badoglio government agreed to Fr. Marie-Benoit's proposals, but surrendered to the Allies in September, three days before "E-Day" (for evacuation). The Germans entered the Italian Zone of France. Some Jews were able to cross into Switzerland and Italy; thousands were lost.
Father Marie-Benoit did succeed with the Spanish part of his plan. He returned to the South of France, with authority from the Spanish government to decide which French Jews qualified as being of Spanish descent. He saved 2,600; there is no record of how many of them actually had any Spanish blood.
Hardly anyone could outwit the Gestapo forever, though. Eventually Fr. Marie- Benoit's friends persuaded him that he would not be much use to anyone dead; he disappeared from France and resurfaced in northern Italy as Fr. Benedetti. The director of the Committee to Assist Jewish Emigrants (Delegazione Assistanza Emigrati Ebrei, DELASEM) had been arrested by the Germans. Father "Benedetti" set up a new headquarters for DELASEM at the International College of the Capuchins, and inaugurated a forging operation there. He established liaison with Italian, Swiss, Hungarian, French and Roumanian officials, who helped with false identity papers for hundreds of Jews, and produced the equally necessary ration cards on his own. His office was raided several times by the Gestapo. Early in 1945, with the arrest, torture and execution of most of the rest of the DELASEM leadership, Fr. "Benedetti" was persuaded to go into hiding; thus against everyone's expectation he actually survived the war.41
As of the 1938 census, there were 57,000 Jews in Italy. Mussolini maintained for a while that Italian Fascism would have nothing to do with anti-Semitism, but eventually agreed to Hitler's demands. As in Vichy France, however, the Nazis often found local Italian officials unreliable. Police and town authorities who were supposed to round up Jews for deportation often just didn't get around to it. Some, like Mario di Nardis and Giovanni Palatucci, the police chiefs of Aquila and Fiume, actively resisted. Palatucci died in Dachau.
The Italian Army tended to view the roundup of Jews as infra dig. In Italian- occupied Yugoslavia, the Italian Army even protected Jews from the indigenous anti- Semites, the Ushtasis. One Italian armored unit rescued a group of Jews from them by hiding them in Italian tanks.
In Italian-occupied Greece there simply wasn't any persecution. The Germans demanded that at least the star of David badge be instituted; General Carlo Geloso, Commander of the Italian Eleventh Army, declined to enforce it. The Nazis later demanded deportations; the Italians refused.
As in France, the Nazis and Fascists were quite certain that Italian non- cooperation with the persecution was Church inspired. Robert Farinacci, editor of Regime Fascista, wrote: "The Church's obstruction of the practical solution of the Jewish problem constitutes a crime against the New Europe."42
Pope Pius XII continued to object to the persecution of the Jews. Following the ghastly aftermath of the Archbishop of Utrecht's protest in July 1942, however, he spoke far more obliquely. In his famous Christmas message of 1942, he spoke with sorrow and compassion of "those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, are marked for death or progressive extinction."
Himmler's deputy, Reynhard Heydrich, interpreted this message as "one long attack on everything we stand for…. He is virtually accusing the German people of injustice towards the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals."43
Pius also continued one of the programs begun by his predecessor: some 6,000 Jews obtained passports and visas on papal orders. Many were signed by the diplomats interned at Hospice Santa Marta. The Nazis' occupation of Rome in September 1943, however, called for more active measures. Pius ordered monasteries and convents all over Italy to open their enclosures to fleeing Jews. And the redoubtable Msgr. Hugh O'Flaherty, Primo Notario of the Holy Office, put his organization, originally developed to assist escaping POWs, into high gear.
Hugh O'Flaherty had only a standard, modest Irish antipathy towards the British until he was in seminary; then some of his boyhood friends were killed by the Black and Tans.
O'Flaherty earned his bachelor's degree in theology in one year at the Urban College of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, and was ordained in 1925. He served as vice rector of the college for the next two years, while earning doctorates in divinity, canon law and philosophy. After four years in the Vatican diplomatic service, he was appointed a notary of the Holy Office.
Although many people found him rough-edged, Msgr. O'Flaherty had a stunning success in Roman social high life; this would prove important during the Nazi occupation. He raised some eyebrows by becoming amateur golf champion of Italy— diocesan priests of Rome were not allowed to play golf. Cardinal Ottaviani, however, liked and defended him.
Monsignor O'Flaherty got his start in smuggling and hiding refugees in the fall of 1942, when the Germans and Italians cracked down on prominent Jews and aristocratic anti-Fascists. Monsignor O'Flaherty had socialized with these people before the war; now he hid them in monasteries and convents, and in his own residence—the German College.
In the spring of 1943, his operation broadened to include escaped British POWs; and he acquired a most improbable partner, Sir Francis D'Arcy Godolphin Osborne, British Minister to the Vatican. The POWs would be safe in the Vatican, but as internees they would be unable to rejoin their fighting units. Sir D'Arcy's status prevented him from leaving the Vatican, so Msgr. O'Flaherty developed a network of apartments in Rome in which they could hide.
In September the Germans occupied Rome. The Italian game of "forgetting" to round up Jews was over.
According to Msgr. O'Flaherty's biographer, J.P. Gallagher, Vatican officials who had inclined to prudence and ordinary Italians who had been indifferent to the plight of the Jews were radicalized by the Gestapo. "Even the most conservative men in the Vatican were prepared now to give the trouble-shooting Monsignor quite a bit more rope."44
Monsignor O'Flaherty hid Jews in monasteries and convents, at Castel Gandolfo, in his old college of the Propaganda Fide, in the German College and in his network of apartments. Every evening, he stood in the porch of St. Peter's, in plain view both of the German soldiers across the piazza and of the windows of the Pope's apartments. Escaped POWs and Jews would come to him there. He would smuggle them across the piazza and through the German Cemetary to the college. Sometimes he would disguise them in the robes of a monsignor or the uniform of a Swiss Guard.
"One Jew," Gallagher reports, "made his way to St. Peter's and, coming up to O'Flaherty at his usual post on the steps and drawing him deeper into the shadows, proceeded to unwind a solid gold chain that went twice around his waist. 'My wife and I expect to be arrested at any moment,' said the Jew. 'We have no way of escaping. When we are taken to Germany we shall die. But we have a small son; he is only seven and is too young to die in a Nazi gas chamber. Please take this chain and take the boy for us too. Each link of the chain will keep him alive for a month. Will you save him?'"45
Monsignor O'Flaherty improved upon this plan: he accepted the chain, hid the boy and procured false papers for the parents. At the end of the war, he returned the boy and the chain.
Colonel Herbert Kappler, Rome's Gestapo chief, set several traps for Msgr. O'Flaherty. Once he escaped by a rolling-block charge through Gestapo men and in at the doors of St. Mary Major—extraterritorial property of the Church. Another time, he was at the palace of Prince Filippo Doria Pamphili, who provided funds for his operations. The SS surrounded the palace; Msgr. O'Flaherty escaped to the basement, then up a coal chute and away in the coal truck that had been making a delivery.
Finally Colonel Kappler complained to Berlin. Monsignor O'Flaherty received an invitation to a reception at the Hungarian Embassy, with an implicit safe-conduct. There Baron von Weiszacker, the German Ambassador, told him: "Nobody in Rome honors you more than I do for what you are doing. But it has gone too far for us all. Kappler is waiting in the hall, feeling rather frustrated…. I have told him that you will of course have safe-conduct back to the Vatican tonight. But…if you ever step outside Vatican territory again, on whatever pretext, you will be arrested at once…. Now will you please think about what I have said?"
O'Flaherty smiled down at von Weiszacker and replied: "Your Excellency is too considerate. I will certainly think about what you have said— sometimes!"46
Of 9,700 Roman Jews, 1,007 were shipped to Auschwitz. The rest were hidden, 5,000 of them by the official Church—3,000 in Castel Gandolfo, 200 or 400 (estimates vary) as "members" of the Palatine Guard and some 1,500 in monasteries, convents and colleges. The remaining 3,700 were hidden in private homes, including Msgr. O'Flaherty's network of apartments.
After the war, Colonel Kappler was sentenced to life in the Gaeta prison, between Rome and Naples. His only visitor was an Irish monsignor who came once a month. In 1959 Msgr. O'Flaherty baptized Herbert Kappler into the Catholic Church.
"Elsewhere in Italy," Pinchas Lapide says, "thanks in part to the lifting of the enclosure…at least 40,000 Italian Jews and others who had managed to flee to Italy were hidden and saved by humble priests, monks, farmers and laborers, dozens of whom lost their lives for sheltering them."47
Pinchas Lapide devotes ninety pages of Three Popes and the Jews to the Church's treatment of the Jews before the election of Pope Pius XI. He gives much credit to the many popes who forbade persecution, but convicts the papacy in general of failing both to eradicate overt anti-Semitism and to clarify points of Catholic teaching which were taken as excusing or even supporting it. After his careful, country-by-country account and analysis of the Holocaust itself, "What Pius XII did for Jews," he opens a section called, "What Pius XII did not do." Lapide believes that Pius ought to have used all his influence in favor of the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine after the war: that is his entire criticism. As to the war years themselves, he quotes Leon Poliakov in conclusion: "[T]he Church's tireless humanitarian efforts in the face of the Hitler terror, with the approval and under the stimulus of the Vatican, can never be forgotten. We do not know what were the exact instructions sent by the Holy See to the churches in the different countries, but the coincidence of effort at the time of the deportations is proof that such steps were taken."48
Certainly many Catholics turned their backs on the Jews; but 860,000 Jews survived because many others did not. And those who did help were following the teaching and the example of their Pope. There is an established consensus to this effect among Jewish scholars. Speaking to 206 U.S. Jewish leaders in Miami in 1987, Pope John Paul II said, "I am convinced that history will reveal ever more clearly and convincingly how deeply Pius XII felt the tragedy of the Jewish people, and how hard and effectively he worked to assist them during the Second World War."49
But the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews has accepted papers from Hans Herman Henryx, a German theologian who has said that the Church sowed the seeds of anti-Semitism and ignored the plight of the Jews during World War II. And The New Yorker prints an article claiming that Pope John Paul II is ashamed of Pope Pius XII; and some Catholic journals treat the piece seriously.
The author of the New Yorker article, James Carroll, a former priest, had at least the honesty to indicate a likely motive: he wants the Church to change its mind about "all the questions arising from sexuality—abortion, contraception, divorce, homosexuality, celibacy, women priests…." Pius XII is a splendid symbol of the old Church, the unreformed Church. He cannot be allowed to have engaged in humanitarian heroics, or to have ordered the hierarchy and the laity to do the same; obedience to him cannot be allowed as a motive for the Catholic heroes of the Holocaust.
Lapide does blame the Church for not eradicating anti-Semitism before the Holocaust. But he concludes that the precipitating element was not Christianity, but rather the weakening of Christian belief and practice. Hitler, he says, knew that the Church was his enemy. He used the epithet, "Christ killers," to arouse hatred against the Jews, "but he ultimately killed them to rid the world of Christ and the 'Christ- givers.'"50
Israel has enacted strict legislation as to the qualifications of "Righteous Gentiles," those who voluntarily underwent personal risk to save Jews. For each person who meets these standards, a tree is planted along the Avenue of the Righteous which leads to Heroes and Martyrs' Memorial. More than 10,000 such trees had been planted, each bearing the name of a rescuer and a quotation from the Talmud: "Whoever saves a single soul, it is as if he had saved the whole world."
When Pius XII died, open letters appeared in the Israeli press, suggesting that 860,000 trees be planted in a Pope Pius XII Forest in the hills of Judaea.
1. Eva Fogelman, Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust (New York: Doubleday, 1994), p.101.
2. Pinchas Lapide, Three Popes and the Jews (New York: Hawthorne Books, 1967), p.110.
3. ibid., p.120.
4. ibid., p.129.
5. ibid., p.138.
6. Philip Friedman, Their Brothers' Keepers (New York: Holocaust Library, 1978), p.93.
8. ibid., p.94.
9. Fogelman, p.197.
10. Sr. Margherita Marchione, Yours Is a Precious Witness (New York), Paulist Press, 1997, p.179.
11. Lucia S. Shen, "A Sermon on Power," Christian Order, March 1986, p.147.
13. ibid., p.146.
14. Friedman, p.112.
15. ibid., p.115.
16. Lapide, p.186.
17. Fogelman, p.89-90.
19. Friedman, p.22.
20. ibid., p.138.
21. ibid., p.26-27.
22. Maxine B. Rosenberg, Hiding to Survive (New York: Clarion Books), 1994.
23. ibid., p.130.
24. ibid., p.135.
25. Friedman, p.139
26. Lapide, p.198.
27. ibid., p.201.
28. Leon Poliakov, Harvest of Hate (London: Elek Books), 1965, p.164; cited in Lapide, p.204.
29. Friedman, p.71.
30. Lapide, p.208.
31. Friedman, p.70.
32. ibid., p.46.
33. Lapide, p.192.
35. Friedman, p.50-51.
36. ibid., p.36.
37. Leon Poliakov, "Pope Pius XII and the Nazis," Jewish Frontier, April 1964; cited in Lapide, p.193.
38. Friedman, p.47.
39. ibid., p.48-49.
40. ibid., p.53-54.
41. Lapide, p.195-196.
42. Michael Schwartz, The Persistent Prejudice: Anti-Catholicism in America (TK: Our Sunday Visitor Press), 1984, p.246.
43. Lapide, p.137.
44. J.P. Gallagher, Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican New York: Coward-McCann), 1968, p.63.
45. ibid., p.61-62.
46. ibid., p.117-118.
47. Lapide, p.134.
48. Poliakov, Harvest of Hate, p.293.
49. New York Times, September 12, 1987, p.1.
50. Lapide, p.351.b
In 1938, Pope Pius XI condemned Italy's first anti-Jewish laws. A year earlier, the Nazi Foreign Office had itself condemned the Pope's encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge ("With burning sorrow"), calling it "a call to battle…as it calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the Reich."
2 and 3) Debora Biron, ten years old, in 1946. During World War II she was rescued from the Nazis by a Lithuanian Catholic. (below, or wherever): Debora, now a travel agent, in 1993
4) Pope Pius XII at prayer. When Pius died in 1958, Israeli foreign minister (and future prime minister) Golda Meir had this to say: "When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths."
5) Msgr. Hugh O'Flaherty—"the pimpernel of the Vatican"—hid Jews in monasteries and convents—and in his own residence
6) London film producer Colin Lesslie, dressed in Msgr. O'Flaherty's robes in which he was smuggled into the Vatican
7) An aerial view of St. Peter's Square, where so much activity to rescue Jews took place