When the Nazis systematically exterminated 6 million Jews during World War II, not everyone stood by and watched. The State of Israel’s Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, has recognized the efforts of many heroic rescuers. Under a program called The Righteous Among the Nations, begun in 1963, the Jewish state has honored almost 21,000 non-Jews, some of whom have been professing Christians who did what they did because they believed what the Bible says about God’s love for the Jewish people. A few, like Corrie ten Boom, are well known. Others are not. Here are some of their stories.
André Trocmé. When in 1934 André Trocmé was sent to his new pastorate in the sleepy village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in southern France, he knew the residents were descendants of the Huguenots, a Protestant Reformed group that had suffered great persecution.
Trocmé wrote, “These people who do not read the papers but the Scriptures, do not stand on the moving soil of opinion but on the rock of the Word of God.”1
After the Nazis took over southern France in 1942, Pastor Trocmé urged his congregation and the village as a whole to resist the Germans nonviolently and rescue as many Jewish people as possible. The entire town agreed. For the next three years, around 5,000 Jews, many of them children, were housed, fed, given documents, and smuggled into neutral Switzerland and elsewhere by Pastor Trocmé and the people of Le Chambon.
When new refugees showed up, Pastor Trocmé would announce to his congregation that a certain number of “Old Testaments” had arrived, a code meaning “Jews.” A church member would reply, “I’ll take them.”2 Despite the fact that Pastor Trocmé was imprisoned once, had to hide from the Germans, and lost a cousin to gassing in a Nazi death camp, he would not cease helping the Jewish people. “These people came here seeking shelter,” he declared. “I am their pastor, their shepherd. I will not betray them.”3
Marc Donadille. Another French Protestant pastor, Marc Donadille, made many Jewish friends while growing up. “My Protestant ancestors were very strong in the belief that it was inadmissible to persecute people because of their race or religion. They taught me that Jews are the people of the Bible,” he said.4
Donadille helped rescue Jewish people from refugee camps. He prepared false identification papers for them in his home and hid Jewish people in a network of houses and churches. He estimated hiding 80 people and taking 100 to Le Chambon. The Nazis watched his every move, but he was unafraid: “We knew it was dangerous but we had accepted the risk once and for all, and that was that.”5
Pieter Miedema: Miedema was a Dutch Reformed pastor in Friesland, Holland. “It was our Christian belief that Jews were special,” wrote his wife, Joyce.6 Miedema preached from his pulpit that it was an obligation to help Jewish refugees. In 1942 the Miedemas took in a little Jewish boy. Other refugees soon followed. Pastor Miedema helped find homes for them all. He even built an underground bunker near his house in the forest, complete with kitchen.
After the war, Pastor Miedema was transferred to another church because certain members of his congregation were angry with him for his wartime resistance work. Later Miedema refused recognition from Yad Vashem: “It’s what everyone should have done, he thought, so there was nothing special about it.”7
Gabor Sztehlo: Gabor Sztehlo was an evangelical minister in Budapest, Hungary. His work was associated with a Protestant Jewish ministry known as the Good Shepherd Committee. In the last half of 1944, Sztehlo worked feverishly rescuing Hungary’s Jews, most of them children, and giving them refuge in 32 different homes. In the last 20 days before the Russians liberated Budapest, Sztehlo hid with 33 Jewish children in his own cellar. Overall, Sztehlo saved upwards of 2,000 Jewish children.
Many more stories of rescuers could be told. These four serve as godly examples of those who took seriously the injunction of Proverbs 24:11–12:
Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Surely we did not know this,” does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?
- Allison Stark Draper, Pastor André Trocmé: Spiritual Leader of the French Village Le Chambon (New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 2001), 23–24.
- Ibid., 65.
- Milton Meltzer, Rescue: The Story of How Gentiles Saved Jews in the Holocaust (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 81.
- “Marc Donadille: The Testimony of a Rescuer,” The Simon Wiesenthal Center <http://motlc.learn-ingcenter.wiesenthal.org/text/x00/xm0057.html>.
- “Pieter and Joyce Miedema: The Drama of a Rescuer,” The Simon Wiesenthal Center <http://motlc.learningcenter.wiesenthal.org/text/x00/xm0019.html>.