18 Righteous Holocaust Rescuers; their movies and memoirs

Being a WWII history buff, I have came across the stories of hundreds of the brave men and women who resisted Hitler, yet often, most only have a picture and a small biography about them. These heroes deserve more than that. It’s important to remember these courageous men and women, and not just as another person in a history book. We need to remember their stories, legacies, and messages.

Here are 18 stories by Holocaust rescuers, including their memoirs, biographies, and movies.

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18 Righteous Holocaust Rescuers

18 is “life” in Hebrew, “chaim.” So, I compiled a list of 18 Holocaust rescuers who have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, Yad VaShem.

Diet-Eman

Diet Eman and Hein Sietsma
MOVIE: The Reckoning (Documentary about the Dutch resistance, featuring Diet)
BOOK: Memoir, Things We Couldn’t Say
PODCAST: Focus on the Family: God’s Grace is Sufficient
STORY: Dutch Christian resistance worker Diet Eman proves that faith, hope, and love really do conquer all. From helping a few Jewish friends to being arrested for a false visa, Diet Eman has an amazing story of courage and faith. Her fiance also played an amazing part in this, paying with his life and regretting nothing. I would highly recommend reading her memoir and listening to her tell her story on Focus on the Family.
 
Varian Fry, Holocaust Rescuer
Varian Fry
MOVIE: Varian’s War
BOOK: In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry, The Rescuer (eBook)
STORY: American journalist Varian Fry helped rescue 2,000-4,000 Jews in Vichy France during the war. Varian was one of the few Americans to be named “Righteous Among the Nations” for his efforts during the war.

Miep Gies
Miep Gies
MOVIE: Anne Frank: The Whole Story, Diary of Anne Frank, etc.
BOOK: Anne Frank Remembered
STORY: Anne Frank is known for writing her (now best-selling) diary while hiding from the Nazis. Although she did not survive the Holocaust, her father survived and he published her diary. Miep Gies was one of the Frank family’s many helpers. In 1933 she worked for Anne’s father, Otto, and became a close family friend. She kept Anne’s diary, although she never read it until she turned them over to Otto Frank.

WilmHosenfield

Wilhelm Hosenfeld
MOVIE: The Pianist (Oscar Winner)
BOOK: Memoir by one of the Jews he rescued, The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman
THE STORY: German officer Wilhelm Hosenfeld is known for helping or hiding numerous Poles and Jews during the war, most notably pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman. Like Oskar Schindler, he hated the way Poles and Jews were being treated and decided to do something about it, often befriending those he was supposed to hate.

Jan Karski

Jan Karski
MOVIE: The Karski Report (Documentary), Karski’s website has more documentaries about him.
BOOK: Memoir, Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World by Jan Karski
STORY: A Polish resistance fighter, Jan Karski actively warned the Polish government in exile and the Allies about the Holocaust, specifically the concentration camps and the Warsaw Ghetto. After the war, Jan moved to the United States where he received a PhD and became a professor. He died in 2000 and has received recognition all across the world for his bravery and encourage.
Walking with the Enemy
Karl Lutz
MOVIE: Walking with the Enemy (2014)
BOOK: Dangerous Diplomacy by Simon Wiesenthal
STORY: Karl Lutz was a Swiss diplomat who single-handedly and successfully rescued 62,500 Hungarian Jews. What started as issuing 8,000 visas to Jewish families turned into the largest single rescue of Jews during the Holocaust. Because of him, half of the Jewish population in Budapest, Hungary survived the war.

Irene Gut OpdykeIrene Gut Opdyke
MOVIE: N/A
BOOK: In My Hands by Irene Gut, memoir
STORY: Young Polish nurse Irene Gut Opdyke hid 12 Jews – in a Nazi officer’s house. She notes things started at small, as she first began smuggling food into the local ghetto. She later began smuggling Jews into the woods, and finally found a job in a Nazi officer’s house and began hiding Jews there. Although a movie was going to be made about her life, it hit lots of controversy. A Broadway play based on her life was also to be made, but closed a few months later.
Stefania Podgorska
Stefania and Helene Podgorska
MOVIE: Hidden in Silence (Lifetime TV movie)
BOOK: Featured in Women Heroes of World War II by Kathryn Atwood
STORY: Two Polish sisters, a teen and 7 year old child, hide 13 Jews in their attic for 2.5 years. Their courage shows how you can truly make a difference, no matter your age. This movie is rated PG-13 and works as a great introduction to the Holocaust.

Oskar Schindler
Oskar Schindler
MOVIE: Schindler’s List, 1993 (Best Picture, Best Director Oscar Winner)
BOOK: Biography, Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally // The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson (memoir by one of his Jews)
STORY: One of the most famous WWII heroes, Oskar Schindler was a Nazi who rescued 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factory. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie is unflinching but a powerful reminder of history.


Irena Sendler
MOVIE: Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (Hallmark Hall of Fame movie)
BOOK: She has no “official” memoir or biography, but she has a few picture books, my favorite being Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto. There is also a young juvenile chapter book called Irena’s Children.
STORY: Polish Catholic social worker Irena Sendler smuggled 2,500 children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, and brought them safely to orphanages, convents, or Polish families willing to take them in. Despite eventually being caught and brutally tortured, Irena refused to give away any of the children’s names. Irena and all of the children survived the war.

In Darkness

Leopold Socha
MOVIE: In Darkness – 2011 – Best Foreign Language film Oscar nominee
BOOK: It is thought The Girl in the Green Sweater, the memoir by a young girl hidden (the one on the cover) is the book that inspired the movie, but it is actually In the Sewers of Lvov.
STORY: Polish sewer worker Leopold Socha originally began helping Jews for personal financial gain, but soon realized he was actually doing a good deed. When push came to shove, he did the right thing. This is an example of one of the thousands of “ordinary” people who selflessly helped others during the war. The movie has a few sexual scenes that can be fast forwarded, and the first third of the film has a good lot of profanity. 
Chiune Sugihara
Chiune Sugihara
MOVIE: Conspiracy of Kindness (documentary)
BOOK: Numerous, including Visas for Life, A Special Fate, In Search of Sugihara, and Passage to Freedom. I would highly recommend the latter, which is a picture book.
STORY: Chiune Sugihara was theJapanese diplomat in Lithuania during the Holocaust. During the war, he rescued 6,000 Jews by handwriting (illegal) visas to Japan. Even later as he was forced to flee, he was known for still writing and throwing out visas of his train to desperate Jews.

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom
MOVIE: The Hiding Place
BOOK: Memoir, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
STORY: Corrie ten Boom has one of the most well-known Holocaust rescue stories. She has an incredible story of faith and rescue, even in a concentration camp. Corrie is a wonderful example of hope and faith in the darkest of times.

Andre and Magda Trocme
Andre and Magda Trocme
MOVIE: Weapons of the Spirit
BOOK: Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, A Portrait of Pacifists, Hidden on the Mountain, We Only Knew Men
STORY: French pastor Andre Trocme and his wife Magda, along with multiple little villages in France, helped rescue 5,000 Jews by hiding them in their little town of Le Chambon, France. Being Protestant in a Catholic nation, the Trocme’s believed that they had a connection with the Jewish people, understanding their persecution. The simple reason they decided to help? “We only knew men.”

Raoul WallenbergRaoul Wallenberg
MOVIE: Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg, Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story
BOOK: There are tons of biographies about Wallenberg. A notable biography highlighting Wallenberg’s story is The Envoy.
STORY: Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg helped rescue thousands of Hungarian Jews. He is known for helping Jews find protective passes, food, and medicine throughout the war. Unfortunately, what happened to Wallenberg after the war is unknown.

Nicky Winton
Nicholas Winton
MOVIE: Nicky’s Family (docudrama, on Netflix)
BOOK: If It’s Not Possible by Barbara Winton
STORY: Inspired by the Kindertransport, an operation that helped 10,000 Jewish children go to Britain before WWII broke out, British stockbroker Nicholas Winton rescued 669 Jewish children through his own personal version of the Kindertransport. Winton is known for appearing on the old TV show “That’s Life” and the host asking everyone in the crowd who was saved by Winton to stand up. In a poignant moment, the whole crowd stood up.

The Zookeeper's Wife

Jan and Antonina Zabinski
MOVIE: The Zookeeper’s Wife
BOOK: The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
STORY: Polish couple Jan and Antonina owned the Warsaw Zoo and hid hundreds of Jews and resistance workers in the Warsaw Zoo. Even though they lived close to a Nazi base, the Zabinski’s courage is inspiring and unforgettable. Personally, I preferred the movie over the biography. See also: Zookeeper’s Wife Movie Guide

More Holocaust Posts

Holocaust Movies for Middle + High School

50+ Holocaust Books for Middle School

**NOTE: Dietrich Bonhoeffer was never recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

29 COMMENTS

  1. I’m impressed! You do good work. Always have been fascinated by WWII. I have read the books or seen the movies of many you mentioned. Others I have heard/read about. Some older movies, made when there was less attempt to authenticity, were bits’n’pieces of stories. You might be interested in a series spearheaded by Barbara Streisand, The Rescuers. 3 VHS tapes, 2 stories each. Top flight actors, well made. Even if you aren’t a Streisand fan (she doesn’t appear) you are likely to find it interesting.

  2. hello, I hope someone can help me figure this out.
    It is very vague recollection though. I think the movie came out in the late 90s or maybe in the past 10 years. It was about wwII and (I think) mostly took place in a polish ghetto. It mostly involved an older gentleman, who was either an artist, or musician or playwright. All I vaguely remember was (i think) the Germans ‘hired’ him to go to the ghetto, and was made to entertain the prisoners (or maybe it was the German soldiers?) to try to keep their morale up or something. I think at one point he maybe got a few others there to perform in a play, or maybe it was a musical group. Sorry, I don’t remember most of what happened, but I think eventually he got ‘stuck’ in the ghetto (was not allowed to leave).
    It is not ‘the pianist’ or jacob the liar, nor was it life is beautiful. I’m almost positive this movie was made in Europe, because I also have this strong recollection of watching this movie with English subtitles.
    I’ve looked through a bunch of ‘top’ movies on wwII etc and could never find a description of the one I’m thinking of.
    anyone got any ideas? I’m stumped

  3. Dear Samantha,
    I just finished watching the movie Defiance with I am sure you are aware of. I had seen it many times and knew the history.
    I decided to go online to read more about the rescue as I too am a history buff with special interest in WW2. I was a small boy during the war and had many members of my family who fought in it. I also lost family members in the Holocaust.
    I came across your blog and was thrilled to see what you have done. Then I read about you and was even more amazed. You, my dear, are someone very special. Though I knew many of the stories you highlighted, I was not aware of the films about their stories. Thank you so much. I will follow your blog because you are one of the most interesting and remarkable persons that I have ever found online. I wish you success in all of your endeavors. This world needs more people like you. It has been an honor to have met you.
    I am old enough to be your Grandfather and believe it or not have a grandson attending the University of Indiana.
    Best Regards,
    Arnie

  4. My father fought in WWII and his parents came from Poland and Hungary. He also told me some stories about his war memories and his parents coming to America. I miss listening to the stories and he was a true hero to me.

  5. Let me tell you about A Book by Me. This is a Holocaust education project that seeks to find and preserve stories of survivors of the Holocaust and the heroes of WWII. The project connects young authors and artists (typically high school students, but ages vary) with those who survived the Holocaust or helped Jews and others hide from the Nazis. The young authors and illustrators write and illustrate the stories. The books go to schools and libraries with their accompanying curricula for use by teachers and parents. So far there are over 80 books documenting the stories of these survivors and heroes.
    The generation that witnessed this worldwide tragedy is quickly disappearing. It’s important that their stories be found and preserved quickly, while the door is still a little bit open.
    http://www.abookbyme.com/

  6. While he is not among the list of Righteous among the nations I found the scraps of info I found online about Albert Goring to be interesting especially considering who is older brother was.

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