«Unfortunately, on October 16th my aunt Ida was deported, with my three little cousins… The sum of their age was 30… My brother, my cousin and I took refuge in the “Nobile di Mondragone”… we had documents and a new surname: “Sbardella”…»
Graziano Sonnino’s testimony tells us that an open door, a refuge, a hiding place to escape death was often given by religious institutes, convents and Christian churches.
These gave shelter and hid many Jews, even disguised them as Christians: they taught them prayers, dressed them as priests.
This support was reinforced by Pope Pius XII, a figure who was considered controversial by many, however in 1943 through the Vicariate of State he attested the extraterritoriality of each church as a sacred place and therefore impassable.
Priests were certainly not the only ones to defend Jews, many, many people with a strong will and courage, put their lives at risk to save some less fortunate.
There are many examples:
- German-occupied Denmark was the scene of the most famous and complete rescue operation in Axis-controlled Europe. The German Secret Police had planned to take advantage of martial law to deport all Danish Jews, but the Resistance organized a major rescue operation to transfer them safely to neutral Sweden (about 7,200 of the 7,800 Jews).
- In the so-called General Governorate (German-occupied Poland) several Polish citizens supported the Jews. For example, Zegota (code name of the “Council to Help the Jews” or Rada Pomocy Zydom), a Polish clandestine organization that mainly sought to provide basic necessities to the Jews, carried out several support and rescue operations.
- But, while the members of the Polish National Army (Armia Krajowa – AK) and the communist forces of the Polish People’s Army (Armia Ludowa – AL) helped the Jewish fighters during the Warsaw ghetto uprising – attacking the German positions, The Polish underground movement only provided a small amount of weapons and supplies. However, from the beginning of the deportations from the Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka extermination centre, at least 20,000 Jews lived hidden around Warsaw.
- In France, the Protestant population of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon (a village) hid between 3,000 and 5,000 refugees. In Belgium and Italy, the clandestine networks organized by the Christian communities saved thousands of people.
- In Budapest (occupied by the Germans) – Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (who was also an agent of the U.S. Committee to help War Refugees), diplomat Carl Lutz and Italian Giorgio Perlasca (who pretended to be a Spanish diplomat), provided the Jews with tens of thousands of so-called “protection certificates”, or passes.
- In Krakow, Schindler hired more than a thousand Jewish workers in the factory effectively preventing their deportation to Auschwitz, and became famous thanks to Steven
Whether they saved a thousand people or just one, those who came to the aid of the Jews during the Holocaust showed courage, even in extreme situations.
“Whoever saves a life saves the whole world" (Talmud, sacred text of Judaism)