Article - Righteous
Righteous among the Nations
The origin of the expression "righteous among the nations" dates far back in Jewish history. In the Talmud we find it written "the righteous among the nations has a place in the world to come" - referring to those gentiles who kept the seven precepts of Noah and thus refrained from wrongdoing, adultery and the shedding of blood. Our sages wrote "there is but one righteous man among the nations and his name is Job."
Over the years, the expression "righteous among the nations" acquired additional nuances and was applied to those gentiles who showed compassion towards Jews and the Jewish people. Two examples from Jewish history: King Cyrus of Persia, who permitted the Jews to return from the Babylonian exile to rebuild the Temple; and Sultan Saladin who treated his Jewish subjects kindly, while in the Talmud we read of two Roman citizens who sacrificed their own lives in order to save Jews from death. It was only after World War II, however, that this expression was given more profound meaning. When the world at large, and in particular the Jewish people, became aware of the magnitude of the Holocaust and were shaken to their very core by the destruction of European Jewry, there came to light stories of the rescue of Jews by their gentile neighbors who knowingly endangered themselves in order to save Jewish lives. Though such deeds were few in number, each was in its own way outstanding. The Nazis punished by death anyone found guilty of helping to save a Jewish life; the walls of every occupied town were covered with posters warning the local non-Jewish population against helping Jews: it was forbidden to give a Jew shelter or food, or even to sell him food, under penalty of death. In spite of this, there were those who endangered their own and their families' lives in order to help. They acted not in the hope of reward, but out of conscience, religious belief or opposition to the Nazi conquest, and by their deeds demonstrated their courage and nobility of spirit.
Those who enacted the "Law for Perpetuating the Remembrance of the Holocaust and its Acts of Valor - Yad Va-Shem, 1953" were aware of these rays of light gleaming in the frightful Stygian darkness.
These rescuers were as a beam of light to the pursued and restored their belief in the existence of a better world. It was felt, therefore, that not only did the rescued wish to show their gratitude to their saviors but that the Jewish people as whole wanted to honor each of those to whom the precept "Love thy neighbor as thyself" was sacred.
The Law for the Establishment of Yad Va-Shem which was approved by the Knesset on August 19, 1953 stated that "a memorial (Yad Va-Shem) is hereby established in Jerusalem to ... and to those righteous among the nations who risked their own lives to rescue Jews."
Yad Va-Shem functions as the National Authority for the Commemoration of the Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust. On the Mount of Remembrance are archives and a library, a Research Center, a Publishing Department which edits research studies, documentary anthologies and diaries. On the site are situated a Documentary Museum, the Hall of Remembrance, the Hall of Names, a synagogue and other buildings.
A special Committee for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations was set up with the participation of representatives of Yad Va-Shem, survivors of the Holocaust, lawyers and historians. This Committee decides to whom to award the title of "Righteous Among the Nations" on the basis of the testimony of those rescued or of authentic documentary evidence. To date some 3,000 rescuers of Jews, from the different countries of Europe, have been honored as "Righteous Among the Nations," while special sub-committees have been set up in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa to help cope with the mass of documentation involved and thus hasten the screening process.
The survivors tell some amazing stories of the bravery of their rescuers who acted under the most difficult conditions, their lives continually in danger. In many cases they even shared their meager rations of food with the refugees whom they concealed in their cellars, attics or shelters.
The righteous man, he who is ready to share his property with his neighbor and has no desire to benefit from what belongs to others, is well defined in the Ethics of the Fathers as he who says "what is mine is thine, what is thine is thine."
Once the Committee has approved the granting of the title to an individual, a special ceremony takes place in the recipient's country, during which he is presented with a Scroll of Honor by the resident Israel Ambassador. There are three degrees of Honor conferred on the Righteous Among the Nations - 1) the presentation of a Scroll; 2) the presentation of a Scroll and the planting of a tree in the name of the recipient: 3) the presentation of a special Medal and Scroll, and the honor of planting a tree in the Garden of the Righteous on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. Today there are more than 500 such trees bearing living testimony to Man's humanity. The carob tree is an evergreen which keeps its leaves throughout the year and was therefore chosen to symbolize the righteous man, in the words of the Psalmist "And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf doth not wither."
The rescue of Danish Jewry forms a special chapter in the history of Europe in World War II. The Danish Resistance movement rallied as one to help save the Jewish population of their country, and by their deeds, the Danish people have earned an honored place in Jewish history. Their bravery is commemorated by three trees in the Garden of the Righteous: one in the name of the Danish people; one in the name of King Christian X; one in the name of the Danish Resistance. Let us always remember that the Garden of the Righteous commemorates the acts of a unique and very special group of people, men and women of different nationalities, who shared a common belief in righteousness, the sanctity of human life, and love of their fellow-man.
The rainbow appearing from the clouds on the stamp represents the emergence of Good from Evil (the dark patch), the result of the deeds of a few good and brave people symbolizing the hope that the exemplary behavior of these individuals will prevent there ever being a repetition of the Holocaust and its horrors. The inscription on the stamp is: "Salute to the righteous among the nations." On the tab is inscribed: "Yad Vashem."