Not nearly enough was done to rescue the Jews during the Holocaust. Yet, whereas governments, churches, and international conferences failed to stop the Nazis from murdering six million people, thousands of individuals did effectively act to save Jewish lives.
Ordinary people of all backgrounds defied the dangers to come to the aid of persecuted Jews. Rescue efforts were geographically diverse, and the degree of difficulty involved also varied. Rescuers' activities were influenced not only by the extent of Nazi control of an area, but by hostile or sympathetic attitudes of native populations. Moreover, not all rescuers acted from moral conviction. Some offered aid only in exchange for exorbitant fees.
Rescue operations in Occupied Western Europe, particularly in Denmark, Belgium, France, and Italy, succeeded in saving substantial portions of the respective nations' native Jewish communities. Danish citizens organized fishing-boat flotillas that helped almost all of the country's Jews escape to neutral Sweden. In France, a variety of groups and individuals rescued some 7000 children, smuggling many into Switzerland and Spain. Involved were Protestant and Catholic church leaders and peasants as well as the Jewish child care organization Ouvres de Secours aux Enfants and the Jewish scouting organization Éclaireurs israélites de France. Director Germaine Le Henaff (pictured) hid several Jews in the Chateau de la Guette children's home.
The underground French organization Circuit Garel rescued many children from Nazi transit camps and hid them in foster homes. The villagers of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in Vichy France provided safe haven for thousands of Jews until members of the Resistance could guide them into Switzerland.
In Eastern Europe, more direct German rule along with violently antisemitic attitudes created even greater obstacles to the rescue of Jews. Little organized aid was extended in Poland, although thousands of individuals helped Jews, particularly in Warsaw during 1942-43. The few groups offering support included the Catholic Scout movement as well as Zegota (Council for Aid to Jews). Some within the Polish Catholic Church urged rescue of Jews. In Lvov, Leopold Socha hid 21 Jews within the city's sewer system.
A number of international organizations, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the World Jewish Congress, and the War Refugee Board, supported both overt and clandestine actions in order to save as many Jews as possible. They established secret contacts with Jewish communities in Occupied Europe, exchanged vital information, arranged crucial funding, organized emigration schemes, and abetted escape attempts.
Raoul Wallenberg, a member of the Swedish legation in Hungary, issued protective passports and secured life-saving shelter, food, and medicine for thousands of Hungarian Jews. Thousands of other quiet yet indispensable heroes--ranging from farmers and laborers to teachers and factory owners (such as Oskar Schindler)--fooled the Gestapo and concealed and protected Jews.