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EPILOGUE: The Aftermath
 pg. 679 
This Holocaust memorial was unveiled in Skokie, Illinois, home of many survivors. The film Skokie recounted reaction to an infamous 1977 neo-Nazi demonstration in the town.
Photo: Philip Drell
Righteous Among the Nations

Through the dark nights of the Holocaust shone the luminous examples of the "Righteous Among the Nations," a title derived from the Talmud to describe those who risked their own lives to save the lives of others, sometimes complete strangers.

Individuals such as Oskar Schindler (seen below at a 1962 ceremony at Yad Vashem) and even entire nations such as Denmark risked safety and security to save those persecuted by the Nazis. Some hid Jews within their homes for months at a time. Others helped Jews cross the border into neutral Switzerland. Still others used their diplomatic status to issue transit visas or even to grant citizenship.

Since 1953 these "Righteous Among the Nations" have been honored at Yad Vashem in Israel, with a tree planted in honor of each as living testimony to their heroism. Risking torture and death, these righteous few bear witness that the small voice of conscience could still be heard over the Nazi rhetoric of racism. The "Righteous Among the Nations" saved not only individual lives, but, as the Talmud says, "the entire universe." By their courage and compassion, they preserved humanity in the midst of evil.
Photo: Leopold Page Photographic Coll. / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive

Poland has long been a predominantly Roman Catholic country. Large numbers of Polish Catholics--including several thousand priests--were murdered by the Nazis. Christian Poles numbering in the tens of thousands had their lives taken from them at Auschwitz. At the same time, Auschwitz is often rightly called the largest Jewish cemetery in the world, for 90 percent of the more than one million persons who perished there were Jews. Understandably, the presence of Christian crosses or their removal has strained Jewish-Catholic relations, and especially those between Jews and Polish Catholics. During the winter of 1997-98, religious symbols--Stars of David as well as Christian crosses--were removed from a field at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where many could be seen in an area where the Nazis had created mass graves and dumped the ashes from Birkenau's crematoria. But the summer events that followed showed that the controversy surrounding religious symbolism had not been settled.

Even as the Polish Parliament's legislation to create a protected zone around former Nazi camps in Poland took effect on May 25, 1999, Auschwitz was still the scene of responses that were--almost literally--explosive. At dawn on May 28, Polish Army troops removed several hundred crosses near Auschwitz I. Meanwhile, Kazimierz Switon, a radical Catholic activist who complained that Jewish influence in Poland was too great, had been living in a tent on the site. He was supervising construction of a wooden hut that a retired priest had consecrated as a chapel on May 16, an action the Roman Catholic Church rejected.

 October 1980: The U.S. Congress unanimously passes the law creating the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which will sponsor fund-raising events for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
 Late autumn 1980: Polish schoolchildren planting a tree near the site of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp uncover a secret inmate diary inside a buried thermos.
 1981: American Jewish Holocaust survivors establish a national registry to document the lives of survivors who immigrated to the U.S.
 June 1981: More than 6000 Holocaust survivors gather in Jerusalem.
 1982: A Hollywood film version of Sophie's Choice, William Styron's novel of a Christian survivor of the Holocaust, is released.
 1984: Catholic nuns establish a Carmelite Convent, with one building erected on the grounds of the former death camp at Auschwitz. Jews object because the nuns' activities will celebrate Christian martyrs on a site where more than one million Jews perished.
EPILOGUE: The Aftermath
 pg. 679 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.