During the Holocaust, attitudes towards Jews by German citizens and the citizens of the countries occupied by Germany ranged mostly between ambivalence and hostility. Small numbers of individuals, however, were concerned by what they were seeing around them, and some even risked their lives to help their Jewish neighbours.
In this lesson we are going to look at examples of acts of bravery displayed by the Righteous Among the Nations, as they are designated by Yad Vashem, and look at a biblical precedent for their actions.
Schutzpass of Tivadar Foldes, 1944
Click here to view the document on the website of the National Library of Israel.
Read the translation of the text, zoom in to explore the details, and then answer the questions below.
Observing – What can you learn from observing the item?
The first step of analysing a document is to observe the details closely.
- Describe the document.
- What is the name of the person who held this document?
- What information about the person is written on the document?
- Describe the picture.
- What languages is the document written in?
- What is the date of the document?
- What other images appear on the document?
Next, use prior knowledge and analytical skills, reference books, and online research to understand the context and meaning of the item.
- This document was issued in September 1944 in Hungary.
What was the situation for Hungarian Jews at this time?
- The “W” in the bottom left-hand corner of the schutzpass is Raoul Wallenberg’s signature.
Who was Raoul Wallenberg?
- What was the purpose of the schutzpass?
How many people were saved by the schutzpass?
- What was the fate of the bearer of this specific schutzpass?
What was the fate of his family members?
Read his story on the Centropa website.
- What happened to Wallenberg after the Soviets captured Hungary from the Nazis?
- What do you think motivated Wallenberg to risk his life by saving Jews during the Holocaust? Why do you think some people acted as Wallenberg did, while others participated or cooperated with the Nazis?
What does the item mean to you? What are your impressions of the item? How does this item connect to your own life and experiences?
- What lessons for your own life can you take from Wallenberg’s story?
- In what ways does he inspire you?
Throughout history there have been individuals who have been prepared to endanger themselves in order to save Jews.
Read the story from the book of Shemot (Exodus) and answer the questions below.
Who Were the Midwives?
In verse 15, the midwives are described as מְיַלְּדֹת הָעִבְרִיֹּת - miyaldot haivriot- which can be translated either as “the Jewish midwives” or “the midwives for the Jews.”
- What nationality are the midwives according to each of these translations?
Jewish or Egyptian?
- Click on the verses above to open the resource panel.
In “commentaries,” read various opinions on how this phrase should be translated.
According to Rashi, who were the midwives?
Compare this to Shadal’s commentary.
The Midwives’ Actions
Now read verses 17-21 and answer the following questions:
- Do the midwives do as Pharaoh commanded?
- What excuse do the midwives give to Pharaoh?
- According to the text, why don’t the midwives do it? (Hint: Use the words from the text to answer.)
- According to verse 21, why did God reward the midwives?
What does “יראת אלקים”(yirat Elokim) mean?
Double click on the word ירא (yira) in verse 21 to open the dictionary.
Look at the various definitions and choose the one that works best.
Fear of God or Not…
For another clue as to what the phrase “יראת אלקים” (yirat Elokim, fear of God) means, let’s look at an example where the Torah says that a group of people don’t have this fear of God.
- Who does not have fear of God in this text?
- What did they do?
Considering the actions of people who had fear of God and the actions of those who didn’t, explain what fear of God is.
According to Shadal’s interpretation of verse 15, what do the midwives and Amalek have in common?
What does this say about the characteristic of fear of God?
What is fear of God?
One way of translating fear of God is moral courage, namely, the ability to know right from wrong and to act on it even in difficult circumstances.
Fear of God requires doing the right thing, even if it is difficult or dangerous. In the context of the biblical source, it also means that doing the right thing is what is important to God and that this is done simply because it is right and not in expectation of a reward.
- Do the midwives fulfill all of these criteria? Explain.
- Did Raoul Wallenberg fulfill all of these criteria? Explain.
Centropa is an organisation that interviews elderly Jews still living in 15 countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Baltics, and the Balkans. They have collected examples of people who stood up, at risk of their lives, to save Jews during the Holocaust. Click here to read about these inspirational people.
Matilde Kalef Cerge on Father Tumpej
The picture below is from Matilde Kalef Cerge, who credits Father Tumpej for saving both her and her sister’s lives.
Her story was recorded on the Centropa website.
“I couldn’t change my name back. Father Tumpej didn’t just give me a name. By saving me, he gave me a life.”
After they had taken away almost all of our family, my mother, completely beside herself, took us to [the Belgrade suburb of] Banovo Brdo, where she begged a Catholic priest, Andrej Tumpej to take us in. Father Tumpej gave us false papers as the out-of-wedlock children of our mother, Antonija Ograjensek, [her maiden name] so that we would have some documents. My new name was Lidija Ograjensek and my sister's was Breda; her birth name was Rahela.
Next to the church there was an apartment where these nuns lived. We got two beds in a room and were there for three months. Just my sister and I. They took us in and then we couldn't go anywhere. When we were with the nuns we were the only children hiding there. They were very polite. And most importantly, they were thrilled because we knew the Old Testament because as Jewish children, we had learned the Old Testament in our Hebrew school. There was no pressure to convert.
Later Father Tumpej made it possible for us to go to a regular school, and the school director accepted us knowing we didn't have the kinds of school documents we would need from our former school. He simply accepted us on his personal responsibility, meaning, of course, he must have known.
Andrej Tumpej was an exceptional man. He hid Dr. Vajs, a pediatrician who had gone over to the Partizans, at some point. He also hid two other Jewish girls…but when he was helping them escape, someone recognized them. They were caught and taken away. I have no idea what happened to them; I’m sure it was very bad.
After this the Germans locked up Father Tumpej. When he was in prison a German asked him, 'How could you dare to do this, to hide Jewish girls?' and he answered, 'And tomorrow if you were in that kind of situation I would do the same for you.' He was a man in the true sense of the word. Exceptional.
Matilda and Rahela Kalef grew up in a large and wealthy Sephardi family in Belgrade. The Germans invaded in 1941 and soon after, almost all of their relatives – from children to aged grandparents –were taken away and murdered.
Use what you have learned to create something new.
Choose from one of the following options:
- Make a presentation about the life of Raoul Wallenberg.
- Read about a rescuer from the Centropa or Yad Vashem website and present the story to your class.
- Work together with your class to create a website about people who exhibit moral courage. Include stories from the Holocaust, the Bible, or contemporary situations.
- Ask your parents or grandparents if they know an example of people exhibiting moral courage from their own experience. Write down their response and share it with the class.
- Write an essay explaining how the midwives, Raoul Wallenberg, and others inspire you.