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Righteous Gentiles also called Righteous among the Nations is an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.
In 1953, Yad Vashem the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority was established by the Knesset of Israel. One of its tasks was to commemorate the "Righteous among the Nations" defined as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Since 1963, a commission headed by a justice of the Supreme Court of Israel has been charged with the duty of awarding the honorary title "Righteous among the Nations". The commission is guided in its work by certain criteria.
To be recognized as "Righteous among the Nations", a person has to fulfill several criteria:
- only a Jewish party can put a nomination forward;
- helping a family member or Jewish person convert to Christianity is not a criterion for recognition;
- the assistance has to be repeated and/or substantial; and
- the assistance has to be given without any financial gain expected in return (although covering normal expenses such as rent or food is acceptable).
A person who is recognized as "Righteous among the Nations" for having taken risks to help Jews during the Holocaust is awarded a medal in his/her name, a certificate of honor, and the privilege of having the name added to those on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Some people recognized as Righteous among the Nations include:
- Zofia Kossak-Szczucka was a co-founder of the wartime Polish organization Żegota (The Council to Aid the Jew), set up to assist Poland's Jews in escaping the Holocaust. In 1943 she was arrested by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, but survived the war.
- Jaroslawa Lewikca is the youngest person still living in Israel today ever awarded with this special distinction. In 1941, when the German army occupied her hometown of Zloczow in the Ukraine, Jaroslawa was only six years old. But her grandfather, Aleksander Lewicka, gave her a very vital yet risky task.
Jews were immediately driven from their homes and not allowed to buy food. So each day, Aleksander would fill his granddaughter’s school backpack with food and medicine and then hide it under newspapers and textbooks. Young Jarolslawa would then walk several miles, passing many unsuspecting German guards, to secretly deliver the supplies to helpless and starving Jewish families. Source: International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
- In 1965, Irena Sendler was one of the first individuals to be honored as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem.
- Wikipedia contributors. "Righteous among the Nations." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Jun. 2012. Web. 7 Jul. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Righteous_among_the_Nations>.