For the most part, people took in one or two Jews, many of them children. In one instance, two sewer workers in Warsaw managed to hide twenty-one people in the sewers, ten of whom survived the war. These two men not only took care of the living but also buried those who died. They and their wives made sure that the people in the sewer had food.
Maria Althoff and her husband, Adolf, hid a family of Jews in their circus. (Picture from Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel)
The Episcopal Church has provisionally included the Righteous Gentiles on the calendar of lesser feasts and fasts (now called Holy Women, Holy Men). The first reading for this day is the story of Joshua sending spies into Jericho where Rahab hides them from the men of the town who wish to kill them. The gospel is John's account of Jesus standing before Pilate and the chief priests crying out for his death. Two stories of people whose lives are threatened by the existence of others, the responses are polar opposites. Rahab saves lives, the chief priests were willing to give up Jesus' life to save - they hoped - their own.
What would we do? Fortunately, we are not in the same situation as the people under Nazi rule were so we don't need to make sure we have secure hiding places in our homes. But we live at a time when many of the laws passed by our state and federal governments are oppressive, particularly for those who are already in distress: the poor, the elderly, children, illegal aliens (many of whom came to this country because businesses were glad to get cheap labor). We often respond to these laws with a "there's nothing I can do about it" attitude. I believe many citizens of Nazi-occupied countries said the same thing.
So what can we do? First, we need to be more aware of what's happening at state and federal levels. Second, we need to talk with friends about what's happening. And, finally, we need to write letters and make phone calls. If we are not in agreement with our legislators, they will never know unless we tell them.
The Righteous Gentiles were activists, rebels, unwilling to do nothing. They have set us a good example. Are we willing to follow it?