On August 1, 1944, Anne Frank wrote the final entry in her famous diary. She had chronicled two years spent in hiding from the horrors of the Holocaust. Three days after that last entry, Anne and her family were arrested and taken to a concentration camp where, less than a year later, Anne Frank died.
On the anniversary of her last diary entry, we’re pausing to reflect on a dire period in human history. As Anne Frank’s diary shows us again and again, human kindness exists even at the worst times. Today we honor a few of the heroes who brought rays of hope during the dark days of the Holocaust.
Miep Gies had a direct connection to Anne Frank herself – she was one of the people who helped hide Anne and her family. Every day for 25 months, she defied authorities and risked her own life in hopes of keeping another family safe. Gies downplayed her heroism, noting that there were others who did more and risked more danger. She always maintained that her acts were not extraordinary – they were simply her human duty. Not only did Gies do all she could to protect the Franks; she also found and collected Anne’s writings. With this act, she helped ensure that Anne Frank – and the Holocaust – will never be forgotten.
Betty Goodfriend did her part to help defeat the Nazis by smuggling guns to resistance fighters – while she was incarcerated and working in a German hospital laundry. Years later, she met by chance a man who had received one of her smuggled guns, and he was able to thank her for helping save his life as he used the gun to escape his captors. She also completed a daring escape of her own… slipping away, with others, from a concentration camp death march in the dead of night.
Arnost Lustig spent three years in concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Buchenwald, before he escaped from a train meant to convey him to yet another camp. He returned to his home, Prague, and threw himself into the fight against the Nazis. He went on to become an award-winning novelist, with the Holocaust a central theme to his work.
Siegfried Halbreich, when he was captured, had enough medical experience to be assigned to the prisoners’ hospital at Auschwitz. There he was able to save many lives. He survived the concentration camp and went on to serve as an interpreter in the Nuremberg trials, as well as giving testimony that helped convict Adolf Eichmann. In the years after the war, he devoted much of his time to educating students and community groups about the Holocaust.
Irene Opdike proved that there were many ways to save lives during the Holocaust – she saw an opportunity to help others by making the sacrifice of becoming a German officer’s mistress. In this favored position, she was able to pass information to Jews living in the ghettos, as well as provide food for those hiding from the Nazis. Her detailed obituary tells fascinating stories of her work to help others.
Irena Sendler made a huge impact by smuggling nearly 2500 children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, giving them false identities, and sending them to safety with Catholic families. Sendler was eventually caught and imprisoned, but she survived – and she did so without betraying any of the team who helped her or the children she saved. After her incarceration, she assumed a new name and picked up where she left off, continuing to save children. She was remembered by a member of her team as “a person who always stood on the side of the weak.”
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