During Yom HaShoah, we remember those lives lost during the Holocaust.
However, few people will think to honor those who protected Jews when the risk was so great. Without their heroism, who knows how many more Jews would have perished in the Holocaust.
Started in 1986, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous sends monthly donations to non-Jews around the world who risked their lives to protect Jews from the Nazi concentration camps.
“The punishment in Eastern Europe for hiding a Jew was immediate death,” said Stanlee Stahl, executive vice-president of the JFR. “These people risked so much.”
Last year, the JFR gave $3.8 million to 1,100 rescuers in 24 different countries. All the money comes from private donations, Stahl said. The foundation receives no federal or state money.
In order to receive this money, the rescuers must follow specific criteria.
“The person must be recognized by Yad VaShem, Israel’s official memorial to the Holocaust; they designate that person as righteous.” Stahl said. “They have to have the Jewish person who they saved prepare testimony for them and prove that they saved them without demanding any money.”
The process is not black and white, Stahl noted. Six people are currently awaiting eligibility for monthly awards.
Each month the rescuers receive money. It’s not much — around $100 — but the purchasing power in foreign countries makes it seem like much more.
“That’s a lot of money for them in other countries,” Stahl said. “For them it’s a few thousand dollars because of the purchasing power.”
While the amount each country receives is different, every person in that country receives the same, with a few exceptions.
To figure out how much each country receives, the JFR looks at economic data including the purchasing power and makes their decision.
Poland is home to half of all the rescuers with 550 people there receiving monthly awards. There are currently only 15 in the United States, including one in Reading, Pa.
Stahl isn’t surprised.
“The Jews were the ones that had to leave to America,” she said. “The Christians and other non-Jews who protected Jews were allowed to stay.”
Despite the recession, Stahl said that there would be no reduction of monthly awards. However, there won’t be any increase in awards, which sometimes happens from year to year.
“I don’t think we are going to raise our awards this year,” Stahl said. “Last year we could give a little more thanks to a private donor. I don’t think this year that will happen.”
No matter what, though, rescuers will never lose their award.
“They never lose that award,” Stahl said. “Not until the day they pass.”
In addition to giving money out around the globe, JFR also provides education to teachers, books and other literature to 16 specific Holocaust centers across the country.
These centers comply with the type of education and services the JFR wants to see. The perks for being one of these 16 besides the education and literature are access to the JFR’s intensive one-week teacher education course at Columbia University in New York.
Pittsburgh is home to one of the 16 Holocaust centers that receive the JFR’s support.
“The way that I utilize their services, we have the ability to use their lectures and speakers,” said Edie Naveh, director of Pittsburgh’s Holocaust Center. “They come to speak at events here in Pittsburgh.”
“Our annual Holocaust course during the summer, uses their text,” she continued. “It’s a class for teachers on how to teach the Holocaust.”
Naveh stressed how important the JFR’s purpose is.
“I think it’s profound and very important,” she said. “What JFR essentially does is highlight those individuals who made courageous choices in their lives to save individuals who were being killed and persecuted by the Nazi’s.”
Despite the number of rescuers diminishing, Stahl believes strongly in the JFR’s mission and helping those who risked so much decades ago.
“Like the Jewish Holocaust survivors in our communities that are passing on, so are their rescuers.
“I am truly blessed,” Stahl continued. “I have the most wonderful job in the world. On behalf of the Jewish community we are able to say thank you to those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews.”
(Mike Zoller can be reached at email@example.com.)