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Berlin memorial for WWII Germans who helped Jews

Berlin memorial for WWII Germans who helped Jews

The "Silent Heroes" now have a voice.
A new memorial center in Berlin pays tribute to the thousands of German gentiles who risked everything to save Jews from persecution by the Nazis and documents the stories of those who sometimes spent years in hiding.
The "Silent Heroes" memorial center opens to the public Tuesday amid a new focus in recent years on the legacy of the "good German" _ those individuals who resisted Hitler and his policies, were labeled as traitors by the Nazis and were often shunned in decades after the war.
"Their accomplishments were totally forgotten, and this is an initiative to bring them back into our memory," said Johannes Tuchel, director of the German Resistance Memorial Center Foundation, which is behind the new memorial.
Some 5,000 Jews were able to survive the war in hiding in Germany but it is not clear how many people were involved in helping them, Tuchel said. Research suggests that for each person in hiding, around 10 people were involved in aiding them.
Peter Michalski, whose family went into hiding in 1944, said it was a long overdue tribute to the Germans who helped people like him escape almost certain death, even if it meant putting their own lives in jeopardy.
"Where would you be now if these people hadn't existed?" he asked contemplatively while looking at an exhibit focusing on his family's plight. "The answer is simple: We wouldn't be."
The three-room exhibition relies heavily on multimedia displays in both English and German _ audio accounts, touch-screen computers focusing on 18 aspects of survival, and computers with more detailed information on those in hiding and their rescuers. Original artifacts include personal photos, diaries and letters.
The best-known subject is Oskar Schindler, whose story was made famous by Steven Spielberg's 1993 Oscar-winning film "Schindler's List," which chronicled the German businessman's efforts to shield more than 1,000 Jews from Nazi death camps by hiring them to work in his factories.
But some of the lesser known stories are just as moving.
Michalski looked slowly at the photos in the display case, picking out his parents _ Lilli and Herbert Michalski _ as well as himself and his brother Franz.
Lilli Michalski was born Jewish but converted to her husband's Catholicism. Because of that, she was able to initially escape deportation to a death camp even though the Nazis began rounding up many of her relatives in 1941.
But by 1944, the risks had become too great and the family went into hiding. Several Aryan Germans aided them, most prominently a colleague of Herbert's named Gerda Mez, who eventually helped get the family out of Germany.
Michalski said it was important that people like Mez are recognized through the exhibit, so others can see the sacrifices they made.
"It's extremely well done," Michalski said. "These people are no longer alive but their relatives are still are."
Israel's Yad Vashem Memorial recognizes more than 22,000 gentiles across Europe who helped Jews escape the Holocaust as "Righteous among the Nations," among them more than 450 Germans.
It is also not known how many people were caught sheltering Jews, which could have meant execution or deportation to a concentration camp, because they were prosecuted for more general crimes such as "hindering the war effort," Tuchel said.
"I can't quantify it at this time, but everyone who helped put themselves at a very great risk," he said.


Updated : 2020-12-02 21:47 GMT+08:00