Righteous Among The Nations: Awarding Canadian Descendants
In 1953, the Israeli Parliament (the Kenneset) passed a law which established Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, as the sole entity authorized to bestow the Righteous Among the Nations title on behalf of the State of Israel. Since that time, Righteous Among the Nations has become not only a symbol of the gratitude to those individuals who aided Jews, but also a synonym for the highest act of civilian heroism and human solidarity.
This prestigious title has been earned by an exclusive set of individuals by virtue of their incomparable bravery, integrity, and moral fortitude at a time when human decency became the exception rather than the rule. A Righteous Among the Nations is a gentile who risked his or her life, freedom, and safety in order to rescue one or several Jews from the threat of death or deportation without exacting monetary compensation or other rewards.
The Righteous are represented by a myriad of peoples: the religious and agnostic, men and women, people from all walks of life and of all ages, educated professionals and illiterate peasants, rich and poor. The only common denominator is the humanity and the courage they displayed by standing up for their moral principles.
Since its inception, Yad Vashem has recognized more than 24,300 Righteous Among the Nations from 45 countries around the world. Unlike others, the Righteous Among the Nations did not fall into a pattern of acquiescing to the escalating measures against the Jews. Rather, they stood apart from the current of hostility and bigotry that prevailed during the Holocaust.
Those who chose to shelter Jews had to sacrifice their normal lives and live a clandestine existence. The price that rescuers paid, if caught, was extermination; Nazis executed not only the people who sheltered Jews, but their entire families as well.
The Righteous Among the Nations are an example, par excellence, for us all to emulate. However difficult and frightening, the fact that some found the courage to become rescuers demonstrates that the freedom to choose does exist, that doing the right thing is not beyond one's capacity, and that, even in the midst of opposing forces, it is possible to live one's life with moral conviction and integrity.
The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem has been honoured to award Canadian descendants of Righteous Among the Nations with the Yad Vashem certificate and medal of honour at prestigious ceremonies.