“WHOEVER saves one life, it is as though he had saved the entire world,” Israeli Ambassador to Slovakia Alexander Ben-Zvi said, quoting the Talmud during his speech awarding the title “Righteous Among the Nations” to Slovaks for their efforts to save Jews during World War II.

A couple saving a six-week-old child, a priest helping Jewish refugees, and a husband and wife caring for a 9-year-old Jewish girl were honoured on February 11. All were awarded posthumously.
“They had not betrayed their human values over the day as many others did,” Ben-Zvi said. “On the contrary, when many had forgotten what it means to be a human, they lent a helping hand.”

The names Peter and Mária Reháks, Pavol and Anna Hriadel – Božích, as well as Pavel Chorvát, will appear on the Wall of Honour of Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial museum. They join 534 other Slovaks, the TASR newswire reported. Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič and Prime Minister Robert Fico participated in the February 11 event.

“It is important to remember the atrocities of the past so they will not happen again,” Gašparovič said, as quoted by TASR. “This day is special since people who saved children - the future of Israel - were honoured.”

Leaving child to strangers

Peter and Mária Reháks were awarded for saving six-week old Zita, the daughter of Jewish couple Ignác and Alžbeta Löwenbein. Before the Löwenbeins fled to the mountains to avoid deportation to concentration camps, Reháks offered to care for their baby in August 1944, according to the Israeli Embassy report.

“Nobody expected that they [Löwenbeins] would manage to survive,” said Zita Löwenbein, née Kurzová, as quoted by the Hospodárske Noviny daily.

The Löwenbeins fled to Kubrica on the outskirts of Trenčín and in complete despair knocked on the Reháks’ door. Despite knowing nothing about the strangers, the Reháks promised to protect their daughter and raise her if they could not return. After Slovakia was liberated, the Löwenbeins returned from the mountains to the Reháks’ home, where they found their daughter had been well cared for.

Pastor arranging forged documents

Pavel Chorvát had served as an evangelical pastor in Slatina nad Bebravou as of 1935. During the Second World War he was an outspoken opponent of the oppressive regime and helped refugees from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia reach Hungary. He also arranged forged baptismal certificates for Jews, the embassy report says.

Authorities arrested Chorvát in 1942 for smuggling, but later released him. In 1944 he was again monitored by state authorities, who later issued an arrest warrant. He then went into hiding.

After the communists replaced the Nazis, Chorvát was outwardly critical and was imprisoned for two years at the end of the 1950s. He returned from prison with weak health and moved to Trenčianske Teplice close to his sister. He died of cancer there in August 1970.

Protective nanny

Pavol and Anna Hriadel - Božích were honoured for rescuing 9-year-old Hedviga Kleinová of Považská Bystrica. Anna Hriadelová was Hedviga’s nanny and also raised her mother. Hedviga’s parents joined the partisans in the Slovak National Uprising after the Hriadels promised to take care of their daughter.

The whole Hriadel family knew that Hedviga was Jewish, but told others she was an orphan relative. Later, local police filed a complaint concerning her suspected identity and the police station chief advised the family to hide the girl. In 1949, Hedviga immigrated to Israel and changed her name to Aviva. She also credited another woman, Anna Berčíková, and her parents for her rescue, according to the report.