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Nine Slovaks honoured for saving lives in WWII

NINE SLOVAKS who risked their lives to help Jews during the Second World War were posthumously awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations at Bratislava's Pálffy Palace on June 28.
Those honoured were: Johanna Budin, Ján Droppa and his wife Mária, Pavol Dubovec, Ernest Jurkovič and his wife Anna, Ľudovít Rehák and his wife Ľudmila, and Peter Komendák.

NINE SLOVAKS who risked their lives to help Jews during the Second World War were posthumously awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations at Bratislava's Pálffy Palace on June 28.

Those honoured were: Johanna Budin, Ján Droppa and his wife Mária, Pavol Dubovec, Ernest Jurkovič and his wife Anna, Ľudovít Rehák and his wife Ľudmila, and Peter Komendák.

"They helped us when we were abandoned and without friends," said the Israeli Ambassador to Slovakia, Zeev Boker.

The title is awarded by the state of Israel and the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem. Specially minted plaques and Yad Vashem certificates bearing the names of the honourees were accepted by their relatives. The plaque for Johanna Budin, a former resident of Gbely (Trnava Region), was accepted by Gbely Mayor Jozef Hazlinger.

The award is given to non-Jews from all over the world, who risked their lives during the Second World War in order to save Jews persecuted by the Nazis. They hid them in their homes, helped them to flee, or even declared Jewish children their own.

Michael Szatmáry, the editor-in-chief of the monthly Jewish newspaper Delet, stressed the importance of their bravery.

"They did something that at that time only a few were able to do," he said. "It was against the state power. They helped people who were sentenced to death. And so, if they had been caught, they would have been gassed, too. The risk of death was clear."

"It is still not known how many people risked their lives in this way during the Holocaust to save Jews," said Pavol Mešťan, the director of the Jewish Museum in Slovakia. "A split second decided their choice, and the good in them won out."

Married couple Mária and Ján Droppa, from the village Galovany near the Tatras, harboured a young Jewish girl named Judith in their house.

Pavol Dubovec, a landowner from Nolčov near Martin, sheltered a 20-year-old Jew named Karol Neufeld. The German Gestapo found Neufeld in the house one day. Dubovec and his whole family told the Gestapo he was their grandson.

"In an instant, everybody was there, and not even the dog said it was not true," Cipora Nir Neufeld, the wife of Neufeld (who later called himself Akiva Nir), told Slovak Television on June 28. "They all said, 'What do you want from him? He is one of us!'"

Another recipient, Peter Komendák, used his influence to free captured Jews in Slovakia and helped them secure documents for their escape.

Johanna Budin, a native of Vienna who later lived in Gbely, also received the honorary title in memoriam. Budin pretended to be a mother of two Jewish children, and financially helped their real parents. Two other families from Gbely, the Reháks and Jurkovičs, helped their parents to hide.

"They were no saints, and they even weren't excellent in anything, they were just ordinary people who did what they felt was right," Mešťan said.

So far, about 22,000 people from 42 countries have received the title, including 460 Slovaks. Most of the Slovaks were awarded the title after diplomatic relations between Czechoslovakia and Israel were restored in 1990.

Righteous Christians or Righteous Among the Nations was originally a Biblical term, used by Jews to describe non-Jews of good character who abide by God's laws. A commission that began to operate in 1962 took over the task of awarding this honorary title according to strict criteria. It uses information from witnesses, public discussions and historical research. The commission is presided over by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel.

Those who receive the title have their names inscribed on the Wall of Honour at the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, and trees will be planted in their names in the Garden of the Righteous, the biggest memorial of the Holocaust. The names of all the people who received the award for helping Jews in Slovakia are also displayed on a list at the Museum of Jewish Culture in Bratislava.

During the Second World War, six to eight million Jews were killed by the Nazi regime. About 70,000 Jews from Slovakia - which was a part of the German sphere of power - were deported to concentration camps, too.

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