THE HISTORY of the Second World War consists not only of the tragic destiny of Jews who did not survive Nazi persecution, but also of the stories of those who were not afraid to help save the lives of Jewish people. On January 30, six Slovaks received the Righteous Among the Nations title, given each year by the State of Israel and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial to people of non-Jewish origin.
“When many closed their minds to humanity and shut their hearts from the suffering that could easily have befallen them, there the righteous acted in a humane way,” said Israeli Ambassador to Slovakia Alexander Ben-Zvi, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “The aid and support they provided to their fellow Jewish citizens at the time of their greatest need and their own motives were the combination of two utter opposites: help taken as a given when the life of a human being is at stake and an act of exceptional bravery.”
January 27, the date in 1945 when the Auschwitz concentration-extermination camp was liberated from the Nazis, was designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations. Each year on this day, the State of Israel and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem award the Righteous Among the Nations title to those who risked their lives, freedom and safety in order to rescue Jews from the threat of death or deportation without expecting monetary compensation or other reward.
This year the awards were bestowed upon Alexander and Katarína Režný, Jozef and Mária Chladný, and Ján and Anna Mackovjak.
The ceremony held in Bratislava’s Primate’s Palace was attended by several official representatives of Slovakia, including President Ivan Gašparovič, Prime Minister Robert Fico, Bratislava mayor Milan Ftáčnik, various MPs and representatives of churches active in the country.
Fico pointed to the fact that though the stories of those who helped Jews might look the same, each of them is unique. He added that Slovakia should never forget the life story of a single persecuted Jew.
“The state that collaborated with fascist Germany doesn’t meet my ideas of humanity,” Fico said, as quoted by TASR. “It’s quite evident today that [Slovakia’s wartime] president Jozef Tiso knew about everything and cooperated closely with the German fascist system, and that’s why I reject this way of state governing.”
The Righteous Among the Nations title has already been awarded to over 24,000 people all over the world, of which 548 are Slovaks.
Of those awarded this year was shoemaker Alexander Režný, who came to the rescue of the Neurath family and, together with his wife Katarína, let the refugee family hide in their own flat. When the danger grew too great, the Neuraths were moved to the shoemaker’s workshop, where they stayed until the liberation of Bratislava in 1945, TASR wrote.
Jozef and Mária Chladný from Staré Hory in Banská Bystrica Region, were also among the awarded Slovaks for helping the four-member Bodner family. The Jewish family lived with them in their house until the Slovak National Uprising was suppressed. Then they hid them with another Jewish family in the woods, where they remained until April, 1945, when the war ended in Slovakia, the Hospodárske Noviny daily wrote.
“Not only do I, my brother and my parents give thanks for their lives to these extraordinary people, but also our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are in the world thanks to them,” Yosef Bodner, who after the war emigrated to the US, told Hospodárske Noviny.
1. Feb 2013 at 0:00 | By Radka Minarechová with press reports