Biography 24.4 (2001) 982-984
[Access article in PDF]
Photographer, artist, and art professor, Ellen Land-Weber brings to the fore through a series of engaging interviews the efforts of select individuals who risked their lives to save the lives of Jews in three countries in Nazi-occupied Europe through a series of engaging interviews. In addition, she includes her own photographs as well as archival and personal photographs of the interviewees to bring the subject closer to her audience. In the introduction, [End Page 982] Land-Weber explains how the volume grew out of the Altruistic Personality Project conducted by Professors Samuel and Pearl Oliver. They organized interviews with hundreds of Holocaust rescuers, which were all authenticated by Yad Vashem. As an interviewer for the Olivers, she "was struck by the special personal qualities of so many of the rescuers" (vii). Envisioning her book as "a companion volume" to the Olivers' study, Land-Weber set out to delve into the stories of a select group of the rescuers included in the earlier project. She explains that she chose her group in part because she was able to interview the rescuers as well as those they had rescued, which allowed her to offer different perspectives to the same story.
In this "collection of personal memoirs and photographs," Land-Weber presents the stories of individuals from Holland and Poland, with a short middle section on a couple in Czechoslovakia. Land-Weber introduces each of the three sections with a short historical overview of the situation of Jews in each country, and with a map of the country. Each chapter within these sections begins with an introduction to the rescuer and the rescued interviewed. In addition, an appendix of places, events, and terms is included, which allows for further historical and geographical contextualization. An excellent list of books for further reading also follows the interviews.
Land-Weber notes that the rescuers "came from every walk of life. They were teachers, students, shopkeepers, factory workers, housewives, and farmers." "The self-effacing men and women who performed these incredible deeds of heroism," she maintains, "were quite unexceptional in most other ways; they were ordinary people who responded to extraordinary circumstances in a morally exemplary fashion" (2). This group includes well-to-do as well as working class individuals, and well-educated individuals as well as those with limited educations.
A brief look at a few of the rescuers illustrates that their engagement arose from friendships with Jews in some cases and from humanity alone in others. Tina Strobos, a young medical student in the Dutch underground, hid and organized hiding places first for friends, and then for as many people as she could. Bert Bochove, a druggist in a small fishing village, remodeled his house in order to hide Jewish refugees more easily. Mirjam Pinkhof, a young Jewish teacher, worked with Jewish children, organizing escape for many, while refusing to leave to guarantee her own safety. Anna and Jaruslav Chlup, a factory worker, hid Herman Feder, who had escaped from a concentration camp and who needed to be nursed back to health.
The interviews are so varied that generalizations are difficult to make. However, it does become clear that most of the rescuers interviewed did not seem to struggle with helping the persecuted. Nonetheless, they admitted the [End Page 983] constant fear to which they were subjected. They honor the help of others, without which they would not have been as successful as they were; however, they also express great sadness about the limitedness of their efforts. Those rescued relate harrowing stories of escape tied up with profound loss. Most of them left their home country to settle in Israel, the United States, or Canada. Yeti Mendel, for example, moved to Israel because she felt she "was living among ghosts" in Holland. Christine Damski, who married her rescuer, relates the impossible choices faced by those persecuted which continue to haunt her. Damski's...