Righteous Among the Nations

Righteous Among the Nations (Hebrew: חֲסִידֵי אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם, ḥasidei ummot ha'olam; "righteous (plural) of the world's nations") is an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis for altruistic reasons. The term originates with the concept of "righteous gentiles", a term used in rabbinic Judaism to refer to non-Jews, called ger toshav, who abide by the Seven Laws of Noah.


When Yad Vashem, the Shoah Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, was established in 1953 by the Knesset, one of its tasks was to commemorate the "Righteous Among the Nations". The Righteous were defined as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Since 1963, a commission headed by a justice of the Supreme Court of Israel has been charged with the duty of awarding the honorary title "Righteous Among the Nations". Guided in its work by certain criteria, the commission meticulously studies all documentation including evidence by survivors and other eyewitnesses, evaluates the historical circumstances and the element of risk to the rescuer, and then decides if the case meets the criteria. Those criteria are:[1]

  • Only a Jewish party can put forward a nomination
  • Helping a family member or helping a Jew who converted to Christianity is not ground for recognition;
  • Assistance has to be repeated or substantial
  • Assistance has to be given without any financial gain expected in return (although covering expenses such as food is acceptable)

The award has been given without regard to the social rank of the helper. It has been given to royalty such as Princess Alice of Battenberg, Queen Mother Helen of Romania and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium but also to others like the philosopher Jacques Ellul and to Amsterdam department store employee Hendrika Gerritsen.[2][3]

Memorial tree in Jerusalem, Israel honoring Irena Sendler, a Polish Roman Catholic nurse who saved 2,500 Jews
The Righteous Medal of Marta Bocheńska

A person who is recognized as Righteous for having taken risks to help Jews during the Holocaust is awarded a medal in their name, a certificate of honor, and the privilege of having the name added to those on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (the last is in lieu of a tree planting, which was discontinued for lack of space). The awards are distributed to the rescuers or their next of kin during ceremonies in Israel, or in their countries of residence through the offices of Israel's diplomatic representatives. These ceremonies are attended by local government representatives and are given wide media coverage.[citation needed]

The Yad Vashem Law authorizes Yad Vashem "to confer honorary citizenship upon the Righteous Among the Nations, and if they have died, the commemorative citizenship of the State of Israel, in recognition of their actions". Anyone who has been recognized as "Righteous" is entitled to apply to Yad Vashem for the certificate. If the person is no longer alive, their next of kin is entitled to request that commemorative citizenship be conferred on the Righteous who has died.[citation needed]

The Righteous Diploma of Maria Kotarba

In total, 27,921 (as of 1 January 2021)[4] men and women from 51 countries have been recognized,[4] amounting to more than 10,000 authenticated rescue stories. Yad Vashem's policy is to pursue the program for as long as petitions for this title are received and are supported by evidence that meets the criteria.[5]

Recipients who choose to live in the State of Israel are entitled to a pension equal to the average national wage and free health care, as well as assistance with housing and nursing care.[citation needed]

Righteous settled in IsraelEdit

At least 130 Righteous non-Jews have settled in Israel. They were welcomed by Israeli authorities, and were granted citizenship. In the mid-1980s, they became entitled to special pensions. Some of them settled in British Mandatory Palestine before Israel's establishment shortly after World War II, or in the early years of the new state of Israel, while others came later. Those who came earlier often spoke fluent Hebrew and have integrated into Israeli society.[6] Children and grandchildren of Righteous Gentiles are entitled to a temporary residence visa in Israel, but not Israeli citizenship.[7]

Other signs of venerationEdit

A Righteous Among the Nations award ceremony in the Polish Senate, 2012

The Righteous are honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church in the United States on 16 July.

Two Righteous Among the Nations, Elizabeth Hesselblad of Sweden and Maximilian Kolbe of Poland, have been canonized saints in the Catholic Church.[8] Five others have been beatified: Giuseppe Girotti and Odoardo Focherini of Italy,[9][10] Klymentiy Sheptytsky of Ukraine,[11] Bernhard Lichtenberg of Germany,[12] and Sára Salkaházi of Hungary.

Maria Skobtsova of Paris and her companions are recognised as martyrs in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Her feast day is 20 July.

1940 issued visa by Consul Chiune Sugihara in Lithuania
Polish passport extended in 1941 by Righteous Among the Nations Chilean diplomat Samuel del Campo
University study booklet issued to Polish Righteous Among the Nations Wladyslaw Smolski in 1938

In 2015, Lithuania's first street sign honoring a Righteous Among the Nations was unveiled in Vilnius.[13] The street is named Onos Šimaitės gatvė, after Ona Šimaitė, a Vilnius University librarian who helped and rescued Jewish people in the Vilna Ghetto.[13]

In Zvolen, Slovakia, the Park of Generous Souls commemorates the Righteous Among the Nations from Slovakia.[14]

Number of awards by countryEdit

As of 1 January 2021, the award has been made to 27,921 people. This Yad Vashem table notes that these numbers "are not necessarily an indication of the actual number of rescuers in each country, but reflect the cases that were made available to Yad Vashem."[4]

Country Number of awards Notes
  Poland 7,177
  Netherlands 5,910 Frits Philips, Jan Zwartendijk
  France 4,150
  Ukraine 2,673
  Belgium 1,774 Queen Elisabeth of Belgium
  Lithuania 918
  Hungary 876 Endre Szervánszky
  Italy 744 Pope Pius XII, Giorgio Perlasca, Gino Bartali
  Belarus 676
  Germany 641 Oskar Schindler, Wilm Hosenfeld, Hans von Dohnanyi
  Slovakia 621
  Greece 362 Princess Alice of Battenberg
  Russia 215
  Serbia 139
  Latvia 138
  Croatia 122
  Czech Republic 119 Victor Kugler
  Austria 113
  Moldova 79
  Albania 75
  Romania 69 Helen of Greece and Denmark
  Norway 67
   Switzerland 49
  Bosnia and Herzegovina 49 Bosnia only
  Armenia 24
  United Kingdom 22 Nicholas Winton has not won the award because he is Jewish.
  Denmark[a] 22 Danish resistance movement
  Bulgaria 20
  Slovenia 15
  North Macedonia 10
  Sweden 10 Raoul Wallenberg
  Spain 9
  United States 5 Varian Fry, Martha Sharp, Waitstill Sharp
  Estonia 3 Uku Masing
  Indonesia 3
  Portugal 3 Aristides de Sousa Mendes
  Brazil 2 Luis Martins de Souza Dantas
  Chile 2
  Peru 2
  China 2 Pan Junshun, Ho Feng-Shan
  Cuba 1
  Egypt 1
  Turkey 1 Selahattin Ülkümen
  Montenegro 1
  Ecuador 1
  Japan 1 Chiune Sugihara
  Luxembourg 1 Victor Bodson
  Vietnam 1
  Ireland 1 Mary Elmes
  El Salvador 1
  Georgia 1

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gunnar S. Paulsson, "The Rescue of Jews by Non-Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland", The Journal of Holocaust Education, volume 7, nos. 1 & 2 (summer/autumn 1998): pp. 19–44. Reprinted in "Collective Rescue Efforts of the Poles", p. 256.
  2. ^ Gerritsen, Hendrika Jacoba (Heinsius), in The Righteous Among the Nations. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, retrieved online 6 April 2018.
  3. ^ "Familieberichten" [Family notices]. Het Parool. 28 December 1990. Retrieved 13 April 2018 – via Delpher.
  4. ^ a b c "About the Righteous: Statistics". Names of Righteous by Country. Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. 1 January 2020. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  5. ^ "First Arab Nominated for Holocaust Honor". Associated Press. 30 January 2007. Retrieved 1 February 2007.
  6. ^ "Story in The Forward re Righteous Gentiles who settled in Israel". Forward.com. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  7. ^ "Righteous Among the Nations Visa \ Residence permit in Israel". Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  8. ^ Mark Greaves, Swedish Sister who hid Jews from the Nazis is to be canonised, Catholic Herald, 18 December 2015. Accessed 19 December 2015.
  9. ^ "Blessed Giuseppe Girotti: Another Dominican Saint in the Making". Order of Preachers. Archived from the original on 28 December 2016. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  10. ^ "Odoardo Focherini: Late journalist, hero and Blessed of the Catholic Church". Rome Reports. Archived from the original on 7 November 2021. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  11. ^ "Beatification of the Servants of God on June 27, 2001", Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Archived 29 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Gaydosh, Brenda (2017). Bernhard Lichtenberg. Roman Catholic Priest and Martyr of the Nazi Regime, Lanham. p. 175
  13. ^ a b "Lithuania's first street honoring Holocaust Righteous unveiled in Vilnius | Jewish Telegraphic Agency". Jta.org. 25 September 2015. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  14. ^ Nižňanský, Eduard (2014). "On Relations between the Slovak Majority and Jewish Minority During World War II". Yad Vashem Studies. 42 (2): 89. ISSN 0084-3296.


  1. ^ While the title of Righteous is awarded to individuals, not groups, the Danish resistance viewed the Rescue of the Danish Jews as a collective act, and asked Yad Vashem not to recognize resistance members individually. Yad Vashem respected the request, and hence the number of Danish Righteous is relatively small.


External linksEdit