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.

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.

The Righteous Diploma of Maria Kotarba

In total, 27,362 (as of 1 January 2019)[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.

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]

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.

One Righteous Among the Nations, Saint Elizabeth Hesselblad of Sweden, has been canonized a saint in the Catholic Church.[7] Five others have been beatified: Blessed Giuseppe Girotti, O.P., and Odoardo Focherini of Italy,[8][9] Blessed Klymentiy Sheptytsky, M.S.U., of Austria-Hungary,[10] Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg of Germany,[11] and Blessed Sára Salkaházi of Hungary.

1940 issued visa by Consul Chiune Sugihara in Lithuania
Polish passport extended in 1941 by Righteous Among the Nations Chilean diplomat Samuel del Campo
Jan Zwartendijk hand signed visa from 1940
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.[12] The street is named Simaites Street, after Ona Šimaitė, a Vilnius University librarian who helped and rescued Jewish people in the Vilna Ghetto.[12]

In Zvolen, Slovakia, the Park of Generous Souls [cs; sk] commemorates the Righteous Among the Nations from Slovakia.[13]

Number of awards by countryEdit

As of 1 January 2019, the award has been made to 27,363 people.[4]

Rank Country Number of awards
1   Poland 6,992
2   Netherlands 5,778
3   France 4,099
4   Ukraine 2,634
5   Belgium 1,751
6   Lithuania 904
7   Hungary 867
8   Italy 714
9   Belarus 660
10   Germany 627
11   Slovakia 602
12   Greece 355
13   Russia 209
14   Serbia 139
15   Latvia 138
16   Croatia 120
17   Czech Republic 119
18   Austria 110
19   Moldova 79
20   Albania 75
21   Norway 67
22   Romania 66
23    Switzerland 49
24   Bosnia and Herzegovina 47
25   Armenia 24
26   Denmark,   United Kingdom 22
28   Bulgaria 20
29   North Macedonia,   Sweden 10
31   Slovenia 15
32   Spain 9
33   United States 5
34   Estonia,   Turkey,   Portugal 3
37   Brazil,   Chile,   Indonesia,   Peru,   Republic of China 2
42   Cuba,   Ecuador,   Egypt,   El Salvador,   Georgia,   Ireland,   Japan,   Luxembourg,   Montenegro,   Vietnam,   Morocco 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 2019. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  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. ^ Mark Greaves, Swedish Sister who hid Jews from the Nazis is to be canonised, Catholic Herald, 18 December 2015. Accessed 19 December 2015.
  8. ^ "Blessed Giuseppe Girotti: Another Dominican Saint in the Making". Order of Preachers. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  9. ^ "Odoardo Focherini: Late journalist, hero and Blessed of the Catholic Church". Rome Reports. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  10. ^ "Beatification of the Servants of God on June 27, 2001", Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Archived November 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Gaydosh, Brenda (2017). Bernhard Lichtenberg. Roman Catholic Priest and Martyr of the Nazi Regime, Lanham. p. 175
  12. ^ a b "Lithuania's first street honoring Holocaust Righteous unveiled in Vilnius | Jewish Telegraphic Agency". Jta.org. 25 September 2015. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  13. ^ 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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)


External linksEdit