By Rod Gragg
Read by Rick Zieff
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Thirty captivating profiles of Christians who risked everything to rescue their Jewish neighbors from Nazi terror during the Holocaust.
My Brother’s Keeper unfolds powerful stories of Christians from across denominations who gave everything they had to save the Jewish people from the evils of the Holocaust. This unlikely group of believers, later honored by the nation of Israel as “The Righteous Among the Nations,” includes ordinary teenage girls, pastors, priests, a German army officer, a former Italian fascist, an international spy, and even a princess.
In one gripping profile after another, these extraordinary historical accounts offer stories of steadfast believers who together helped thousands of Jewish individuals and families to safety. Many of these everyday heroes perished alongside the very people they were trying to protect. There is no doubt that all of their stories showcase the best of humanity — even in the face of unthinkable evil.
Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?"
And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"
—Genesis 4:9 NASB
MANY DID NOTHING—EVEN though they called themselves Christians. Others joined the Nazis and supported the Shoah, or Holocaust—the dark, deadly storm that swept over Europe with the rise of Nazi Germany. In it more than six million Jewish men, women, and children perished, killed by starvation or illness, fatally tortured or beaten, shot by Nazi death squads, or executed in concentration camp gas chambers. Contrary to popular misconception, in many ways the Jews of Europe resisted the evil that befell them. Many Jewish leaders courageously protested the persecution before they were silenced. Countless numbers tried desperately to escape captivity. Others became resistance fighters or joined partisan bands. Some even tried to fight their way out of the gas chambers. Most, however, were women and children, often rendered helpless before the mighty force that overwhelmed them—but even they tried to resist. Every Jewish mother who gave her food ration to her child or shielded her infant's eyes from looming destruction was a resister. And as the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust descended upon Europe, countless people who professed the name of Christ also refused to remain silent or inactive. Many risked everything to help rescue Jewish targets of Nazi tyranny. Some even made the ultimate sacrifice, faithfully fulfilling the words of Jesus: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
They ranged in personal faith from nominal believers to the devout. My Brother's Keeper records the stories of thirty of them, all of whom have been honored by the State of Israel as "the Righteous Among the Nations." In 1953 the Knesset—the Israeli national legislature—established Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, which is located on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. There people of diverse nationalities, races, and religions are memorialized by Yad Vashem for a common cause: they risked all to assist the Jews who were victims of the Shoah or Holocaust. Within their ranks were the Christians whose sacrifices are chronicled in this work, and whose lives personify Yad Vashem's description of the Righteous Among the Nations: "In a world of total moral collapse there was a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values.… They are perhaps the sole rays of light in this dark era, the few whose consciences prevented them from being indifferent to the fate of the Jews." One of the Christians whose story is recounted in this work likely spoke for all herein when he explained why he chose to risk everything to save a single Jewish life. "I know that when I stand before God on Judgment Day," he said, "I shall not be asked the question posed to Cain—where were you when your brother's blood was crying out to God?"
FENG SHAN HO
"He saved us. It was a miracle."
ADOLF HITLER STOOD erect in a gleaming convertible limousine as it rolled steadily through the broad, tree-lined avenues of Vienna, Austria. It was Monday, March 14, 1938. On both sides of Hitler's parade route, held in check by helmeted German troops, exultant crowds of Austrian civilians packed the sidewalks, cheering, "Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!" In the Austrian countryside far to the west, meanwhile, convoys of German tanks and trucks advanced deep into Austria from the German border. After scheming for years to engineer a German annexation or Anschluss of neighboring Austria, Hitler—the German Führer or dictator—had ordered a military invasion of Austria on the pretext of maintaining order—and had managed to conquer Austria without firing a shot. Now—with the joyful approval of many pro-German Austrians—Hitler had come to the capital city to claim his prize—the nation of Austria.1
At Vienna's Heldenplatz—Heroes' Square—more than two hundred thousand Austrians greeted the Führer as a triumphant conqueror, shouting their allegiance to the expanded Nazi state and waving miniature red-white-and-black flags bearing the spiderlike Nazi swastika. Attired in a khaki-colored German army uniform and an officer's cap, Hitler dismounted from his limousine, responded to the ecstatic masses with a well-practiced salute, and strode confidently toward Hofburg Palace to deliver a victorious balcony speech beneath huge Nazi banners. As he proclaimed the benefits of wiping Austria off the map and converting it to a German province, the excited masses in Heroes' Square roared their approval.2
One who did not cheer, and who watched the spectacle with silent disapproval, was a Chinese diplomat, Dr. Feng Shan Ho, the first secretary of the Chinese embassy in Vienna. Ho had joined China's diplomatic mission to Austria less than a year earlier, representing the Republic of China under Nationalist leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. To Ho's dismay the generalissimo admired Hitler, purchased arms for China from Nazi Germany, and had even sent one of his sons to Germany, where he had joined the Nazi army and was serving as a junior officer in the Austrian occupation. Despite China's official friendship with Nazi Germany, Ho privately considered the Nazis to be "devils" and deeply distrusted Adolf Hitler. Observing the German Führer in person, Ho was unimpressed: Hitler, he concluded, was a "short little man" with a "ridiculous moustache" who behaved like "an unspeakable martinet."3
Feng Shan Ho was a Chinese Christian. He was born in China's Hunan Province in 1901. When he was seven years old his father died, leaving the family in desperate poverty. Lutheran missionaries from Norway who were ministering in Hunan Province provided critical assistance to Ho's family and befriended the young boy. Eventually Ho professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and began what would become a lifetime association with the Chinese Lutheran Church. Bright, determined, and compassionate, he attended Lutheran schools as a boy, and received a Western-style college education in China, graduating from Yale University through a Chinese extension program. Afterward he managed to travel to Germany to do postgraduate work at the University of Munich. In 1932 he graduated magna cum laude with a doctorate in political economics. It was while studying in Germany that Ho became a witness to Adolf Hitler's remarkable rise to power.4
In the opening decade of the twentieth century, Hitler was a high school dropout and teenage loafer—a self-styled artist who evaded ordinary jobs to peddle his mediocre artworks on the streets of Vienna. Even though he was Austrian, he idolized neighboring Germany, and joined the German army in the First World War. As a German infantryman and corporal, he finally found a purpose in life—a fanatical devotion to Germany's war effort. His zeal earned him an Iron Cross medal for boldly carrying military dispatches under fire, and he was deeply distressed when the war ended in a German surrender. Afterward, he joined a radical nationalistic workers' party—and quickly displayed an extraordinary talent for political intrigue, mesmerizing speech-making, and ruthless leadership. He renamed the fledgling organization the National Socialist German Workers' Party—the Nazis—organized a thuggish gang of storm troopers, and adopted the ancient swastika as the symbol of an anti-Semitic, Germanic master race.5
In 1923, amid the political turmoil of postwar Germany, Hitler bungled an attempt to transform a Munich beer hall rally into a fascist revolution and was convicted of treason. He spent eight months in prison, but it proved to be the experience that catapulted him to power. Incarcerated by the government in a comfortable prison suite, he had ample time to write a laborious autobiographical rant entitled Mein Kampf (My Struggle). It blamed Germany's desperate postwar conditions on the war's victors, the Communist Party, and Germany's Jews. Unexpectedly it became a German best seller, and elevated Hitler to the national stage. It also became the bible for the Nazi Party.6
In the early 1930s, while Feng Shan Ho was studying in Munich, Hitler surprised Europe by emerging as dictator of a powerful, resurgent Germany. Except for his peculiar, riveting pale-blue eyes, Hitler was physically unimpressive, with a pallid complexion, slicked-down dark hair, and a faddish toothbrush mustache. He had developed his dramatic oratorical skills to a fever pitch, however, and could incite German audiences to ecstatic or angry frenzy. Funded by opportunistic industrialists and fueled by a diabolical but effective propaganda machine, Hitler's Nazi Party won increasingly large blocs of seats in Germany's parliament, the Reichstag, until Hitler attained the post of German chancellor. In 1933, when a suspicious fire ravaged the building housing the German national legislature, Hitler exploited public fears to obtain legislation granting him unprecedented power as chancellor. He then quickly and ruthlessly outlawed all other political parties, raised up a brown-shirted paramilitary force called the Sturmabteilung, or "storm troopers," and jailed, exiled, or murdered more than two hundred political opponents. In 1934, with no one left to seriously challenge him, Adolf Hitler combined the offices of chancellor and president to become the dictator, or Führer, of Nazi Germany.7
By then Dr. Ho was pursuing a career in the Chinese diplomatic corps, and in 1937 he was promoted to the post of first secretary at the Chinese embassy in Vienna. Personally energetic and capable, Ho was good-humored, witty, and gifted with a diplomat's skills, but was also known as a man of character who was committed to defending what he believed was right. In appearance he was distinguished-looking: dark-haired, mannerly, well-groomed, and given to European attire. He and his wife were well received within the Austrian capital's diplomatic community and by the city's intelligentsia. Among their numerous friends were respected members of Vienna's large Jewish community. Partially because of his concern for the welfare of the nation's Jews, Ho was alarmed and appalled at the outpouring of public support for Hitler and the Nazi takeover of Austria. Hitler had openly expressed his anti-Semitic racism in Mein Kampf, describing a Jew as the "parasite of the nations" and "a vampire" who "drags everything that is truly great into the gutter." By 1938 Hitler and the Nazis dominated all of German life. Even elementary school children were taught to say of the Führer: "I shall always obey you, like father and mother."8
With their country now a province of Germany, Austria's 185,000 Jews were in obvious peril. German laws denying citizenship to Jews and restricting their freedom were now applied to the Jews of Austria. Hitler's storm troopers and his secret police force, the Gestapo, stopped Jewish men and women on the street in Vienna and put them to work scrubbing sidewalks and cleaning street gutters. Jewish children were ordered to sweep the city's wide avenues. Jewish society matrons and business leaders were ordered to clean Vienna's public toilets and the latrines in the Gestapo barracks. At a park in Vienna, Nazi storm troopers pulled Jews from the streets and forced them to eat grass until they became ill. Influenced by Nazi law and propaganda, non-Jews who had been friends, neighbors, and business associates for decades now stopped on the streets to jeer and taunt the Jews. Thousands of Jews were jailed and their property was looted by Nazi officials, troops, and police. "I myself," recalled a foreign journalist, "watched squads of [storm troopers] carting off silver, tapestries, paintings and other loot."9
Ominously, a hundred miles west of Vienna at Mauthausen, the Nazis began building a concentration camp like those rumored to exist in Germany. Since 1933 Nazi Germany had pursued a policy of judenrein—a "cleansing" of Jews from Germany—and almost one-fourth of Germany's Jewish population had fled the nation. The Nazis' euphemistically named Central Office for Jewish Emigration would reportedly allow "noncriminal" Jews to leave the country if they transferred all their property and finances to the German government—and if they were issued an official entry visa by a foreign nation. Many nations would not accept Jewish refugees, and even Western nations such as Great Britain and the United States severely limited Jewish immigration. In July 1938, delegates from thirty-two countries assembled at the French resort city of Évian-les-Bains to discuss the status of immigrant refugees. Among the countries of the Western world represented at the Évian Conference, only the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica offered to increase immigration quotas to accept Jewish refugees. Influenced by worries about the Great Depression and the US State Department's diplomatic concerns, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the US Congress rejected pleas to allow significant numbers of Jewish refugees to enter the United States. Other major Western nations also refused.10
"If I had never knocked on that door in Vienna, I would have been in a concentration camp."
Meanwhile, when Austria was absorbed into Germany, most staffers at the Chinese embassy in Vienna were transferred to China's Berlin embassy. The former Austrian embassy was designated as a consulate, and thirty-seven-year-old Feng Shan Ho was officially appointed as its consul-general. Although he was left with a single trusted associate, Dr. Ho saw the change as an opportunity to save Austria's persecuted Jews. Courageously, he began issuing visas that allowed Austrian and German Jews to resettle in the Chinese city of Shanghai. Officially, the Chinese government did not require a visa to immigrate to Shanghai, but Ho figured the Nazis did not know that—and Germany required a visa for Jews to leave the country. He also knew that most of the Jewish refugees would not go to Shanghai—they would use the visas to flee Germany and seek asylum wherever they could find it. So Ho began signing and issuing visas—a few at first. Then dozens. And hundreds. And eventually thousands.11
He contacted American Christian ministries in Austria, which helped him notify the country's Jewish community. Austria's Jews spread the word: If you can get to the Chinese consulate in Vienna, you can get exit visas for yourself and your family—even dozens at a time. Ho understood the risks. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and China's foreign service office were cultivating Hitler as a friend and Nazi Germany as an ally. Issuing a flood of visas to Austrian and German Jews so they could escape Hitler and the Nazis would potentially infuriate Ho's superiors, threaten his diplomatic career, and even endanger his life. It was a risk Ho was willing to take. Quietly, he sent his wife and their eleven-year-old son safely out of the country, then began working day and night to issue visas to Jews. Why was he willing to risk so much? "He knew he had received many gifts from God," Ho's Lutheran pastor would later observe. "He felt that they were not given to him solely for his own benefit, but to do for others."12
Long, winding lines of Austrian Jews formed at the entrance to Vienna's Chinese consulate. Thugs from the SS and the Gestapo harassed those who were waiting, sometimes dragging Jewish men aside and beating them. But day after day, the lines continued to form, and one after another, Austria's Jews were issued lifesaving Chinese visas. One of them was Hans Kraus, a Jewish surgeon, who lined up with the throng outside the Chinese consulate for almost a week. The crowd was so large and the wait so long that he feared he would be arrested before he and his family could obtain visas. Then one day he saw Ho's official car pull up to the consulate gate. The automobile's windows were down, so Kraus desperately tossed his completed visa application form inside the vehicle. A few days later, he received a telephone call from the Chinese consulate notifying him that his visa was in the mail. Soon, the lifesaving documents arrived, enabling Kraus and his family to escape from Nazi Germany.13
Ho's dangerous attempt to thwart Nazi persecution of Austrian Jews was not confined to his consulate office. Several times he confronted Gestapo agents as they attempted to arrest his Jewish friends. He also made regular visits to the homes of Jewish families he knew in the hope that a relationship with a foreign diplomat would protect them. Once, Gestapo agents attempted to arrest one of his Jewish friends while Ho was visiting his home, but backed down when Ho boldly presented his diplomatic credentials and insisted they leave. In another case Ho learned that his Jewish friend Karl Doron had been arrested and imprisoned at the notorious Dachau concentration camp. Ho issued a visa for Doron and officially demanded that he be freed. Surprisingly, Nazi officials complied with the request, and Doron became one of the few Jewish inmates released from Dachau.14
One of the Jews helped by Ho, Eric Goldstaub of Vienna, had visited dozens of foreign consulates in search of a visa, only to be turned away. Then he heard about Feng Shan Ho and the Chinese consulate, where he received visas for himself and his entire extended family, which numbered twenty. Before the family could leave, however, Goldstaub and his father were arrested by Nazi agents. But when they saw the Goldstaubs' Chinese visas, the Nazis let the family go. "If I had never knocked on that door in Vienna, I would have been in a concentration camp," Goldstaub later concluded. "And I would have died.… Our whole family would have died. We needed Feng Shan Ho. He saved us. It was a miracle."15
For almost two years, Feng Shan Ho issued an average of five hundred visas every month. At least once he issued more than a hundred in a single day. Eventually the Chinese government learned of the flood of Jewish visas being issued by China's Vienna consulate, and Ho received an angry telephone call from the Chinese ambassador to Germany. Ho's actions threatened China's official relationship with Nazi Germany, the ambassador warned him, and he ordered him to close down his visa mill. Realizing that his rescue operation might soon be shut down, Ho ignored the order and sped up his activities. Soon an official from Berlin appeared unannounced at the Vienna consulate and informed Ho that he was suspected of selling visas. Ho forcefully denied the charges, and the official left. Ho waited for another reprimand or a recall to China, but he heard nothing—so he continued to issue visas at a frantic pace. Eventually Nazi officials became suspicious and confiscated the consulate building, claiming it was Jewish property. When the Chinese government refused to lease a replacement, Ho used personal funds to rent a new office and continued to issue visas. Finally, in the spring of 1939, the Chinese government officially censured him, and soon afterward ordered his transfer to a different diplomatic post. By then, however, Japan had invaded China, and as Japan's Axis partner, Germany was no longer viewed as a Chinese ally. Ho had no choice: he had to leave—but he continued to issue Jewish visas until the end.16
Ho held other diplomatic posts during World War II, and continued to serve Nationalist China even after Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese Civil War and forced Chiang Kai-shek's government to flee to Taiwan. Ho's campaign to save Austria's Jews left a shadow over his career, however, and after forty years of dedicated service, he was censured and dismissed by his government. He moved to the United States, where he continued to be active in the Chinese Lutheran Church. In 1997 he died at age ninety-six. His dangerous, heroic efforts to assist the Jews of Austria were known to but a few, and the humble former diplomat seldom told others about his deadly drama in Vienna. "I thought it was only natural to feel compassion, and want to help," he said simply. Some who escaped Nazi terror with Ho's help eventually made a remarkable calculation: thanks to Dr. Feng Shan Ho's courageous actions, more than twelve thousand Jews escaped the Holocaust.17
OTTO AND GERTRUD MÖRIKE
"As a Christian, I must reject National Socialism."
PASTOR OTTO MÖRIKE was dragged from his bed in the middle of the night by Nazi storm troopers. They hauled him into the street, threw him down before a mob of cheering Nazis, and then savagely beat him until he was bruised and bloody. His crime? He had voiced his opposition to Adolf Hitler's policies on what was supposed to be a secret election ballot. Ironically, Mörike was a veteran of the German cavalry in the First World War and had once enthusiastically supported the Führer. Like most Germans after the war, he was distressed that the Treaty of Versailles had officially forced Germany to accept full blame for the Great War, which had resulted in the loss of seventeen million lives. Overburdened by the huge reparations payments required by the treaty, Germany's economy plummeted following the war. Inflation and unemployment soared, and the German people lived in desperation and rising resentment well into the 1930s. Amid such harsh conditions, Mörike initially viewed Hitler as a reformer whose strong leadership might heal Germany. He soon changed his mind, however, as Hitler's true intentions became apparent.1
"Soon, the ideology revealed itself in an ominous manner," Mörike later recalled. "I knew I had been deceived." When Hitler came to power in 1933, Mörike—a tall, lanky, bespectacled thirty-six-year-old—was a minister in Germany's Evangelical Church. His wife, Gertrud Löcher Mörike, a twenty-nine-year-old pastor's daughter, was a mother of three and a fearless believer. Theirs was a joyful home, marked by frequent laughter, daily family devotions, and Christ-centered optimism. Both Otto and Gertrud grew increasingly concerned, however, as they saw Hitler persecute Germany's Jews and any Christians who objected.2
In April 1933, Hitler ordered a national boycott of Jewish-owned businesses, which was followed by the dismissal of Jewish employees from government positions, including public schools and universities. Jewish doctors, pharmacists, and attorneys were placed under severe restrictions. Jews were banned from holding positions as judges, lawyers, journalists, broadcasters, artists, musicians, actors, and farmers, and were prohibited from serving in the military. Jewish schoolchildren were barred from classes. At universities throughout Germany, Nazi professors and students made huge bonfires of books by Jewish authors, including an estimated twenty thousand volumes set afire at Berlin's Humboldt University. Increasing numbers of Jews and others deemed to be enemies of the state were hauled off to newly constructed concentration camps, which, in the words of one horrified observer, "sprang up like mushrooms." By year's end there were at least fifty camps in Germany, the most notorious being outside the town of Dachau. An estimated thirty-seven thousand Jews fled the country in 1933; the rest hoped the persecution would pass. Instead it worsened.3
On June 30, 1934, on what would become infamous as the Night of the Long Knives, Hitler purged the Nazi elite of everyone he considered a threat to his leadership. More than two hundred prominent or high-ranking Nazis were executed in a single night. Hitler also replaced his brown-shirted quasi-military storm troopers with a brutal elite force of black-uniformed troops called the Schutzstaffel, or SS. As he consolidated power, he also brazenly defied the Versailles Treaty by ordering a massive buildup of the German military. From the lowliest enlisted man to the highest-ranking officer, every member of the German armed forces had to take a new oath of allegiance: "I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich."4
As Hitler moved against the Jews and others he considered enemies of the Nazi state, he also took action to repress opposition by Christian leaders and church members. In the summer of 1933, the Nazi government signed a treaty with Pope Pius XI that guaranteed religious freedom for Germany's Catholics and the right of the Catholic Church to "regulate her own affairs" within the Third Reich. However, Hitler used the treaty to try to legitimize the Nazi government, which was drawing international scorn for human rights abuses, and ignored it when German Catholics opposed his rule. He ordered the arrest of Catholic priests and nuns who criticized Nazi actions, shut down Catholic publications, and moved to replace the Catholic Youth League with the newly formed Hitler Youth.5
Hitler's persecution of Germany's Protestant churches was even harsher. A majority of Germans were professing Protestants, and Hitler aggressively moved to Nazify the nation's Protestant denominations. His ultimate goal was promotion of the Nazi Deutsche Evangelische Kirche, commonly called the "National Reich Church," which was intended to replace Christianity with worship of pagan tribal gods from ancient Germanic history and the occult practices popular among some Nazi leaders. The doctrinal statement of Hitler's Nazi denomination specified that "the Christian Cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels… and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika." Hitler's trusted top aide Martin Bormann no doubt spoke for the Führer when he said, "National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable."6
In an attempt to justify its persecution of Germany's Jews, the Nazi government quoted obscure sixteenth-century anti-Semitic writings by the revered Protestant reformer Martin Luther, while simultaneously using terror tactics to silence Protestants who criticized Nazi policy. German Protestants who considered defending the Jewish people knew that they would likely suffer harm for doing so. The renewed prosperity that Hitler had brought to Germany also made it easy for professing Christians, Protestant and Catholic alike, to look the other way. They now had jobs, an improved quality of life, and pride in a resurgent nation, all of which encouraged silence as Hitler progressively stripped them of their individual freedoms and savagely assaulted everyone he denounced as enemies—especially the Jews. Recalled a German Protestant pastor, "Some people said then, 'No, that's not what we wanted.' But it was too late. No one dared anymore, really, to open his mouth."7
- "The Holocaust stands as history's central metaphor for evil. At a time when fear and divisiveness are resurging around the globe, we badly need this harrowing account of unsung heroes who risked all for the sake of good."—Philip Yancey, New York Times bestselling author
- "Gragg provides an inspiring look at 30 Christian heroes who defied the Nazis at great personal risk and bucked the general tide of indifference and paralysis that overwhelmed almost all bystanders to the Holocaust. Jan Karski, who tried to get F.D.R. to respond to the mass murders of Europe's Jews, will be familiar to many readers, but most of the people profiled here are not. For example, relatively few will have heard of Feng Shan Ho, a Chinese Christian, who saved over 12,000 Jews. When Ho's promotion to consul-general at the Chinese embassy in Vienna coincided with increasing reports of Jewish persecution, he issued visas to Austrian and German Jews, allowing them to emigrate to Shanghai. Ho persisted despite opposition by his own government, which wanted to maintain its relationship with Hitler. [...] Gragg gives a sense of these activists' mind-boggling bravery."—Publisher's Weekly
- On Sale
- Oct 11, 2016
- Hachette Audio