by Richard Hurowitz
Reviewed in Kirkus Online on October 11, 2022
A deep dive into the lives of 10 heroic individuals who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
This book, which derives its title from the Yad Vashem complex on Jerusalem’s Mount of Remembrance, enters an already crowded field of Holocaust titles, so it is noteworthy that Hurowitz begins with a humble disclosure: “The Holocaust always seemed something distant to me.” Refreshingly, the author makes no pretense of inheriting the stories he tells; most of his ancestors arrived on American soil well before Hitler’s rise. This transparency will grip readers from the start. Although the author’s subjects repeatedly risked their lives—and those of their family members—by defying orders to round up Jews, none of them were Jewish, thus making their acts of kindness that much more inspiring. “I made the decision not to include any Jewish rescuers, although several make cameo appearances,” writes Hurowitz. “They deserve their own volume.” Each story takes place under unique circumstances, and the author is patient in his unfolding of the impressive exploits of his subjects: among others, Portuguese Consul General Sousa Mendes, who, upon finding himself stationed in France at a perilous moment, joined forces with a young Polish rabbi; Gino Bartali, a Tour de France superstar who smuggled lifesaving documents inside his bicycle; and Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who never stopped providing visas for Lithuanian Jews, even as the doors of his career slammed shut behind him. The history lessons here are both distressing and awe-inspiring, and Hurowitz reminds us that none of these rescuers sought recognition or celebration; they were simply moved to do the right thing in a moment of immense peril. In a time when our humanity is challenged by new heights of instability and new waves of antisemitism and ethnic hatred, it is an understatement to say this book is timely.
A fresh, engrossing contribution to the literature on the Holocaust, focusing on heroics rather than despair.