Change Region:United Kingdom

Remembering the Holocaust

Stories of Courage & Hope

Printer-friendly versionSend by email


For International Holocaust Memorial Day 2022 Russell Bowles invites us to find out more about Dr. Adélaïde Hautval from France who persistently defied the Nazis to help Jews

Dr. Adélaïde Hautval was a psychiatrist who lived in a Vichy-controlled area of southern France. In April 1942, Hautval was told of the death of her mother, who had lived in occupied Paris. Wishing to attend her mother’s burial, Hautval asked the German authorities for permission to enter the occupied zone. They refused and Hautval decided to risk crossing the demarcation line. The attempt failed, and Dr. Hautval was captured by German police and transferred to the prison in Bourges. In June 1942, Jewish prisoners wearing the yellow patch began to arrive at the prison. Hautval protested vigorously against the way they were treated, telling the guards, “The Jews are people like everybody else.” Their answer was that from now on she would share their fate. Undeterred, Hautval pinned a piece of yellow paper to her clothes, saying, “Friend of the Jews.”

In January 1943, after detention in camps in Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande and in prisons in Romainville, Orléans, and Compiègne, Dr. Hautval was sent to the Birkenau death camp with another two hundred French women prisoners. Hautval, a devout Protestant, was housed with five hundred Jewish women prisoners, and was nicknamed “the saint.” She applied her medical knowledge to treat Jewish prisoners who had contracted typhus, secluding them in a separate part of the block, in order to prevent contagion. Hautval, employed as a physician by the camp commander, refrained from reporting the prisoners’ illness and thereby spared them immediate death. She treated Jewish patients with boundless dedication, and her gentle hands and warm words were of inestimable value to Jews in the hell of Auschwitz. “Here,” she said, in words engraved on the prisoners’ memory, “we are all under sentence of death. Let us behave like human beings as long as we are alive.”
Eventually, Dr. Hautval was transferred to Block 10 of the Auschwitz I camp, where medical experiments were performed. Dr. Eduard Wirths had her involved in identifying the early manifestations of cancer in women. Dr. Hautval quickly discovered that the project entailed inhuman experiments, performed without anaesthesia, on Jewish women prisoners. She told Dr. Wirth that she would not participate in his experiments and added that no person was entitled to claim the life or determine the fate of another. When forced to assist in the surgical sterilization of a young woman from Greece, Dr. Hautval told Dr. Wirth that she would never again attend such a procedure. When Wirth asked Dr. Hautval: “Don’t you see that these people are different from you?” she replied, “In this camp, many people are different from me. You, for example.” When she refused to take part in Mengele’s experiments on twins, she was sent back to Birkenau. She was later sent to Ravensbrück, where she managed to survive until the liberation. When she returned to France, her health had been permanently impaired.
In 1962, she was one of the major witnesses for Jewish American author Leon Uris in London. In his famous book, Exodus, Uris described the cruel experiments perpetrated by Polish doctor Wladislas Dering on prisoners in Auschwitz. Dering, who had moved to London after the war, sued Uris for libel. On Uris’ request, Dr. Hautval came to London to testify. The English judge referred to her as one of the most impressive and courageous women ever to testify before a court in Great Britain, a woman of strong character and an extraordinary personality.
On May 18, 1965, Yad Vashem recognized Dr. Adélaïde Hautval as Righteous Among the Nations.



A Japanese diplomat in WW2 defied his government and issued visas to Jews to save them from the Holocaust

Linda Royal is Australian, the daughter of Jewish immigrants that arrived in the country during the Second World War. Her father had been a child at the time and it was only when he was 80 that he explained what had happened and who the Japanese man was that facilitated his escape and saved his life from certain death in the Holocaust.


Most people have heard of Oskar Schindler but how many have heard of Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania during the Second World War? Against direct orders, he issued thousands of visas to desperate Jews so they could flee from the invading Nazis and travel across Russia to Japan. From there many went to other parts of the world, their lives saved by the efforts of this one brave Japanese man and his wife who risked their livelihood, career and their lives to assist desperate people.

Chiune Sugihara was a determined young man with an interest in languages and cultures who dreamed of a career in the diplomatic service of his country. His first post, which lasted 15 years, was in Manchuria, a part of China, where he studied Russian and German. He ended up resigning his position because he was offended at the treatment of the ordinary Chinese by his government. He was a very moral person and had converted to Christianity. The stand he took over the treatment of the Chinese, revealed his strength of character; he was willing to take risks for the sake of his beliefs.

In 1939, the Germans and Russians signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by which they divided Poland between each other. This left thousands of Polish Jews in fear for their lives and many of them crossed over into Lithuania. However, the following year the Soviets took over Lithuania, creating further problems for the Jews that had fled there. They wanted to leave but could not go west for fear of running into the Nazis. The only choice was to cross the vast Soviet territory and make for Japan.

It was during this period and following his resignation from Manchuria, that Sugihara was sent by his government to Lithuania to open a Japanese consulate in the city of Kaunas. Here Sugihara found himself faced with yet another humanitarian issue, when countless numbers of desperate Jews queued at the Japanese consulate, seeking travel visas to Japan. Sugihara consulted his superiors in Tokyo, explaining the situation, but his government said that any refugees travelling to Japan should have visas for a further destination, such as America or Canada. In addition, they should have enough money for the journey. Sugihara’s heart sank. He knew that most of the Jews had neither of these things and he also knew that if the Jews didn’t leave Lithuania soon, they would be murdered when the Nazis arrived. The issue of ignoring instructions from his government didn’t sit well with him and he realised he would face dismissal and disgrace for his family. However, outside the Japanese Consulate the line of desperate Jewish families, clamouring for visas grew longer and longer and their plight touched his heart. He discussed the situation with his wife Yukiko. “I may have to disobey our government,” he told her, “but if I don’t I will be disobeying God.” It was a difficult decision but they both agreed the only humanitarian thing to do was to ignore Tokyo’s instructions and issue the visas. Some encouragement for this decision came from an unexpected source. Jan Zwartendijk, the Dutch Acting Consul, also tried to help the Jews by handing out visas for Dutch Surinam in South America.

Working for more than 16 hours a day between 31st July and 28th August 1940, Sugihara and his wife, issued some 300 or so visas each day, more than he would normally do in a month. Eventually they had to stop and close the consulate because of the encroaching German army, but even as they boarded the train to leave Kaunas, Sugihara and his wife were handing out visas.

Since each visa holder could be accompanied by their family it is difficult to know how many Jewish people Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara may have saved but it is well into the thousands.

On his returned to Japan, Sugihara was retired from the Foreign Ministry with a small pension. He finally found a position in a Japanese export company where he worked for 15 years.

The Sugihara’s, like many that saved Jews during the war, never spoke about what they did, and it was only in 1969 that their story emerged. An Israeli diplomat, serving in Tokyo, whose family had been saved by the Sugiharas, launched a search for him, leading to more survivors coming forward. In 1985, the Sugiharas were awarded the title ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Yad Vashem, the Centre for Research and Commemoration of the Holocaust. Chiune was too ill to travel but his wife Yukiko and one of his sons went to Jerusalem to receive the award. Chiune Sugihara died the following year.

In Sugihara’s home town of Yaotsu, a memorial park was created called ‘Hill of Humanities’ and in Kaunas, Lithuania the government created a museum in the old Japanese consulate building to honour Sugihara, the Dutch Consul Jan Zwartendijk and others who had helped save Jews. The museum is named Sugihara House and 2020 was named ‘The Year of Chiune Sugihara’ in Lithuania.



American journalist and editor, Varian Fry, spent months in southern France rescuing anti-Nazi intellectuals, writers and artists both Jewish and Gentile

“I saw one Jewish man brutally kicked and spat upon as he lay on the sidewalk, a woman bleeding, a man whose head was covered with blood, hysterical women crying. Nowhere did the police seem to make any effort whatever to save the victims from this brutality.” This was a portion of an account American journalist Varian Fry wrote after visiting Germany in 1935 to report on the country under Nazi rule.

Back in America, on June 25th 1940 at a New York hotel, Fry organised a meeting of more than two hundred notable Americans, including journalists, intellectuals and artists plus a number of Jewish refugees. Together they founded the ERC, the Emergency Rescue Committee with the purpose of rescuing intellectuals in danger of arrest. (The Vichy French government had agreed to hand over anyone the Nazis requested.)  The ERC decided they needed a man ‘on the ground’ and Varian Fry volunteered.

On August 4th 1940 Fry flew to France, intending to stay only three weeks. However he quickly realised that the situation for Jews and anti-Nazi intellectuals was far worse than the ERC had realised. He rented an office on Rue Grignan in Marseilles and gathered a staff of both Jewish and non-Jewish refugees.

In September Fry managed to assemble a small group of refugees and managed to sneak them over the border into Spain in spite of them not having Spanish entrance visas! Once in the States, one of them made a comment to a reporter and this resulted in the US State Department finding out that Fry was using illegal means to aid refugees and this later brought him problems. For the time being however he continued his rescue efforts, returning to France, and for the next year or so, renting the Villa Air Bel just outside Marseilles to provide a home for his refugees.

Fry continued to use both legal and illegal means to assist people to emigrate. Notable ones he helped were artists Marc Chagall, André Breton, André Masson, Max Ernst and Jacques Lipschitz, and poet Walter Mehring. In addition there were about 2000 or so individuals.

Fry was specifically trying to help refugees in danger of arrest and deportation to Germany and his efforts annoyed Vichy French officials who were cooperating with the Nazis. In addition, representatives of the US State Department were concerned that Fry’s illegal work interfered with American attempts to stay neutral.

In December 1940 Fry and some of his collaborators were arrested but later released, though under constant surveillance and often brought in for questioning by French authorities. On August 29th 1941 Fry was arrested and given two hours to pack before being escorted over the Spanish border. He made his way to Portugal and spent more than a month in Lisbon before returning to the US in October (America was not yet in the war).

Fry took various writing jobs and not long after his return, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, bringing America into the war. The Emergency Rescue Committee with which Fry had been working in France cut off ties with him due to his outspoken criticism of the American State Department.

In December 1942 Fry wrote an article for ‘The New Republic’ magazine entitled ‘Massacre of the Jews’ in which he claimed that evidence he had gathered personally and from reliable contacts, revealed that Germany was committing the most appalling act of mass murder in human history.

Shortly before Fry’s death in 1967, the French Government awarded him the Croix de Chavalier de la Legion d’Honeur, France’s highest decoration of merit. It was the only official recognition of his wartime rescue efforts that he received in his lifetime. In 1991 the US Holocaust Memorial Council awarded Fry the Eisenhower Liberation Medal and three years later Fry became the first American to be honoured by Yad Vashem as ‘Righteous Among the Nations.’ The square in front of the US Consulate in Marseilles has been named ‘Place Varian Fry’. Fry left behind a wealth of written and photographic accounts of his time in France and made this comment:

“In all we saved some two thousand human beings. We ought to have saved many times that number. But we did what we could.”  Varian Fry



The story of three buildings in Amsterdam and the people in them, who saved Jewish children from certain death.
One of the key rescuers, Johan Van Hulst's story highlights what people with amazing courage can do for others.
In the Plantage area of Amsterdam during the war, three buildings in one street, and the people that worked in them, were instrumental in saving hundreds of Jewish children from being transported to death camps.  One was a theatre used by the occupying Nazis as a deportation centre. Across the road was a crèche used for the same purpose and next to the crèche was a teacher training college. All three played important parts in the rescue of hundreds of young children.
In the theatre, the Nazis had somehow overlooked the fact that the man in charge, named Walter Suskind, was of Jewish origin. Soon after starting work there, he noticed that without too much difficulty he could help children escape. He falsified numbers and this enabled him to save some, so that if say, 75 arrived, he would register only 60, thereby allowing 15 to escape.
In early 1943 his efforts became easier when the Nazis took over the crèche across the road for a similar purpose. Suskind found that the head of the crèche, Henriette Pimentel was also looking to provide a means of escape for her young charges. They joined forces, sneaking children to safety whenever a tram passed in front of their buildings.
Next door to the crèche was a teacher training college where a Gentile man named Johan Van Hulst was a lecturer. Pimentel persuaded him to join the rescue effort and then things really picked up speed. A hedge separated their buildings and the nurses in the crèche would pass the little ones over the hedge to Van Hulst. He then in turn would hand them over to the Resistance groups who helped to hide them. None of the escapees had been registered and so their disappearance was not spotted. However, in order for the rescue work to be successful, only small numbers could be saved and this was dependent on the majority being handed to the Nazis. It was excruciatingly painful deciding who was going to be saved and who was not. Van Hulst told a Dutch broadcaster, “Everyone understood that if thirty children came in, we could not save them all. We had to make a choice, and one of the most horrible things was to make that choice.” 
One of the children Van Hulst and the rescue team saved was Lies Caransa, who was smuggled out of the crèche aged four, hidden in a bag. Most of her family was later killed at the Sobibor camp in Poland, but after the war she found her mother who had survived. “I was not allowed to say goodbye or hug my mother because that might make a scene,” she said. “I was just allowed to wave. I felt so lonely.”
In order for the rescue efforts to remain undetected, the team had to keep on uncomfortably good terms with the Nazis.  They had to continue with their day jobs and Van Hulst used to make friendly comments to the guards when they passed by. When the Dutch government wanted to close Van Hulst’s college he persuaded parents of students to contribute to it staying open, ostensibly so that education would be uninterrupted but really so the rescue work could continue. All this took place without him once telling his wife Anna, as he didn’t want her to possess compromising information.
Chance or the Hand of God also played a part in the success of the rescue work. A government inspector turned up at Van Hulst’s college one day without warning and she heard babies crying inside. Her curiosity was aroused but instead of her visit leading to a crisis, it actually became beneficial as she turned out to be a member of the Resistance and joined Van Hulst in the rescue effort.
The end of the rescue operation, when it came, happened suddenly. Henriette Pimentel, who headed up the crèche was arrested and died in Auschwitz in September of that year and the crèche closed. Not all the young ones could be rescued. “Try to imagine perhaps one hundred children standing there and you have to decide which ones you are going to save,” Van Hulst told a reporter in 2015.
After the crèche was shut down and the rescue work ended, the college continued to teach students and Van Hulst continued other work in the Resistance, later having to hide, with minutes to spare, after a tip off that the Nazis were coming to arrest him. 
When the war ended, Van Hulst entered politics and spent 25 years as a Dutch senator and later on as a Member of the European Parliament from 1961 to 1968.  He remained active in politics and in education, writing many publications and winning a chess tournament at the age of 99! His college now houses the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam.  In 1972, Yad Vashem awarded him the title of ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, an honour bestowed on Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during the war.
While Van Hulst rarely spoke of what he did, others highlighted its significance. In 2015 Bibi Netanyahu told Van Hulst, “We say: a person who saves one life, saves a universe. You have saved many universes.”
Johan Van Hulst died on 22nd March 2018 aged 107


Share this: