St. Maximilian Kolbe: A Polish priest and monk who, during World War II, sheltered 2,000 Jews in his monastery. He also operated an illegal underground radio station that vilified Nazism. Eventually he was arrested and sent to Auchwitz. While there, the camp commander ordered 10 prisoners from Kolbe's cell block starved to death to deter escape attempts. One of the prisoners selected cried out that he had a family, and Kolbe volunteered to take his place. Kolbe led the others in songs and prayer for three weeks, telling them they would soon be with the Virgin Mary in heaven. At the end, the guards came in to kill Kolbe. Kolbe held out his arm and prayed while he received a lethal injection. Kolbe was declared a saint in 1982. He is the patron of political prisoners.
What made it even better? The man he saved was at his canonization.
The most heartwarming aspect of Kolbe's sacrifice were his personal views on Jews. Before the war, he was a known and vocal supporter of antisemitic and nationalist movements in Poland . But in spite of those views, he still was ready for sacrifice for a man, who just few years earlier he would gladly forcibly remove from Poland.
Kolbe was far from an anti-semite, even for his day. While, yes, he was concerned with converting Jews, he did not, it appears, take part in hatred for the Jews. In fact, during the war, he risked his life and the lives of his monks to shelter at least 2,000 Jews at his monastery at Niepokalanów. The closest he may have come to anti-Semitism was anti-Zionism, engendered by taking The Protocols of the Elders of Zion at face value, a failing that all too many people fell to at the time. If anything, his real ire was reserved for Freemasonry, after seeing Mason mobs rioting in Rome during his seminary days. This is one explanation of Kolbe's motivations.
Brother Zenon 'Zeno' Zebrowski a Franciscan monk who truly lived to his call helping Japanese people during and after war, especially orphans. He was send there by (mentioned above) Maximilian Kolbe who stayed in Asia on mission but decided to come back to Poland to help his country. He was caught afterwards and you know the rest of his story...But Zenon remained in Japan and greatly helped people there. Please,just read his story on this website.
In a small German village, with a concentration camp nearby, everybody was ordered to let some prisoners from the camp work on their fields. They weren't allowed to speak to the prisoners, and weren't allowed to give food to the skinny men. One of the farmers refused. 'If I can't give them food, they aren't going to work on my fields.' This could have cost his life.
The accused Hans Munch was acquitted by the Highest People Court in the whole extent of the accusation, as it results from Part III of the statement, not only because he did not commit any crime of harm against the camp prisoners, but because he had a benevolent attitude toward them and helped them, while he had to carry the responsibility. He did this independently from the nationality, race and religious origin and political conviction of the prisoners.
During the unveiling of the World War 2 memorial in the US, two aging veterans found themselves meeting two busloads of children on a field trip. The children, without hesitation, stood up as one and applauded.
During World War 2 and the London bombings, Queen Elizabethnote Not the present Queen Elizabeth II, but her mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Consort refused to leave Buckingham Palace, sharing the difficulties and dangers as the rest of her people, even when the Palace was being bombed. When asked why, she replied:
The children won't go without me. I won't leave the King. And the King will never leave.
And when Buckingham Palace was damaged by bombing, she said:
I'm glad we've been bombed. It makes me feel like I can look the East End in the face.
The Danes get a Crowning Moment of Awesome for saving Danish Jews and resisting Nazi oppression (mostly nonviolently) for four years, but they earned another Crowning Moment of Heartwarming after the war. General Dr. Werner Best and General Hermann von Hanneken, the two highest Nazi officials in Denmark during the war, went on trial for ordering brutal acts of counter-sabotage against the Danes and for deporting Danish Jews. Both were found guilty, with von Hanneken receiving a sentence of eight years imprisonment and Best getting the death penalty. Both appealed. I'll let A Force More Powerful explain the rest: "Best's sentence was reduced to five years and General von Hanneken was set free. Resistance had not made the Danes incapable of leniency."
Check the Other Wiki's article linked above, "He [Werner Best] was aware of the efforts by Duckwitz to have the roundup cancelled and obviously also knew about the potential escape of the Jews to Sweden, but he essentially looked the other way..." So the Danish did not pursue vengence against a man who did not persecute them, even if he was the face of Nazi authority and the most obvious scapegoat.
In early 1943, the SS and the Gestapo initiated "the Final Roundup," snatching all the remaining Jews in Berlin with the intention of putting them in the concentration camps. They did not however, collect non-Jewish spouses, and soon after the roundup began, a small group of German women visited the Jewish communiy's administration building at Rosenstrasse 2-4, wanting to see their Jewish husbands. They were rebuffed. This sparked a wave of protests at Rosenstrasse which so embarrassed (and frightened) the Nazis that they let the Jews with non-Jewish wives free. In May of that year, Himmler's deputy released all intermarried Jews from the camps.
John Rabe: He was a Nazi member, yet when the Japanese invaded Nanjing, he, together with some other westerners who stayed in the city, set up the Nanjing Safety Zone to safe the inhabitants of Nanjing from the atrocities of the Japanese army. He was damn successful, saving an estimate of 200.000 - 250,000 people. After the war, when famine hit Germany, he and his family were partly supported by money and food packages from sent by the Guomindang - even when their own people were starving.
There's a story about several Jewish children and their mother hiding from the Nazis in an attic. The Germans did a sweep of the village they were in, and a policeman who disliked Jews found them in the attic. He could have earned massive amounts of money and a promotion if he captured them. But when the soldier's commanding officer called out to him if he had found anyone, he replied with a no and left them alone.
A group of Jewish women were being rescued by soldiers after having gone on a death march. One of the women met the first soldier coming in, and explained at the devastation of the emiciated, dying people around her, she said, "I'm Jewish." The soldier replied, in broken German, "So am I." He was American.
That woman was Gerda Weissmann Klein.
It gets better. The girl and the American soldier? They got married.
The Righteous Among the Nations in general were decent human beings who did the right thing during the Holocaust and sheltered Jews from German persecution or deportation. Most notable among their number is Oskar Schindler, whose exploits are well known. A less well-known one is Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who served as a consul in Lithuania. During the Holocaust, he issued transit visas to thousands of Jews to assist them in reaching safety to Japan, risking his career, his life, and that of his family. It's disputed how many Jews he saved; the accepted range seems to be between 6,000 and 10,000. When asked why he did it, he said the following:
"You want to know about my motivation, don't you? Well. It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes. Also, I felt at that time, that the Japanese government did not have any uniform opinion in Tokyo. Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent. People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply. I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people's lives....The spirit of humanity, philanthropy...neighborly friendship...with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation—-and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage." Bad. Ass. Pacifist.
Even less recognized are the contributions of two Dutch consular officers, Jan Zwartendjik and L.P.J. de Decker. In order to get a transit visa, the Jews needed somewhere to go. Some Dutch Jewish refugees asked for permission to transfer to Curacao, a island that was a Dutch possession off the coast of South America. Curacao didn't require an entrance visa, but did require the permission of the governor. De Decker and Zwartendjik left off that second part off the visa, making it much easier for Sugihara to issue visas. The Japanese government might also qualify, for not deporting those Jews who just stayed in Japan, instead moving them to Shanghai, and swearing that they would refuse to give them up to the Germans, despite Nazi pressure to do just that.
Princess Alice, mother of Prince Phillip of England, was an emotionally fragile woman (she was hospitalized following a nervous breakdown) who was also deaf. Nevertheless, she had her own Crowning Moment of Awesome when she hid a Jewish family from the Nazis.
Herman Göring's brother Albert was a ballsy motherfucker who hid many Jews from the Nazis and used his influence in Nazi circles to avoid capture of both himself and the Jews. His most heartwarming moment, though, may have been at the end of his life. Living on a government pension and shunned because of his family ties, he married his housekeeper—not out of any romantic feeling, but out of gratitude, knowing that when he died (which was just one week later), his pension would continue to be paid to her as his widow.
Frank Foley was a simple passport control officer at the British embassy in Berlin during the 1930s - though this was in fact a cover for his real role as a British Secret Intelligence Officer. As the conditions for the Jewish population in Nazi Germany became unbearable, he bent several rules concerning immigration in order to help thousands of Jewish people "legally" escape to Britain and Palestine, issuing visas that allowed whole families to get out of the country and advising them on where they could feasibly be accepted. Not only that, but he actually went into concentration camps to get Jews out, hiding them in his house and obtaining forged passports and travel documents for them. He put his own life at risk in the process, as he had no diplomatic immunity and could have been arrested at any time, and when he was finally forced to return to Britain he left behind documents to allow others to continue his work. It's estimated that he saved at least ten thousand people, and probably a lot more.
Another great example is that of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat in Bordeaux, France, who ignored and defied the orders of the Portuguese dictator, António Salazar, regarding the issuing of visas towards refugees (specifically Jewish refugees, since Salazar didn't want to mess with Germany and wanted to keep Portugal neutral). Between June 16 and June 23, 1940, he frantically issued an estimated 30,000 visas, 12,000 of which to Jewish refugees, in order to escape to Portugal (from there, the majority went to the US or Brazil). Most of these visas were issued to entire families. Among those who were issued visas, there were Otto Von Habsburg (heir of the Austrian-Hungarian emperor, who was hated and condemned to death by Hitler), the Belgian cabinet and Salvador Dalí. Unfortunately, he paid a high price, being stripped of his titles, his law career, abandoned by most of his friends, being blamed by a few relatives for the disgrace of the family and dying in poverty some years later, after his wife died and he being also stripped of his pension. Justice was made, later, when he occupied the 3rd place in The Greatest Portuguese (a poll programme similar to the 100 Greatest Britons). He is still fondly remembered by many Jewish people and their descendants and he even has a plaza in Vienna named after him.
The North African campaign between the German Africa Korps and the British 8th Army during World War 2 was often called "The Gentleman's War", for the unbelievable gallantry displayed by both sides. To demonstrate, a British soldier was critically wounded during the Battle of El Alamein. He was brought to a British field hospital, and found himself lying beside a German prisoner who had also been critically wounded. He reached out and squeezed the German soldier's hand. The German soldier squeezed back. He lost consciousness and woke up the next morning, and found that his German companion was gone. When he asked what happened to the man beside him, the doctor simply replied "He died during the night. You were still holding hands."
When the Nazis invaded the Greek island of Zakynthos, they went to the mayor and the bishop, who were both Eastern Orthodox Christians and told them "Write down the names of all the Jews on this island and give them to us." A few days later, the mayor and bishop come back and hand over a paper with only two names written on it- their own. The bishop then says "If you want to take them, you have to take us, too." The rest of the community on the island hid the Jews for the duration of the Nazi occupation. Every last one of the 275 Jews survived the war. In 1953, a series of earthquakes collapsed all but a few buildings on the island. The first relief ship was from Israel, along with the message: "The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their Mayor and their beloved Bishop and what they did for us."
The Dutch village of Nieuwlande, where the people agreed that every household would hide at least one Jew.
Denmark's role in World War II. That's one of the biggest Crowning Moment of Heartwarming FULL STOPS in history. Consider this. A small country, not very powerful, shares its only land border with Germany, headquarters of the Nazi party and anti-Jewish movement. Denmark was not neutral- it was occupied, and complied peacefully with Germany to the point that Hitler declared Denmark the model that all occupied countries should aspire to. But when the police came to round up Danish Jews, the people of Denmark, including political officials and the king, banded together and made sure that 99% of Danish Jews survived the Holocaust. The ones that were sent to camps were sent almost entirely to a camp in Czechoslovakia, where the Danish Red Cross was stationed to monitor the health and conditions for not just the Danish Jews, but for every person in the camp. Full. Bloody. Stop.
The Israeli government was going to list several members of the Danish resistance as Righteous Among the Nations. The individuals requested that the honor instead be granted to the resistance as a whole. The request was granted to them, who are one of only two organizations so named.note The other being the Norwegian Underground.
Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist in Germany, worked at many hospitals treating the depressed and the suicidal in the late 1930s. He saved several from Nazi-enforced euthanasia, but his family, and most of his patients, were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942. He then continued to help many of the people in the camps keep on going and not commit suicide, until he was moved to Auschwitz and then to Turkheim. His wife, mother and father were killed at Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz respectively, but Frankl survived to be liberated by the Americans in 1945. The experience of the concentration camps made Frankl realise the truth of Nietzsche's statement "He who has a why to live can endure any how" and he based an entire philosophy and field of psychology, logotherapy, around it. He died in 1997 after writing over thirty books and teaching seminars all over the world.
A Hope Spot that didn't go away: the 'the Reich's youngest Nazi' was actually a young Jewish boy who fled the destruction of his family. A kind Latvian soldier, whose unit was going to be absorbed into the S.S., dreamt up a Masquerade to keep the boy alive - as a Nazi mascot. The boy managed to emigrate to Australia after the war, but kept his experiences secret from his wife, family, and friends till 1997.
The history of the Caribia and the Koenigstein ships; both ships departed from Hamburg in 1939 full of Jewish families planning to arrive in Barbados and Trinidad, but thanks to the pressure of Hitler they weren't allow to arrive there. They tried to arrive in Venezuela and then president Eleazar Lopez Contreras pretty much went against his cabinet and Hitler himself by allowing them to arrive to Puerto Cabello. There, in the middle of the night they were received by over 50 families in Mampote, where they stayed with them. Truly something that gives you back hope about mankind.
First, the Dutch Royal family took refuge in Ottawa from the German occupation of Netherlands and Princess Margriet was born there while in exile. The maternity ward of the Ottawa Civic Hospital, where she was, was temporarily declared extraterritorial, so Margriet could gain her citizenship from her mother only, making her Dutch.
Second, the First Canadian Army was responsible for liberating Netherlands in 1945. Afterwards, they would send thousands of tulips (the Dutch national flower) to Ottawa in gratitude. And the following year and every year after that, the Dutch Royal family did the same thing. These donations of flowers would later become a tradition of the Canadian Tulip Festival, one of the largest tulip festivals in the world and held annually in Ottawa, which soon became famous for these tulips.
Also, the statue The Man With Two Hats in Commissioners Park, Ottawa. Engraved on the statue is this:
During the Second World War, Canadian soldiers played a crucial role in the liberation of the Netherlands. With the donation of this monument - an expression of joy and a celebration of freedom - the Netherlands pays lasting tribute to Canada.
A statue identical to this one stands in Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. The twin monuments symbolically link Canada and the Netherlands; though separated by an ocean, the two countries will forever be close friends.
Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of the Netherlands unveiled the monument in Ottawa on May 11, 2002, and the other in Apeldoorn on May 2, 2000.
The evacuation of Dunkirk in WWII, when what could have been the Allies' greatest defeat turned into a story of triumph that firmed Britain's will to fight even when they were the only unoccupied European countrynote (obviously, we're not counting neutral nations like Portugal) left in the battle against the Axis. The Allies had expected to only be able to save a few thousand men, but thanks to the efforts of 700 private boats and yachts - many of which the owners insisted to steer themselves - hundreds of thousands managed to escape and live to fight another day. This would lead to Churchill's famous speech. "We shall fight on the beaches [. . .] we shall never surrender".
Even more heartwarming than the British evacuation; the British promise of evacuation to the French, then the French forces staying behind to cover the English retreat.
During the march of the allies across Germany a US squad was patrolling through a village just recently taken. One of the soldiers while looking around takes off running from the rest of the squad while shouting in German. When the rest of the squad finds him, he is standing in front of a house hugging an older German woman and little boy. The soldier was a German immigrant, who had just realized he was in his home town; the woman was his mother, and the kid was his little brother.
There's a story in my town in Germany that goes like this: In the spring of 1945, when the German army was crumbling, and the Americans invaded, they had orders to capture this town and the important railroad going through it. There weren't a whole lot of defenders, but there was a few overzealous SS officers that were going to fight to the death. The boss of the largest company in town convinced them not to fight by giving them his own car and fuel (a real treasure in those days) so they could flee. The SS men still killed the driver, maybe because of shame of their "cowardice".
A rather unlikely case - a documentary in a Religious Studies lesson on Hiroshima. Most of the second half was (as you would expect) a heartrending mixture of Tearjerker and horror, but there was one story told by a man who'd been a little boy at the time. He was rescued from the rubble by a young soldier, who then carried him through the remains of the city, past more and more scenes of hopelessness... only to have his father run over, saying 'that's my son!'. The two were reunited, and the sequence was the one ray of hope in the whole film. For once, happy tears.
During WWII, my friend's grandpa was captured and tortured, but he refused to reveal his mission. The japanese said if he didn't spill, they would kill the other five captured men. He wouldn't budge. He escaped, but he had to live with their blood on his hands. 25 years later, he found out they all lived. Not a single one talked. GMH
This moment was a delayed one which happened after George McGovern accidentally had a bomb on his plane release while over a civilian farm in Austria and it caused great damage. Decades later while making a public appearance there, McGovern mentioned the incident in the media and how he was kicking himself for years for the accident. As it happened, the owner of that farm heard that and made a public statement to tell McGovern that no one was hurt and he felt it was worth the trouble if it helped enable the defeat of Nazi Germany in some small way.
The nurses. These strong, brave, badass women volunteered and spent their time caring for horribly wounded soldiers, often with no breaks, respite, or help, often in the face of danger. In some cases, they were slaughtered. But they did their job, and they did it well, and they saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Thank you so much.
You hear a lot about the conflict between Muslims and Jews, but Khaled Abdul-Wahab's story is even more Heartwarming In Hindsight. He lived in Tunisia, and when he heard the Nazis were going to attack a Jewish woman, he hid her and her family and several other families on his farm. Unfortunately, Yad Vashem in Israel rejected him as a "Righteous Among the Nations", because the penalty for helping Jews in Tunisia was not death. Even though the only country where that was the case was Poland.
There is a whole documentary and book on Arabs who rescued Jews. Here.
And then there is Abdol-Hossein Sardari, but he was Persian, not Arab. An Iranian diplomat, he provided hundreds of blank Iranian passports to Jews. He saved over 500 people.
When a historian told a group veteran survivors of the failed Dieppe Raid the true purpose of their mission he discovered: to mask a commando attempt to capture an Enigma encryption machine to help break one of Nazi Germany's critical codes. To a man, the soldiers then felt immensely better for that knowledge that they were not sent on a useless sacrifice, but were actually part of a vital strategic operation.
During the Battle of Stalingrad, a troupe of Soviet musicians and entertainers arrived on New Years Eve to entertain the troops. The violinist Mikhail Goldstein decided to go straight to the front lines and entertain the troops currently standing duty, playing over loudspeakers. The shooting from the German side stopped as the music flowed, and after the music stopped there was a short period of complete silence. Then a voice came out over loudspeaker from the German lines in halting Russian saying "Play some more Bach. We won't shoot". Goldstein obliged them.
In 1941, the Luftwaffe hit Belfast, in Northern Ireland, hard. When word got south that Belfast had been bombed and needed help, the entire fire departments of Dublin and several other Irish towns volunteered en masse to go North and help out. The then Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, had made his career opposing Britain and believed that Northern Ireland had no business being separated from Ireland, but he protested to the Germans: "They are our people, too!"
Gert Forbe, best known for playing Goldfinger, was a former Nazi party member and as a result, his works were banned in Israel. That is, until two Jews came forward and revealed that he used his status to hide them during the Holocaust.
In April, 1945, about 140 British Prisoners of War were being held by the SS and feared that they, like many other POWs, would be executed, so they sent a delegation to contact members of the Wehrmacht and made their fears known. Wichard von Alvensleben, immediately mobilized his troops to move in and protect the POWs, and managed to use his superior numbers to intimidate the SS into retreating. They then released the allied POWs, including several high profile prisoners.
The Grand Mosque of Paris. While France was occupied by the Nazis, they provided Jewish citizens with fake Muslim birth certificates in order to protect them from being sent to the camps.
It may not be as important as the saving the lives of innocent described above, but there was the fact that the American Army had the Monuments Men: experts of art assigned to spare as much as the great works of art and architecture as possible from the destruction of war. Furthermore, rather than to steal it like the German and Russian armies did, the Monuments Men's purpose was to preserve this art for the proper owners. While this was an underfunded and often heartbreaking task, it did have its good moments. Namely, when they found a cache of art plundered from Florence, Italy, they returned to the city as they were met a grand reception with cheering crowds and even a line of trumpeters in Renaissance dress celebrating a small triumph of the survival of beauty and creativity after so many years of fear and ugly destruction.
Bulgaria managing to save its entire Jewish population - around 48, 000 people - from the Holocaust.
Walther Wenck, youngest German Army General, commander of the 12th Army. Ordered to assault and retake Berlin from the Soviets with remnants of the 9th Army to link up, he instead chose to disobey orders. Located between the Americans and Berlin, he ordered his men to protect and escort Civilians from Soviet grasp to American lines. Then told his men to surrender to the Americans. Not to mention, his army sheltered refugees long before the Soviets entered Berlin. In the end? Quarter of a million refugees (including 25,000 German Soldiers) escaped Soviet detention. Within a week, mind you. Not to mention part of his speech - "It's not about Berlin any more, it's not about the Reich any more."
Erich Hartmann, considered the greatest fighter ace in history, with 352 enemy aircraft shot down, was more proud of the fact he never lost a wingman than he was his number of victories.
Rudolf Kastner was a leader of a resistance in Hungary that smuggled Jews to Budapest. It's not well known, but there was a period in 1944 when 12,000 Hungarian Jews were being transported to Auschwitz a day. Krastner negotiated with Adolf Eichmann himself and managed to get 1,685 Jews on a train to Switzerland, a train that became known as "Krastner's Train." Unfortunately, because he had to work directly with Eichmann and the Jews who left had to pay, many Israelis viewed him as a collaborator after the war, and he was put on trial for that "crime." He was assassinated in 1957.