4 November 2004
FLOSSENBURG - Herbert Herden says he would do it all over again: Risking his life to save Polish Jews during the Holocaust.
"I risked every day of my life for four long years," the 89-year- old German says at his home in the Rhineland town of Flossenburg.
"But I was able to save a few lives, so it was worth every risk that I took."
On Thursday, a diplomatic entourage from Israel's embassy in Berlin will go to Flossenburg to confer upon Herden the title "Righteous Among Nations". His name will be inscribed at Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial.
The highest honour conveyed by Israel, the title of Righteous Among the Nations has been given to more than 350 non-Jewish Germans who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Herden was a young policeman and intelligence officer in Nazi- occupied Cracow 65 years ago. The then 24-year-old officer was assigned to lodgings in a house confiscated from a Polish Jewish family.
Instead of throwing the family out onto the street, Herden befriended the family and gave them shelter. Over the next two years, until the Germans retreated in the advance of Soviet troops, Herden hid "his family" and their friends and acquaintances from the Gestapo.
"I regularly took in Jewish adults and children," he recalls. "At the time I didn't think twice. I just saw people who were in trouble and who needed help. And I was in a position to help them. So I helped them. I didn't need to think twice about it."
He does not recall how many people he helped.
"I expect it was 20 or so, not a whole lot really," he says modestly.
In 1944 the Gestapo finally got on to his activities, and Herden spent the rest of the war at Dachau concentration camp, where he managed to survive.
After the war, he made contact with a number of those whom he had rescued.
"They had spread to the four corners of the Earth," he says. "Some were in Israel. Others were in the U.S. and Canada. A few were still in Poland," he remembers.
But he never boasted of his deeds. It was not until 2001 that one man who had owed his life informed Yad Vashem officials on his death bed of his debt to Herden.
The man, Yitzhak Lieber, told the officials that he had been sentenced to death by Nazi occupation officials. But on the eve of his execution, in a daring raid resembling a scene from a Hollywood movie, Herden sneaked Lieber out of his jail cell to freedom under the very noses of Nazi guards.
Herden does not play up his fortitude, but he has no sympathy with his generation of Germans who claimed they "knew nothing and could do nothing" about the Holocaust.
"A cloak of silence descended on Germany after the war," he explains. "Everybody said they had known nothing and that they couldn't have done anything even had they known anything. That was a lot of nonsense, of course. All you needed was a tiny bit of what my Jewish friends call chutzpah and what I call gumption."
The name Yad Vashem (literally "a monument and a name"), comes from Isaiah 56:5: "I will give them, in my house and in my walls, a monument and a name, better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall never be effaced."
To this end, Yad Vashem set up a public committee headed by a retired Supreme Court justice, which is responsible for granting the title Righteous Among Nations.
This project is the only one of its kind in the world that honours, using set criteria, the actions of those individuals who rescued Jews during the war.
As of January 2004, more than 20,000 people have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, among them more than 250 Germans.
Subject: German news
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