September 29, 2001

German saviors see the light


Unprecedented academic initiative by the Wallenberg Foundation and the Berlin University of Technology

On March 2001 the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF), a non-governmental organization founded in Argentina, agreed to a cooperation work with the Center of Studies on anti-Semitism of the Berlin University of Technology, ran by professor Wolfgang Benz and under the academic and executive responsibility of Dr. Beate Kosmala and Claudia Schoppmann, with the assistance of Isabel Enzenbach, Frank Görlich, Markus Pfeiffer and Dennis Riffel.

The agreement between both organizations arrived hours after the meetings that Baruch Tenembaum, founder of the IRWF, kept with the president of Germany, Johannes Rau, at the official residence Schloss Belevue and with the Mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen at the City Hall Palace.

Due to a scholarship granted by the IRWF, the volunteer Johanna Hopfengärtner arrives to Buenos Aires during September 2001, not only to prepare her thesis about the subject of the Jewish – German refugees in Argentina, but also to collaborate with the edition of the program about German Saviors in its version for the Internet in three languages: Spanish, German and English. Hopfengärtner was born in Nürnberg in 1975 and since 1998 she lives in the city of Berlin.


When, on November 30, 1942 the Foss family, living at Pestalozzistrasse in Berlin, was threatened with deportation, the acquaintanceship with the salesperson, Helene von Schell, proved to be a lifeline. She offered the married couple and their two sons a hiding place in her small apartment on Waldstrasse in the Moabit district, where the family was able to hide until liberation in April 1945.

This courageous act is commemorated on a memorial plaque which since March 1996 hangs on the apartment building where Helene von Schell lived until her death in 1956.

In April 1997, a research group began to investigate the ”Rescue of Jews in National Socialist Germany”. During a two year project phase, a differentiated database was developed in order to register as many as possible different kinds of rescue efforts, both successful and failed, that occurred between 1933 and 1945 in Germany.

The project concentrates on the period from 1941 to 1945. Until now, data entries of approximately 2,000 women and men who helped persecuted Jews and of almost 1,000 Jews who lived in hiding have been inputted. In each ”case”, whenever possible, the length of time, type and degree of help offered, as well as statements pertaining to the motivation of the rescuers is noted.

The project focuses on the region of Berlin, since this is where the largest Jewish community existed before World War II. About half of the attempts to escape deportation by hiding took place in Berlin and its environs.

Given the millions of Germans who looked away with indifference or who approved of the genocide and actively supported it, the number of rescuers is shockingly low – but still larger as is generally known. The documented examples show that even under the conditions of the Nazi dictatorship a considerable number of non-Jewish Germans were willing and in a position to show solidarity with persecuted Jews and save them from extermination.

Moreover, the aim of the project is to provide the resistance research with new stimulus. Most of the helpers did not regard their behavior as resistance, but rather as a matter of course. Nonetheless, from today’s perspective, we should understand the lifesaving efforts of these women and men as a form of resistance. This view brings with it a new definition of the term resistance which no longer solely applies to military action directed at eliminating the regime, as was the case for so long in the Federal Republic of Germany. Given the impossibility of overthrowing Hitler, for many Germans, helping Jews was the only way to express their resistance to National Socialism.

Translation: IRWF