The Courage to Care | Facing History & Ourselves

The Courage to Care

This film profiles both Jews who were rescued during the Holocaust and individuals who rescued Jews in France, Holland, and Poland, and raises questions about the moral and ethical dilemmas that rescuers confronted.
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At a Glance

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English — US


  • History
  • Social Studies
  • The Holocaust

The Courage to Care






Some killed, others helped the killers, or made believe that they didn't know. The large majority was apathetic, unconcerned, uninvolved, indifferent. And the victims died not only because of the killers. They died because of the indifference of the others.

Let us not forget, after all, that there's always a second when the moral choice is made. And even in those times, when the dictatorship, the police, the terror, were unprecedented-- German soldiers everywhere, collaborators everywhere-- even then, there were people, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, who simply said, no, we won't do it. We'll open the door. We'll take in someone and help. So it is possible for the human being alone-- often alone-- to say no to death.



There were 13,000 who were taken during the three days-- 14th, 15th, 16th of July. Of these 13,000, most of them were women and children. When they came for roundup, some of the women with their children, some of the women jumped out the window. There were 51 suicides of that kind-- mothers jumped out the windows with their children rather than be taken.

I was seven, and we lived on the first floor, an apartment. I lived with my mother. My father was a prisoner of war. And my mother was active in the Resistance. Things were dangerous. The concierge of the house, she lived downstairs. And there was a kind of corridor between her apartment and the front door.

And about 5 o'clock in the morning, she went up and yanked us out of bed and said, they're coming for you. And she threw us quickly into her apartment and put us-- my mother and me-- into a closet, a broom closet.

So when the search team came in and they asked for us, she said, oh, you know how Jews are. They live in poor places like that, but they all have money, and they have a country house. And they've gone off to their country house. And they went for it.

In the meantime, of course, standing there, I had two feelings. One of them was, here, how can she say such terrible things about Jews or about us? But on the other hand, that wasn't the strong feeling. The real strong feeling was I was safe. If she was taking care of things, she was taking care of things. She had this conviction that I was her child, and she was going to protect me. And that was that.

Madame Marie's husband, who was called by everybody Monsieur Henri, he was fetched from his job. And he took me. I was seven. And we walked outside. And there were-- in fact, there were German soldiers right outside. I remember that and that he held my hand. And I was trembling, or my hand was shaking some.

And there were trucks full of Jews being rounded up. And he told me, and I remember that it was like the refrain from the whole occupied Paris war time to children, was look at your feet and keep on walking. That was like a slogan throughout the war.

And he said the same thing. And he said, look at your feet. Keep on walking. If anybody calls you, don't answer. Don't look up. Don't answer. So we walked like that. Nobody called. And I looked at my feet, and we reached the subway entrance. And I remember a wonderful sense of safety going down underground into a subway.



I was on my way to classes at the School of Social Work. And there was this small home for, well, orphans and other children who weren't being taken care of. And it was a Jewish home. And as I went by, they had a truck out there. And they were loading the children in the truck.

And the children were upset, of course. And they didn't climb in fast enough. And the Germans picked them up wherever they could reach them-- arm, leg, whatever, and threw them into the truck. And it's funny, I've told this story about six times now. But I still have trouble with it.

There were two other women coming down the street. And they attacked the Germans who were doing it. And they threw them in the truck, too. And I just sat there. But that was when I decided that if there was anything at all I could do to prevent any of this, I was going to do it.


I guess it was somewhere in 1943, I was asked to take care of three children and their father. The youngest was about a week old at the time, and the others were two and four. We moved into a house out in the country, about 20 miles east of Amsterdam. And we just trusted and prayed that that would work.

We had a hiding place in the living room. We could get him in there and the whole business covered up in about 30 seconds. This particular night, four Germans came, led by a Dutch policeman whom I'd known all my life. Because I knew that area very well. I've spent holidays there since I was two years old.

And they didn't find the hiding place. But the Germans often would come. And if they didn't find the hiding place, they learned to come back an hour later. Because by that time, you would have let people come out of the hiding place if it wasn't one where people were all the time.

But the children were in, too, that night. And the baby began to cry. And I let them out after about half an hour after the Germans left. And then this Dutchman came back. And I had a small revolver that another friend of mine had given me just in case but that I had never planned to use.

And I felt that I had no choice except to kill him. And it's-- I'd do it again under the same circumstances. And it still bothers me. And there should have been another way. But I couldn't think of anything else to do.

The local undertaker was very helpful. And he put the body in a coffin with somebody else. And they had a big family funeral, and they didn't know they were burying two bodies.

The policeman was local, and everybody hated him, all the people who were against the Germans. And I think that if somebody had really tried hard to find out how and where he died, they could have. But thank god, they didn't, though I did sweat it out for quite a long time.




At that time, I worked serving breakfast, lunch, and some dinner to the German officers and secretaries. But only one thing-- behind that hotel, there was a ghetto. And my first time realize what was happening to the Jewish people. I did see that much.

They pushed them like cattle through the middle of town. I did see old men that looked to me like rabbi with the white beard, white hair, and most of all, the children-- all sizes, all ages. The little one was screaming, crying, Mama, Mama! And the bigger one, they were even scared to cry.

And one thing I remember, their eyes-- big, scary looking, searching, like asking, what did I do? What did I do? So then, I pray and promise I will help.

Then the plant did have to move farther to Tarnopol. There, I did the same work, serving breakfast, lunch, and some dinner to the officers, secretaries, and also the local head of Gestapo. I spoke quite good German. And serving, I was able to overhear conversation.

And the major give me another job, to take care of the laundry for the officers. There, I met 12 Jewish people. We become good friends. But when the time come for the total liquidation of ghetto, those 12 did not have place to go. And you know, next day, in the morning, the major called me to his office, and he say, Irene, I would like you to be my housekeeper.

Well, when I did go see the villa, the Lord made a decision. I mean, without planning or doing anything more, I put those 12 in the cellar and kept them there.


And in September, I was in town. And all of a second, the Gestapo was pushing the whole people from the street to the marketplace. And there, we did have to witness Polish family be hung together with the Jewish family-- middle of the market street. And we did have to stay and watch to be a warning, what happen when you befriended a Jew.

When I came home, I lock the door like I do, usually. But I usually leave the key turn in the lock so if the major would come unexpectedly, he could not open. But I was so shook up, so I lock the door. I even locked it. But I pulled the key.

I came to the kitchen. And they were Ida, Franca, Clara, Miriam. The women came out, because that's what they usually did, to help me. I was white like a snow, so they asked me what's happened. I said nothing, I don't feel good. I could not tell them. What could they do?

We talking, and the door open. And the major was standing in front of us. I still can see his chin shaking, his eyes with unbelief. And we were all frozen like statues. And he turned around in silence, and he walked to his office. I did have to go and face him. There was no any other way.

He yelled at me. Irene, how could you do it? I trust you. I give you such a nice home, protection. Why? I said, I know only one thing. They're my friends. I did have to do it. I did not have a home to take them to my home. I don't have a family. Forgive me, but I would do it again. Nobody has right to kill and murder because of religion or race.

He said, you know what can happen to you? I say yes, I know. I just witness. By the time, I was crying, you know? I could hardly talk. I say, yes, I witnessed that. And he said to me, look, I cannot do that to you. I cannot just let you die.

And when he said that, believe me, I kneel down, and I kiss his hand, not for me but for those people. They were alive, and they did have hope.



I lived in this small town called Mirów. My parents realized that the ghetto was now most likely going to be liquidated. So my parents did arrange through friends for me to go to a monastery located just on the outskirts of Krakow called Mogila. And no one knew there, in the monastery, that I was a Jew, except for the prior.

I was in that monastery until someone denounced me as a Jew, and the Gestapo came. And that very night, instead of sleeping in my room in the monastery, I did hide in an organ. And in the middle of the night, the Gestapo came in, broke down the door to my room. And I could hear it.

And I escaped from the monastery and hooked up with some other people who have helped me. And this was very common-- close calls. And you see, I had to make a living, too. I was only 14 and, maybe, then 15. But I was away from my parents.

I was completely on my own in a country which, at that time, was devastated. And not only Jews suffered. Poles suffered, too. One needed to really have a tremendous will to survive, have a resourcefulness to do so, and have many people help you. Let me give you an example.

I was in a village. I still didn't have papers. And I went to make a telephone call. And the telephone was in the house of the village elder. And as I was there, police came in. And since there were partisans in the area, they asked me to raise my hands, and they searched my pockets.

And as they were searching me, one looks at the other, says, you know? This kid looks like a Jew. And I began laughing and said, you know, that's quite a compliment you made, gentlemen. And so they began laughing, too. And it was a joke.

But then they realized that I had no documents. And that would lead to having to take me to nearby town to jail, and that would be the end of me. And I said, no, I live here. I just forgot my documents in this place where I live.

And the village elder, he was asked, do you know this kid? Oh, he says, sure, sure, I know him. He is the son of so-and-so. And, oh. Well, then, he has no documents. There'll be a fine of, whatever it was, 20 zloty. And he said, sure, I'll pay it. He just, you know, produced 20 zloty, and that's it. Well, you know, here was someone I didn't know, who didn't know who I was and what, but he was just helping.



It was a normal village. It is a small village on the mountains. My husband preached in a big church. It is a big church because that place is a Protestant town. And he always thought he has to preach for peace, for better love and understanding.

My father was not what you would call a ruler or a leader in the sense that he didn't tell people what to do. But I think his message was so strong, what he had to tell the people, that, really, they are to do in a situation that was such a disaster.

I think this message carried over so well that it became like an infection. And it inspired the community. Maybe some people who normally wouldn't have done anything, like hiding a persecuted person, found that, yes, they could do it.

We never imagined what would happen with the Jews in France but, little by little, realized that the Germans, having crossed the border and being in Paris, the danger was there. Because already, they started to persecute the Jews.


And in my house, one day, a poor woman came at night. And she asked to come in. And she said that she was a Jew immediately and that she was hiding and that she was running away and that she wanted to have a shelter. And she thought that the minister's house, she could perhaps find somebody who could understand her. And I said, come in. And so it started.

But this was a phenomenon that spread all over the area in the next villages in Yssingjeaux, in [INAUDIBLE], which are villages which are really a few miles away from us.

Oh, you cannot know how people knew that they could have, perhaps, a good place in our town. I cannot tell you what happened in the other houses. Because those were, little by little, all over the place.


I was told that the Gestapo was taking away young people. But I was in my kitchen. It was early in the morning. I had an apron. So when they arrived, the Gestapo thought I was the maid of the house. They let me in. I sat in the kitchen.

I tried to go in the dining room where all the students were in line. And my cousin, Daniel Trocmé, was the first one in the corner. And then the Gestapo scream [SHARP SYLLABLES]. They kicked me out. But they didn't kick me out of the house. I could go in the kitchen. So it meant that I was a maid. I was somebody belonging to the house.

And when I saw all those boys passing to go in a little room where there was a man with a booklet with many names and he was interviewing them one by one, and most of them who went through said, or had a little bit of paper saying, send this to my mother. Here's the address of my father. This is for my fiancée. I have some money in my room.

And when my young son came with me for the moment when they left, he didn't want me to go alone. And he was so upset to see those Gestapo beating one of those Jews-- they were in line, coming down, going to the tracks-- beating them, beating that young boy, and saying Schwein Jude, Schwein Jude.

And then, when I saw all those young people get in, and my cousin saying, do not worry. Tell my parents that I was very happy here. It was the best time of my life. Tell them that I like traveling, that I go with my friends.

And when they left, my son was green, I will say-- I don't know-- like a sick boy. And he said, Mother, I'm going to revenge later. Such things can not happen again. I'm going to do something when I'm grown up.

And I say, but you know what your father says? If you do such a thing, somebody else is going to revenge against you. And that is why we're never finished. We are going to go on, on, and on. We must forgive. We must forget and do better. He was silent. And we left. And Daniel never came back.



What is so moving about all of them is that they do not see themselves as crusaders. For them, it was a natural thing to save people, to remain human. And they didn't know it, but in doing so, they changed history.

If I had not been saved by this woman, I know precisely what my fate would have been. I would have ended up in the gas chamber at Birkenau. Because all the children were taken. And 95% of the Jewish children in Paris that they were taken-- so only 5% were saved-- they were all taken into the gas chamber at Birkenau. None survived. So my fate is very clear. So I know very clearly, you know, that it was a question of saving a life, absolutely.

To be a rescuer under these circumstances, it took a unique person, someone who had the deep-seated conviction. Maybe that person wasn't that articulate to put it in those words. But they had a deep-seated conviction that they had to do it. And they were not people who were making choices and reflection. They just simply had to do it because that's the kind of people they were.

How can you refuse them? You don't sit down and say, I'm going to do this and that. You had no time to think. When a problem came, you had to solve it immediately. Sometimes the people like you ask me, how did you take a decision?

(CHUCKLING) There was no decision to take. Are you thinking that we are all brothers or not? Are you thinking that is unjust to be against the Jews or not? Then let us try to help.

I think that we all have memories of times that we should have done something and we didn't. And it gets in your way during the rest of your life.

Remember that in your life, you'll be across lots of circumstances that will need a kind of courage, a kind of decision of your own, not about other people but about yourself. I would not say more.




The Courage to Care

Gardner Films

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