"He who saves one life, saves an entire world." - -Talmudic verse imprinted on medals given to those who risked their lives to save Jews.
"The war changed me. If I am an optimist, it's because of what I saw-that in the worst situation, people are able to surmount the bad if they stay together." --Jindrich Flusser of Czechoslovakia, one of the "righteous."
At a time when the name Oskar Schindler is on everyone's lips, MIT Hillel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day last week by focusing on Schindler and others who risked their lives to save Jews from death at the hands of the Nazis.
At a day-long exhibit in Lobby 7 and at a solemn late-afternoon memorial service in the MIT Chapel, there were recollections both of evil and good, of horror and heroism.
In the lobby, as members of Hillel recited the names of Jewish dead, an exhibit chronicling the history of the Holocaust also featured the stories of Schindler, who saved more than 1,000 Jews by putting them to work in his factories, and other "righteous of the nations" honored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel.
These stories were recited by members of the MIT community at the Holocaust Remembrance Service, where Dr. Victor Weisskopf, Institute Professor Emeritus, offered a special reflection on "The Rescue of the Danish Jews."
The MIT observance on Thursday (April 8) was part of a worldwide commemoration of the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews from 1933 to 1945, among them more than one million children. The observance also mourned six million more men, women and children who were killed "because of their race, religion, politics or sexual preference."
Twelve candles were lit during the memorial service in memory of all the persecuted.
Provost Mark S. Wrighton, who introduced Dr. Weisskopf, also read a passage describing an act of heroism in behalf of the Jews and then asked the audience whether "you yourself would have the courage to behave as these heroes did 50 years ago?"
Professor Weisskopf asked a similar question of himself. "Heroism is an exceptional attitude," he said. "It is beyond what we can expect." Would he have had the courage to do what the heroes of the Holocaust did? "I hope so, but I don't know," he said.
Dr. Weisskopf, who was born in Austria and studied in Germany, came to the United States in 1937, just ahead of the Nazi occupation of Austria. He had served as a research associate at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark from 1932 to 1933
Professor Weisskopf noted that heroism on behalf of Jews existed collectively as well as individually, particularly in the case of the Danes, whose efforts saved most of the 7,800 Jews in that country by smuggling them to Sweden. But even that would not have been possible without timely warnings given to the Danes by at least two Germans, one an embassy official and the other in the military.
The rescue of the Danish Jews, Dr. Weisskopf said, was "a special event that has a special place in the annals of humanitarian deeds." It stands as an example of "a collaborative decency," which also occurred in the Netherlands and even Bulgaria, he said.
He said there certainly were such heroic people even in Nazi Germany and that all such acts, individual and collective, show "that decency exists even in the worst of times."
This is "needed today, just as much as before," Dr. Weisskopf noted, because "evil comes in many forms." He said it was still necessary "to help wherever we can...in Bosnia and so many other places.
Heroism makes mankind worth existing," he said.
Joseph M. Milner, a graduate student who helped organize the event, told the The Tech that the observance was both a memorial and a warning about where "man's inhumanity to man" can lead. Rabbi Joshua Plaut said the lobby exhibit was viewed by hundreds and that informative literature had been handed out to at least 2,000 people. He said he also was pleased with the attendance at the evening memorial service "on the part of the administration, the faculty and the students."
A version of this article appeared in the April 13, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 29).