It gives me great pleasure to write these few words about Agnes Grunwald-Spier’s book about the rescuers. No one can read these pages without a renewed sense of admiration for those who risked their lives to save Jewish lives. Both the stories themselves, and the motives of the rescuers, are examined in this powerful, thought-provoking book, the product of many years of research and effort.

Each story is precious. Each story throws more light into the dark recesses of those evil times. Each story can inspire by its strength of moral purpose.

Agnes Grunwald-Spier makes reference to an important, unavoidable gap in the recognition of righteous deeds. There were many hundreds, even thousands of acts of rescue that failed, mostly through betrayal by a neighbour or a local collaborator, of which no testimony survives: individuals, and even whole families murdered because they were caught saving Jews. Usually at the very moment of discovery the would-be rescuers and those they were seeking to save were murdered by a savage occupation authority for whom attempting to rescue a Jew was a crime punishable by death. Records of German-occupied Poland show how widespread these reprisal killings were.

Where the names are not recorded, the historian cannot piece together a narrative, and no honour can be bestowed; Agnes Grunwald-Spier rightly calls this a ‘tragic fact’.

But this is not in any way a negative book. Its stories are inspiring ones. There is great suffering in these pages, and also great nobility. Agnes Grunwald-Spier has written a book that can serve as a vista of hope for mankind, a modern-day manual for a code of conduct that contrasts with, and can redeem, the selfish, negative, destructive impulses that are still with us today, in far too many areas of the globe.

Martin Gilbert
10 March 2010

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