Roi Klein is an Israeli hero. Ask any Israeli high-school student, and 99% will know that he jumped on a grenade to save his soldiers. Now imagine if someone had jumped on a bomb that was planted under a packed stadium, saving close to 100,000 people. Wouldn’t that person be a hero? Wouldn’t every Israeli know his name and his story?
No. Apparently not.
Try asking a young Israeli who Raoul Wallenberg is. In my opinion, barely any will recognize the name. This is not surprising, since he is accorded just one sentence among the thousands of pages of history curriculum.
Raoul Wallenberg risked his own life to save close to 100,000 Hungarian Jews. Wallenberg used bribes, cunning diplomacy, and other daring tactics. He once jumped into the freezing Danube River to save two Jews who had been tied up and pushed in by the Nazis. After risking his life many times to save Jews, Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviets after the war. He disappeared into the gulag, his whereabouts unknown until this very day.
Hitler believed that nobody cared about the Jews. His assumption in perpetrating the atrocities against the Jews was that nobody cared enough to stop him. He was almost correct. While most of the world looked the other way, a few heroic souls like Wallenberg proved him wrong.
Put yourself in the shoes of Raoul Wallenberg for a moment. How would you feel about the Jewish people? After he saved 100,000 Jews, our children don’t even know his name? In my opinion the only way to begin to repay the righteous gentiles for their actions is to make them into national heroes, like Roi Klein. The way to bring these stories into the mainstream consciousness is to make it a significant part of the holocaust curriculum.
In addition to showing proper gratitude to the righteous gentiles, their stories are inspiring and relevant. Six months ago I graduated the Israeli High School system. From the students perspective, the amount of holocaust learning is overkill. The coursework is dry and depressing. Reading endless facts and figures about Jews being killed by the Nazis made the holocaust a boring and distant event. Even testimonies by survivors are hard to listen too, most of them being old and hard to relate to.
When I learned the story of Raoul Wallenberg, a few months after graduation, I was shocked that his story is not given more attention. Instead of focusing exclusively on what the Nazis did to the Jews, more focus should be put on the dynamic between the bystanders and the righteous gentiles. The challenge of taking action against injustice is a very real issue today. The majority of people would prefer to shut their eyes to issues like animal-rights in the meat industry, despite the clear evidence of truly atrocious conditions. Heroes like Raoul Wallenberg can inspire young people to not repeat the mistakes the world made in the holocaust.
Failing to educate the youth about the righteous gentiles is robbing the heroes of their deserved gratitude, and robbing the students of a valuable educational experience.