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Perfectly Natural to Help People in Mortal Danger

Gerda Valentiner at Yad Vashem tree-planting ceremony, 1968 (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Gerda Valentiner

The many Righteous Gentiles who risked their own lives in order to save Jewish people during the Holocaust came in all shapes and sizes. But, when looking at the occupations of these heroes, it seems that many of them were teachers, a job that often draws those seeking to help, and to do so altruistically. This week's Advocate and Ally of the Jewish people is such a person.

Gerda Valentiner was a Danish schoolteacher when Germany began its occupation of Denmark. Gerda became active in the Resistance movement against the Nazis, but also began to save the children she had pledged to help.

When the Nazis planned to begin deporting Denmark's Jews in October 1943, Gerda had her own plans. She began to collect Jewish children and hid them in her own home, waiting for a safe time to smuggle them to the coast and then on to safety in Sweden.

Gerda risked her life by harboring these children, but also went out of her way to respect their religious needs. When some of the children, who were kosher, would only eat bread, she bought new dishes and food that would accommodate their observances.

In one instance, Gerda tried twice to smuggle three Jewish siblings to safety, and each time failed. The third time, the children were sneaked to Sweden during a dangerous nighttime journey aboard a fishing boat.

Even after World War II ended, Gerda continued to help those who'd been affected by this dark chapter in history, leaving her teaching job for two whole years so she could volunteer at the Jewish refugee camps in Germany and Austria that housed the Holocaust's surviving victims.

Gerda Valentiner was a modest woman, downplaying her role in saving Jewish children. She said:

"I only did what many Danes did, nothing special. We thought it perfectly natural to help people in mortal danger."

But despite Gerda's humility, she was recognized by Yad Vashem in 1968 as Righteous Among the Nations. In the above photo, you can see Gerda at the official tree-planting ceremony.

Gerda returned to Israel in 1971 once she had retired from teaching, in order to see the country and learn the language of so many people whose lives she had saved.

Tags: Advocates and Allies

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