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'These Poor, Helpless People'

Elisabeth Schiemann (right) (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Elisabeth Schiemann

Life: 1881-1972

Why you should know her: A German geneticist, botanist, and Christian, Elisabeth Schiemann not only spoke out against the Nazis, but saved Jews from them, as well.

A Protestant Christian in Nazi Germany, Elisabeth Schiemann was also a renowned genetic scientist and botanist. But despite her status in Germany, Schiemann disagreed with Hitler's Nazi regime, and took an active part in the church's stand against Nazism. However, Schiemann thought the church should be more open and vocal in its somewhat-restrained opposition to Hitler's treatment of the Jewish people. And so she spoke up.

In 1936, Elisabeth wrote to Martin Niemöller, a church leader, "How close are we to mentally acquiescing to the slogan 'Juda Verrecke' [a Nazi slogan which meant "Judah croak"] and silently condemning the people of Jewish race - Jews and Christians - to their moral, and even physical destruction."

Two years later, as the Nazis' treatment of Jews became even more barbaric, Elisabeth spoke up again, complaining to Germany's Minister of Finance, telling him of "Hundreds of mothers and wives, whose sons and husbands are in concentration camps, struggle to get the necessary documents...These poor, helpless people, whom we condemned to losing their homeland...are being abused." She also spoke out against the Nazis' mistreatment of "numerous old and sick people...and young people who are practically children."

When her words did little to stop the poor treatment of her Jewish brothers and sisters, Elisabeth took action. As Jews began to be deported to death camps in 1941, Schiemann helped two Jewish sisters, Valery and Andrea Wolfenstein, evade capture. Elisabeth sent the sisters to friends of hers in southern Germany, where they were hidden and saved.

Because of her vocal condemnation of the Nazis, and her actions that saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust, Elisabeth Schiemann was named Righteous Among the Nations in 1941.

Tags: Advocates and Allies

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