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A Question of Saving Human Lives

Paul Grueninger, left, a Swiss police commander who saved 3,600 Jews during the Holocaust (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Paul Grueninger

Life: October 27, 1891 - February 22, 1972

Why you should know him: Paul Grueninger was a Swiss police officer whose actions saved 3,600 Jews during the Holocaust

Growing up in Switzerland, Paul Grueninger attended school to become a teacher before playing soccer professionally. After completing his military service, Grueninger then joined the Swiss police in the city of St. Gallen that borders Austria and Germany, reaching the post of police commander.

In 1938, the situation in Germany and Austria was dire for Jews, as the Holocaust had already begun. Many Jews tried to illegally cross the border into neutral Switzerland. As police commander, Grueninger's was ordered to turn these Jews back, meaning certain death for them.

However, Grueninger took a moral approach, not only allowing the Jewish refugees into Switzerland, but also falsifying their paperwork to make them appear as having entered Switzerland legally. On top of this, he impeded German efforts to trace those who had entered illegally, and bought winter clothing for the refugees with his own money.

In 1939, the Nazis discovered what Grueninger had been doing and reported him to his Swiss superiors. Grueninger was put on trial for his actions and found guilty. He was dismissed, stripped of his pension, and forced to pay a hefty fine and court costs.

Paul Grueninger lived the rest of his life forgotten and in poverty. But shortly before he died, Grueninger was recognized for the 3,600 Jewish lives he had saved and named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. When asked why he had risked everything, Grueninger replied: "It was basically a question of saving human lives threatened with death. How could I then seriously consider bureaucratic schemes and calculations."

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