Life: January 1, 1905 - May 28, 1960
Why you should know her: Nic Waal was a Norwegian psychiatrist who worked with children - known in her home country as "the mother of Norwegian pediatric and adolescent psychiatry" - as well as a major figure in Norway's resistance against the Nazis during World War II.
Born in Kristiania, Norway, Nic Waal grew up a sickly child in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. As she did her medical studies, Waal developed a strong sense of social justice, one that found her concerned with the well-being of women and children.
In the early 1930s, Waal continued her work and studies in Berlin, right as the Nazi regime was taking over. She fled back to Norway and in 1939 started her own psychiatric practice.
In 1940, the Nazis invaded and occupied Norway. While still helping her young patients, Waal also became active in the Norwegian resistance.
The Jewish Children's Home in Oslo housed several children of the Jewish faith who were targets of the Nazi occupiers. Seven of the children were sent back to their families in Austria; all seven died in the Holocaust. An eighth boy who moved out of the home was also murdered at Auschwitz.
The fourteen children who were left at the home faced similar fates. However, relying on her network of friends and family in Norway, Nic Waal orchestrated the children's escape. All of the children were able to escape to Sweden, all of them survived, and all of them found homes in Norway, Sweden, England, or the U.S.
Waal continued aiding the Norwegian resistance, though she was arrested in 1945. She was able to escape, herself, to Sweden until the war was over.
After the war, Waal continued her work helping children. She pioneered the field of pediatriac psychiatry, helped juvenile offenders, and her institute helped train future doctors. Shortly before her death in 1960, Waal said:
Many people think something with their heads and feel something different with their heart. Many close completely off their feelings when they think. This is often called being logical. But the heart also has its logic.
It was only many years after her death, in 2006, that Yad Vashem honored Nic Waal and the others who saved the children of Oslo's Jewish Children's Home, naming them Righteous Among the Nations. While the brave woman who saved them was no longer alive, as of her being honored, all of the children she saved were still alive.