My Father’s Actions

The Fellowship  |  August 21, 2019

Peter Nurnberger and grandson at Yad Vashem ceremony for his adopted father
Peter Nurnberger and grandson at Yad Vashem ceremony for his adopted father

Johann Karl Nurnberger


Johann Karl Nurnberger was born into a Christian family in Germany, and moved as a young man to an area in Slovakia that had a large German population. It was there that Johann met Paula Grossberg, a local Jewish girl. The two fell in love and were married.

When the Nazis began to deport Slovakian Jews, Paula was safe because she was married to a Gentile. However, he sisters were sent to Auschwitz, as was her mother. When Johann learned of his mother-in-law’s fate, he was able to rescue her.

In 1943, thousands of Polish Jews fled to Hungary, which was still relatively safe for the Jewish people (it would not prove safe a year later, when hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported and murdered). Their route to safety passed through Johann and Paula’s town, and their home became a safe space for refugees to rest. Johann would also build a bunker outside of town where Jews and those who opposed the Nazis could hide.

One day a group of Jews arrived at the Nurnberger home. With them was a 9-month-old baby named Peter. Peter’s parents had yet to arrive, so the Nurnbergers had the boy hidden with another family for the time being.

News soon arrived that Peter’s parents had been murdered by the Nazis, so Johann and Paula took the baby in and kept him until the end of the war.

When the war ended, Peter’s uncle found the boy at the Nurnbergers. The couple had become close to the boy and didn’t want to part with him, so the local rabbi was asked to decide the matter. It was decided that the only family little Peter had ever known would continue to raise him as their own. The Nurnbergers officially adopted the boy and raised him in his and Paula’s Jewish faith. Sadly, Johann died in 1958 and Paul in 1964, before they could be honored for their actions.

However, in 2014, Yad Vashem named Johann Karl Nurnberger a Righteous Gentile. Peter, now an old man, attended the ceremony honoring his adopted father. Too emotional to speak, Peter had his own son Robert read his remarks:

The more I researched my father’s actions, the more I think about why he did it. The only conclusion I have is that he considered the war and the persecution of the Jews a big injustice and believed he was doing the right thing.

Such stories as the one of my father are important as they show that it is always possible to distinguish between good and evil.