Rekindling Love, Rekindling Light

The Fellowship  |  May 10, 2021

Ivan Vranetic rekindling eternal flame at Yad Vashem, 1970
Ivan Vranetic rekindling eternal flame at Yad Vashem, 1970

Each week, we feature a Gentile hero of the Holocaust. And each week, many of these stories break our hearts, reminding us of the millions of Jewish lives – of children, of families – taken by the Nazis. But this week, our story has a happy ending, one which ends not only with the rekindling of true love, but of light.

Escape from the Island of Rab

As World War II raged, the Nazis occupied Italy and its territories, imprisoning many Jews on the Island of Rab in the Adriatic Sea. Anti-Nazi partisans arrived on the island in September of 1943, releasing the Jews from its concentration camp. But escape from the camp did not mean the Jews were free from harm, especially the women, children, and elderly who could not join the partisan ranks, and found themselves surrounded by pro-Nazi supporters in southern Croatia.

There, a seventeen-year-old boy named Ivan Vranetic began to aid the Jews as they arrived in his home village of Topusko. He befriended the Jews and found them homes to hide in. When elderly Jews or Jewish children could walk no more, Ivan carried them on his back until they reached safety. When battles broke out, Ivan helped the hidden Jews escape to safer locations.

I Could Have Never Survived… Without His Help

Among the Jews Ivan helped was Arna, a woman whose husband had been murdered in the concentration camp, and who escape with her elderly mother and young daughter. Ivan met them, and found them a hiding place.

After the war, Ivan stayed in touch with many of the Jewish people he helped rescue, including Arna. “I could have never survived with an old mother and a little girl without his help,” Arna remembered.

Righteous Among the Nations

Even after Arna made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) after the war, she kept in contact with Ivan. The two fell in love. After 20 years, Ivan visited Israel, and the two married.

Soon after that, in 1970, Yad Vashem (Israel’s official Holocaust memorial) recognized Ivan Vranetic as Righteous Among the Nations, awarded him honorary Israeli citizenship, and in 1986 served as chairman of Israel’s Organization of Righteous Among the Nations, continuing the love of the Jewish people which began even before true love’s rekindling decades after he first showed himself to be their Advocate and Ally.