Righteous Among the Nations

This article discusses the title in relation to the Shoah. See Virtuous pagan for the theological concept and Ger toshav ("Righteous gentile") for the concept in historical Judaism.

Righteous Among the Nations (Hebrew: חֲסִידִי אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם, khasidi umót ha'olám "righteous (plural) of the world's nations") is an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

The term originates with the concept of "righteous gentiles", a term used in rabbinic Judaism to refer to non-Jews, as ger toshav and ger tzedek, who abide by the Seven Laws of Noah.


A Righteous Among the Nations awarding ceremony in the Polish Senate (2012)
Righteous Medal for Marta Bocheńska
Righteous Diploma for Maria Kotarba

When Yad Vashem, the Shoah Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, was established in 1953 by the Knesset, one of its tasks was to commemorate the "Righteous among the Nations". The Righteous were defined as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Since 1963, a commission headed by a justice of the Supreme Court of Israel is charged with the duty of awarding the honorary title "Righteous among the Nations". The commission is guided in its work by certain criteria and meticulously studies all documentation, including evidence by survivors and other eyewitnesses, evaluates the historical circumstances and the element of risk to the rescuer, and then decides if the case meets the criteria. Those criteria are:[1]

The award has been given without regard to the social rank of the helper. For example, it has been given to Princess Alice of Battenberg, Queen Mother Helen of Romania and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium and to the most humble people without distinction.

A person who is recognized as "Righteous" for having taken risks to help Jews during the Holocaust is awarded a medal in their name, a certificate of honor, and the privilege of having the name added to those on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (the last is in lieu of a tree planting, which was discontinued for lack of space). The awards are distributed to the rescuers or their next-of-kin during ceremonies in Israel, or in their countries of residence through the offices of Israel's diplomatic representatives. These ceremonies are attended by local government representatives and are given wide media coverage.

The Yad Vashem Law authorizes Yad Vashem "to confer honorary citizenship upon the Righteous Among the Nations, and if they have died, the commemorative citizenship of the State of Israel, in recognition of their actions". Anyone who has been recognized as "Righteous" is entitled to apply to Yad Vashem for the certificate. If the person is no longer alive, their next of kin is entitled to request that commemorative citizenship be conferred on the "Righteous" who has died.

Recipients who choose to live in the state of Israel are entitled to a pension equal to the average national wage and free health care, as well as assistance with housing and nursing care. In total, 26,120 (as of 1 January 2016)[2] men and women from 51 countries have been recognized,[2] amounting to more than 10,000 authenticated rescue stories. Yad Vashem's policy is to pursue the program for as long as petitions for this title are received and are supported by evidence that meets the criteria.[3]

Number of awards by country

As of January 1, 2016, the award has been made to 26,120 people.[2]

Rank Country Number of awards
1  Poland6,620
2  Netherlands5,516
3  France3,925
4  Ukraine2,544
5  Belgium1,707
6  Lithuania889
7  Hungary837
8  Italy671
9  Belarus618
10  Germany587
11  Slovakia558
12  Greece328
13  Russia197
14  Latvia/ Serbia135
16  Croatia/ Czech Republic115
18  Austria106
19  Moldova79
20  Albania75
21  Norway62
22  Romania60
23   Switzerland47
24  Bosnia and Herzegovina42
25  Armenia24
26  Denmark22
27  United Kingdom21
28  Bulgaria20
29  Macedonia/ Sweden10
31  Slovenia/ Spain7
33  United States5
34  Estonia/ Portugal3
36  Brazil/ Republic of China/ Indonesia2
38  Chile/ Cuba/ Ecuador/ Egypt/
 El Salvador/ Georgia/ Ireland/ Japan/
 Luxembourg/ Montenegro/ Turkey/ Vietnam


The "Righteous" are honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church in the US on 16 July. A "Righteous" from Italy, Edward Focherini, was beatified by the Catholic Church on 15 June 2013.[4]

In 2015, Lithuania's first street sign honoring a Righteous Among the Nations was unveiled in Vilnius.[5] The street is named Simaites Street, after Ona Šimaitė; she was a Vilnius University librarian who helped and rescued Jewish people in the Vilna Ghetto.[5]

Righteous in Israel

At least 130 "Righteous Gentiles" have settled in Israel. They were welcomed by Israeli authorities, and were granted citizenship. In the mid-1980s, they became entitled to special pensions. Some of them settled in British Mandatory Palestine before Israel's establishment shortly after World War II, or in the early years of the new state of Israel, while others came later. Those who came earlier often spoke fluent Hebrew and have now integrated into Israeli society.[6]

See also


  1. Gunnar S. Paulsson, “The Rescue of Jews by Non-Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland”, The Journal of Holocaust Education, volume 7, nos. 1 & 2 (summer/autumn 1998): pp. 19–44. Reprinted in “Collective Rescue Efforts of the Poles”, p. 256
  2. 1 2 3 "About the Righteous: Statistics". The Righteous Among The Nations. Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. 2016-01-01. Retrieved 2016-06-19.
  3. "First Arab Nominated for Holocaust Honor". Associated Press. 30 January 2007. Retrieved 1 February 2007.
  4. "Odoardo Focherini: Late journalist, hero and Blessed of the Catholic Church". Rome Reports. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  5. 1 2 "Lithuania's first street honoring Holocaust Righteous unveiled in Vilnius | Jewish Telegraphic Agency". Jta.org. September 25, 2015. Retrieved 2015-09-26.
  6. "Story in ''The Forward'' re Righteous Gentiles who settled in Israel". Forward.com. Retrieved 2013-09-06.


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