Whoever saves a life, saves the entire world

The title of this post is an old Talmudic maxim, and one I have been thinking about over the course of the past few weeks. Two weeks ago, someone on a gaming forum I frequent mentioned that his grandmother took care of concentration camp refugees in Sweden after the war. In response, another member of the forum revealed that he was a “Wallenberg Jew”. He explained that this meant that his father was saved by Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish architect who rescued thousands of Jews from Hungary during the holocaust with protective passports. This fellow on the forum pointed out that his siblings, their children, etc., are all Wallenberg Jews, generations springing from a single life saved. Multiplied by the number of people Wallenberg saved, the effect one man had on the world is truly amazing.

And he was not alone. Just last week, I came across information on another humanitarian during the holocaust named Irena Sendler. Sendler, a Polish social worker, saved thousands of children from the Warsaw Ghetto by smuggling them out and providing them with false identities and places to stay. When one extrapolates how many generations and people exist on this earth only because of her actions, it is a staggering thought.

Both Sendler and Wallenberg were designated “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel, a special honorific for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the holocaust. I’ve always had a special admiration for those who stand up for subgroups to which they do not belong, and surely risking one’s life to save others during the holocaust is the pinnacle of this. Wallenberg died a half-century ago, but Sendler passed away recently in 2008. Her story was much less well-known, until a few years ago when a project was founded to tell the world about Irena Sendler.

A single individual can change the world. There are probably many more people we’ve never heard of, whose names would never spark any recognition, yet who single-handedly made a difference in the world far greater than any dozen celebrities whose names we could rattle off. For me, hearing about two such people unrelatedly in the span of two weeks was a sign that the matter merited some attention. There’s a place called the Lowell Milken Center where they research and share the stories of other unsung heroes, and while their names may never be as famous as the trending pop culture icons, at the very least it’s good to add these names to the history books, and acknowledge the tremendous contributions they made.

Leave a comment

Your comment