4.5 Rescuers

This exercise involves the story of a person who made decisions and acted upon them in opposition to the Nazis. By doing this exercise, you will develop your understanding of empathy and the importance of making decisions and acting upon them; necessary qualities in protecting and upholding democratic values and human rights. This exercise will also help develop your understanding of how historical decisions and actions can even be relevant where you are today.

What to do?

Read the fact sheet and do the exercises that follow.

There were people who, by intervening in various dangerous situations during the Holocaust, risked their own lives in order to save others. Subsequently, they have often come to be known as "heroes" and "rescuers". You can read about one of them here.

The Nursemaid Who Became a Hero

Erzsebet Fajo.

Erzsebet "Erzsi" Fajo came from the town of Békéscsaba in southeastern Hungary. She left school when she was 13 years old and started to work as a nursemaid and moved in with the Abonyis, a Jewish family with two children. In 1941, after anti-Jewish laws forced the family to sell the pharmacy that they owned, she moved with them to Budapest.

When Germany occupied Hungary in March 1944, the family decided that it was safer for Erzsi if she no longer lived with them. 

So Erzsi moved out but continued to visit the family regularly in order to support and encourage them as much as she could. Erzsi moved the family heirlooms to one of their relatives who was married to a Christian Hungarian and, in so doing, ensured that the Nazis wouldn’t confiscate these valuables.

The situation became increasingly worse for the Jews of Budapest and a notice was soon issued ordering them to wear a yellow Star of David on their outer garments. Although it presented great risks for her, Erzsi decided to accompany the Abonyi family every time they left their house, and she took care of all their shopping.

When rumours started to circulate that the city’s Jews were to be deported, Erzsi moved in with the family again. She sorted out false identity papers and smuggled the family out of their own home and past the German and Hungarian guards.

Up until the end of the war, Erzsi ensured that the family were moved from place to place so that they didn’t end up being arrested.

After the war, the family adopted Erzsi. Read the quote of what the daughter of the family, Zsuzsanna Ozsváth, née Abonyi, had to say after the war.

"Driven by a desire to save us, Erzsi defied the Germans. She saved us from death. She saved my brother and I from becoming orphans, and our parents from the worst thing that can happen to a human being—the loss of one’s own children. It was her strength and heroism that gave us life, that allowed us to grow up and to eventually have our own children."

Zsuzsanna Ozsváth (Abonyi)



Discuss the Questions

  • 4.5.a During the Holocaust, despite being aware of how badly their Jewish neighbours were being treated, most non-Jews remained passive for a number of reasons. What do you think made Erzsi act the way that she did and what qualities are needed to "go against the current"? How can one obtain such qualities?

  • 4.5.b Why did most non-Jews not act like Erzsi, instead of remaining passive during the Holocaust? Try to think of at least five explanations.

  • 4.5.c What is needed today to convince people to help those in need?

  • 4.5.d Give examples of people today who are helping others even though they are alone in their actions.

  • 4.5.e Think of people in need in your own surroundings. List steps you could take to help them.

Previous Exercise
4.4 Resistance
Next Section: 5. Prejudice, Racism and Hatred Today
5.1 Attempts to Prevent Genocide