The Program's Beginning
“Yad Vashem Should Gather all the Facts of These Good Deeds”
In the first years of Yad Vashem’s existence, the institution focused on research, on amassing archival documents and testimonies, as well as on the recording of the victims’ names. Due to budget constraints, as well as the fact that the institution was in the very early stages of its development and its leadership decided to focus on scholarly work, no progress was made with the commemoration of the Righteous and with other goals outlined in the Yad Vashem Law. A number of articles about non-Jewish rescuers were published by Yad Vashem, including two accounts about Anton Schmid, the Austrian rescuer from Vilna, and the need to ceremoniously honor rescuers was raised again and again by survivors. They had not forgotten those who stood by their side during the Holocaust, maintained contact with their rescuers after the war, sent them packages and money, invited them to come to Israel, and wrote to Israeli leaders and to Yad Vashem requesting to pay tribute to those that had saved their lives. In 1955 Rachel Auerbach, a Holocaust survivor from Warsaw, who was in charge of gathering survivor testimonies at Yad Vashem, suggested that Yad Vashem should plant trees in the Righteous' honor.
Following the capture of Adolf Eichmann, Yad Vashem's Chairman, Arieh Kubovy, reported that he was receiving many requests, asking Yad Vashem to show the world "that the Jewish people was not only interested in bringing the perpetrators to justice, but also wished to pay tribute to the righteous persons." Consequently, on May 1, 1962, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Avenue of the Righteous was dedicated at Yad Vashem, and the first trees were planted along its path.
Excerpts from Requests to Honor Rescuers
Letter to the Editor from Naje Israel Zeitung (translated from Yiddish), 5 May 1961:
“I could not believe that….there was a German, Mr. Otto Busse, who helped the Bialystok resistance fighters and the partisans in the forests, who risked his life and the life of his family in Germany… The faith in the human spirit is not lost, and thanks to such dear friends of mankind, the world will be saved from another flood [the destruction by God in the book of Genesis]… I believe Yad Vashem should gather all the facts of these good deeds – known and unknown….”
Letter of Julian Aleksandrowicz (who was saved by Alesksander Roslan) to Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, 10 November 1960:
I propose that especially now, as we approach the opening of the Eichmann trial, the Israeli government – the most fitting institution – should launch a campaign to honor those who risked their lives to save Jews during the German occupation... The purpose would be to show youth worldwide… that the main goal of mankind is the help offered by strong persons to those who are weaker…. We know that the future of the world depends on the wisdom of co-existence and on the values we will instill in the young generations…”
Letter of Erika Mayer (saved by Gertrud Wijsmuller) to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, 25 July 1961:
“At the moment, when accounts of the Eichmann process [sic] bring again and again to our mind the atrocities committed by the Germans, it is good to know that in spite of the most horrid threats always fully carried out by the Nazis, there have been people courageous enough to stand up against them…”