Five Civilian Heroes of World War II You Need to Know About

Apr 14, 2022 | Articles, History

There are many war heroes of World War II. All those soldiers giving their life, all those generals commanding and preparing the strategy for the battlefield. But then there are also regular people who tried to help people in need. We all know about Oscar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved more than 1,000 people.

Schindler’s List is a true story movie made about Oscar. But there were many others who tried to help people in need. Let’s take a look at some unsung heroes of World War II.

Raoul Wallenberg

Wallenberg worked as a Swedish businessman. During WWII, he was recruited by the US War Refugee Board. His task was to travel to Hungary with a diplomatic status.

Raoul had little to no experience in diplomacy. But he rose to the occasion. He led one of the most successful Jewish rescue operations during the Holocaust.

Wallenberg used the money raised for the War Refugee Board by American Jews to rent more than 30 buildings in Budapest. He declared them to be extraterritorial, protected by diplomatic immunity. There, he put signs like “The Swedish Library” and “Swedish Research Institute”. He hung oversized Swedish flags on the front of the buildings.

Eventually, these buildings housed more than 10,000 people. At the height of the program, more than 300 people helped rescue Jews in Budapest.

Giorgio Perlasca

Perlasca is another civilian hero who helped save Jews. He worked as a food purchasing manager for the Italian army during the war. He was put into a position to pretend he was the substitute for the Spanish ambassador in Budapest.

And when the ambassador was asked to leave the country, he used his impersonating talents as a Spanish council. Perlasca naturalized thousands of Hungarian Jews into Spanish citizens using the Rivera Law. This saved them from deportation and harm.

Many years after the end of the war, his story became known to the public. In 1987, the state of Israel made him an honorary citizen and gave him the Righteous Among the Nation award for his efforts.

Charles Joseph Coward

Coward was a master of escape from German prisons. He had more than seven prison breaks tied to his name. One of them helped him land an Iron Cross.

Because of his knowledge of the German language, he was appointed Red Cross liaison officer for British prisoners. He could move fairly freely throughout the camp and to surrounding towns. Together with British prisoners, he smuggled food to Jewish inmates.

Joseph also exchanged coded messages with the British authorities using letters to a fictitious Mr. William Orange.

He also used Red Cross supplies, mainly chocolate, to buy corpses of dead prisoners from the SS guards. He gave the documents and clothes taken from the non-Jewish corpses to the Jewish escapees, and they adopted the new identities.

In 1963, he was named of the Righteous Among the Nations by Israel and got a tree planted in his honor in the Avenue of Righteous Gentiles in Yad Vashem. In 2010, the British Government posthumously name him a British Hero of the Holocaust.

Abdol Hossein Sardari

Today we refer to him as the Schindler of Iran. The Iranian diplomat was in-charge of Iranian Consular office in 1941 when the war broke out. He managed to issue Iranian passports to non-Iranian Jews and save them.

The passports did not state the religion of people. He helped more than 2,000 Jews obtain passport. Sardari was determined to help Iranian Jews and get them out of France. He went as far as hiding their belongings for them.

Abdol hesitated speaking publicly about his heroics. He never asked for anything in return.

John Rabe

He was a German businessman, working in China at the time of WWII. Rabe was among the few foreigners staying in Nanking, at the time, the capital of China. He helped establish the Nanking Safety Zone. There, he saved more than 200,000 people from the slaughter by the Japanese army.

Because of his status as a member of the Nazi party, Rabe was the leader of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone.

All Chinese citizens remaining in Nanking moved to the Safety Zone and then fled the city. John personally opened up his properties to help more than 650 refugees.

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Thomas B.