In a garden on the eastern side of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem stand honour walls inscribed with the names of the gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during the Second World War.
Most of those heroes, nearly 24,000 cases recognized by Yad Vashem and honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, came from European countries that were occupied by the Nazis.
But there, on the walls, between names from Denmark and Greece, is an inscription for someone from Vietnam. Elsewhere are also unexpected names from countries such as China or Chile.
Some of those foreigners were diplomats from neutral nations, for example Turkey or El Salvador, who ignored their superiors’ orders and issued visas to Jewish refugees. But others just happened to be in Europe and risked their lives to save Jews.
Even if their stories are not as celebrated as those of Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg, the following three examples, recounted to mark Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, underline how individuals of all origins obeyed a higher calling and helped rescue others from genocide.
Maria Errazuriz, the social worker from Chile
As Germans began detaining foreign or stateless Jews in occupied France in 1941, tens of thousands were parked in transit centres such as Drancy, in suburban Paris, awaiting their deportation to death camps. Internees who were severely ill and women in labour were transferred under guard to be treated at Paris’ Rothschild Hospital before being taken back to Drancy.
Among the hospital staff was a 48-year-old Chilean social worker, Maria Errazuriz, the widow of a Spanish diplomat. She and others later became known as the Réseau Rothschild. Using forged papers and fake death certificates, they smuggled orphaned Jewish children to safe homes. They were most active after the Rafle du Vel d’Hiv, in July 1942, the largest mass arrest of Jews to occur in France during the war.
In 1944, Mrs. Errazuriz was arrested by French police, on suspicion that she helped the Resistance. She was tortured and only freed thanks to the intervention of the Spanish ambassador.
She returned to Chile after the war. Later remarried to a French writer, she died in 1972. She was honoured as a Righteous Among the Nations in 2005.
Paul Nguyen Cong Anh, the student from Vietnam
When France surrendered in 1940, its southern part was controlled by the collaborationist government of Vichy. Vietnamese-born immigrant Paul Nguyen Cong Anh was enrolled at the University of Nice and had fallen in love with another student, Jadwiga Alfabet, a Polish Jewish refugee. As Vichy’s French police started to arrest foreign Jews and hand them to Germans, Mr. Anh and Ms. Alfabet married to shield her from deportation. They moved to central France, then back to Nice, which was then administered by Italian authorities who wouldn’t cooperate with the Nazi deportations.
But that sanctuary disappeared after September 1943 when Italy surrendered to the Allies. German troops suddenly rolled into the Italian-controlled zone where tens of thousands of Jews were trapped. SS teams raided hotels and houses and stopped people at on the streets. For two months, Mr. Anh hid not only his wife but her uncle and aunt, Jakub and Salome Berliner, and their toddler son, Roland. Then, he obtained false papers and made two train journeys with the Berliners to Annecy, a city near the Alps, where he found a smuggler to take them to Switzerland.
Ms. Alfabet remained in France with her husband and was at his side in 2007 when he was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations.
Pan Jun Shun, the expatriate from China.
A labourer who had come from China to Russia in 1916 to find work, Pan Jun Shun had not been able to return home because of the Bolshevik revolution. He married a Russian woman and had two sons. By the time the German army invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the 52-year-old Mr. Pan was living in Kharkov, the second largest city in Ukraine. The first winter of German occupation, SS death squads following behind the front-line troops rounded up Jews in the Kharkov area, holding them without food or water in old huts near a tractor factory. Among them was a 34-year-old widow from Odessa, Yelisaveta Dvorkina, who suspected what would happen next. She bribed guards with jewels to allow her daughter Ludmilla to escape. Days later Mrs. Dvorkina was among thousands of local Jews executed at the Drobitskiy Yar ravine outside Kharkov.
Ludmilla, meanwhile, went back to her old home where she found a group of Chinese labourers living there, including Mr. Pan. He was now a widow, alone after his two sons had been drafted into the Red Army.
For 20 months, until Kharkov was liberated after much fighting in 1943, Mr. Pan hid Ludmilla with the help of three locals, Alexandra Babaeva and Mitrofan and Nadezhda Popelniuk.
Mr. Pan continued to care for Ludmilla even after the war. His sons never came back and are presumed to have died. He remained in Kharkov and died in 1974. In 1995 he became the first Chinese person to be awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations.