The Righteous Gentiles
The Episcopal Church today marks the Feast of the Righteous Gentiles. On this day the church gives thanks for the life and witness of Raoul Wallenberg, Hiram Bingham IV, Carl Lutz, Chiune Sugihara, and André and Magda Trocmé.
- Wallenberg was a Sweedish humanitarian whose efforts saved tens of thousands of Jewish lives.
- Hiram Bingham IV was an American diplomat in France who helped 2500 Jews flee persecution.
- Carl Lutz was the Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest, Hungary from 1942 until the end of World War II. He helped save the lives of tens of thousands of Jews from deportation to Nazi Extermination camps during the Holocaust.
- Chiune Sugihara (1 January 1900 – 31 July 1986) was a Japanese diplomat, serving as Vice Consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania. During World War II, he helped several thousand Jews leave the country by issuing transit visas to Jewish refugees so that they could travel to Japan.
- André and Magda Trocmé were a couple of French Righteous Among the Nations. For 15 years, André served as a pastor in the town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon on the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon in South-Central France. As the Nazis were gaining power in neighboring Germany they urged his Protestant Huguenot congregation to hide Jewish refugees from the Holocaust of the Second World War. Between 1940 and 1944 when World War II ended in Europe, it is estimated that about 3500 Jewish refugees including many children were saved by the small village of Le Chambon and the communities on the surrounding plateau because the people refused to give in to what they considered to be the illegitimate legal, military, and police power of the Nazis.
Today we give thanks for all who would speak up and take risk to help those who are persecuted. Perhaps the most striking of the things I read about those that we honour today was Chiune Suihara’s account of why he would take such risks.
You want to know about my motivation, don’t you? Well. It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes. Also, I felt at that time, that the Japanese government did not have any uniform opinion in Tokyo. Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent.
People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply. I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people’s lives …. The spirit of humanity, philanthropy … neighborly friendship … with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation —and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage.
Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge.
These are powerful words. These ware words which speak of a heart of compassion. They are words that need to be heard in places like Texas where a humanitarian crisis is unfolding. Over 52000 have walked to The US from Latin America, fleeing gang violence. These are words that need to be heard in the streets of South Chicago where dozens die from gun violence every weekend. While far away from Latin America the threat of violence to youth is real in major cities across the US.
Father Michael Pfleger is a voice that offers a constant reminder that we need to heed the words of Suihara. “There is nothing wrong in saving many people’s lives …. The spirit of humanity, philanthropy … neighbourly friendship … with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation —and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage.” Father Michael is one of those people who have found his voice and is prepared to speak up with redoubled courage.
The words of Suihara need to be heard in the streets of Gaza and Tel Aviv. His words need to be heard in our nation as we address the needs of our First Nations. His words need to be heard in our churches as we seek to give a voice to those who have no voice.
Today we pray for those who have the courage to bear witness to peace, to justice, and to compassion for all.