Zofia Kossak was a raving anti-Semite in Poland who saved thousands of Jews. She was one of the founders of Zegota, the Polish-government-in-exile supported effort to aid Jews in the early 1940s, but even before there was an organized official response, Kossak and her children had already helped hundreds of Jews in Warsaw. In 1942, as the Warsaw Ghetto was emptied and its inhabitants sent to die at Treblinka, Kossak wrote and printed 5,000 copies of a pamphlet entitled "Protest." The document called upon all Polish Catholics to rise to the occasion and do what they could to aid Polish Jews. It is one of the most stirring calls to action I have ever read:
The world is looking at these atrocities, the most horrible throughout the whole history of mankind, and is silent. Slaughter of the millions of people is happening in ominous silence. The executioners are silent, they do not boast with what they are doing. England is silent, so is America, even the international Jewry is silent, before so sensitive to all harm to their people. Silent are Poles. Polish political friends of Jews limit themselves to journalistic notes, Polish opponents of Jews show no interest in a matter that is alien to them. Dying Jews are surrounded only by Pilates washing their hands. Silence shouldn't be tolerated anymore. If for no other reason -- it is mean. Those who are silent in the face of murder - become partners of the killer. Those who do not condemn - approve.
But just as my heart soars and I consider her baseline of compassion and humanity (other than that line about Jews bitching about "harm to their people" in the past), I want to throw up when I read the paragraph that immediately follows:
We Catholic Poles, form our voice. Our feelings toward Jews have not changed. We do not stop thinking about them as political, economic and ideological enemies of Poland. Moreover we do realize, that they still hate us more than Germans, that they make us co-responsible for their misfortune. Why? On which basis? It remains the secret of the Jewish soul. Nevertheless, that is a fact that is continuously confirmed. Awareness of those feelings, doesn't relieve us from the duty to condemn the crime.
Oy. This is a woman who seethed with hate, yet she somehow set that conviction aside to save people. I suspect that she hoped that once they were rescued, the grateful Jews would convert, but whatever her motives were, Kossak risked her own life - and the lives of her family - to save her sworn enemy. The absurd compassion of a religious zealot at work. Still, who am I to criticize her?
Ultimately, Kossak quit Zegota when the organization decided to recruit leaders of the Jewish underground into their ranks as equals. Kossak wanted Zegota to be a Christian operation only; Jews helping Christians save Jews did not appeal to her. After she left Zegota, she continued to hide and transport Jews to safety.
For these acts, an avowed anti-Semite was rightfully named a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. That is how utterly tangled and murky the Holocaust makes things. The righteous and the condemners often were hard to tell apart because they were one and the same. It makes my head spin. It is hard to judge.