Wartime Heroes Take Number of German Righteous Gentile Families Past 600
Written by Mara Vigevani/TPS on March 14, 2018
Bela Weber was only four years old when she was separated from her parents. The year was 1943 and the family lived in Berlin, Germany, but all things considered the first years of her life had been almost ideal. As the youngest of Alexander Weber’s and Lina Banda’s seven children, Bela had red hair and blue eyes and was cuddled and spoiled by everyone.
The world came crashing down, however, in March, when the family was arrested by the Nazis and sent to a labor camp. She and her siblings were released that summer after their father, a convert to Judaism, managed to convince the Nazis that his children had been Baptised, but they never saw their mother again. After the war, they learned she had been deported to Auchwitz and murdered.
After being released, Alexander Weber retraced his steps to his Berlin home at 48 Dragonerstrasse Street, with little in the way of plans for surviving the war. However, a neighbour in the building, Arthur Schmidt, said he could help. Schmidt owned a farm outside of town, in a village called Worin but used a storefront in the Weber’s building to store the fruit and vegetables he brought to market from the farm. He and his wife, Paula, said the children were welcome to spend the length of the war as “members” of their family.
The Schmidt couple cared for the children for more than two years, sharing their food and home and revealing their true identity only to the mayor of Worin. Following the war, the children immigrated to the United States where they have been adopted by Jewish families and Bela Weber changed her name in Ginger Lane, the name of her foster family.
To honour the Schmidt’s sacrifice and personal risk to save the Weber children, Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, decided on 2015 to award them with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, a title bestowed upon gentiles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
At the ceremony on Wednesday in Jerusalem attended by Ginger Lane (Bela Weber), German Ambassador to Israel Dr. Clemens von Goetze and members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, 57-year-old Arthur Schmidt, the Schmidt’s grandson, accepted the medal and certificate on behalf of his late grandparents.
In the ceremony also Arthur and Paula Schmidt’s names had been added to the Wall of Honor in the memorial complex’s Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.
“My grandfather was a mensch, a person of integrity and honor,” said Schmidt in an emotional speech during the ceremony. “I thank the Weber family for still remembering and care what my grandfather did.”
Schmidt, who grew up in East Germany, said his grandfather’s refusal to accept injustice appears to have filtered down to his grandson and great grandson: As a young man the younger Arthur Schmidt went to jail rather than enlist in the army. He also says that his son also appears to have inherited his ancestor’s “troublemaker gene.”
“According to my family I look like my grandfather, and probably we have the same revolutionary genes. Like him, I never liked violence or injustice. I also think my son, who will soon be 12 years old, is moving in this direction… he’s had some trouble at school because he won’t accept injustice,” Schmidt told TPS after the ceremony.
Ginger Lane, now 79 and confined to a wheelchair as the result of a skiing accident, said her late brother Alfonse deserved the credit for putting the wheels in motion to have the Schmidts recognised as Righteous Gentiles. Alfonse died last year, but last July Lane returned to Germany for the first time since the war and made contact with the family who had saved her.
“We first met last July when Ginger and her family came to Germany for the first time after the war, in Worin, in the same house where she was hidden with her siblings. I couldn’t imagine I would connect with Israel and the Jews in such a strong way,” Arthur Schmidt said.
“It is very important to tell our story to the next generations; I want the young generations to remember that even when the world is going to hell, there are still millions of good (people),” Lane added.
Yad Vashem said the Schmidts were the 601st German family to be recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, representing over 50 nations and 26,500 individuals worldwide.
With additional reporting by Andrew Friedman