Righteous Among the Nations

An announcement about the prohibition to shelter Jews. The source: State Archive of Lviv oblast

Helping Jews in occupied Ukraine was more often punished by death of rescuer himself and members of his/her family. Yet, people took a risk. And as a symbol of thankfulness, the Jewish people initiated an honorific title for such people – Righteous among the Nations. The discussions about the phenomenon of righteous appeared not a long time ago, after the acquisition of independence. Though, one of the first to be awarded the title was Ukrainian woman – Maria Babych. We tried to find out and explain who is a Righteous among the Nations, how many Ukrainians were awarded this honorific title, why the discussions about the Righteous in Ukraine has started just now and how to figure out if there are any Righteous among your nearest people.

  • Righteous among the Nations – who are they?

Righteous among the Nations is an official title given to the person who risked her/his own life to save Jewish people during the Holocaust. The title is given by The National Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust “Yad Vashem” (Jerusalem, Israel).

  • What are the criterias of the title?

First of all, there is a necessity of evidence of documents or testimonies of those who survived or were rescued and who can prove their salvation.

The criterias for the award of the title “Righteous among the Nations” are:

  • an active part in rescuing Jews from dangers of execution or deportation to the extermination camps
  • a real danger for the rescuer’s life and/or the lives of the members of his/her family
  • an awareness of rescuing the Jew
  • the actions of the rescuer weren’t motivated by the profit (financial or any other)

the rescuer didn’t hurt or harm any other person during his/her further life

  • When did they start to award the titleRighteous among the nations”?

In 1953 Knesset (parliament) of the State of Israel pronounced a law about “perpetuating the memory of martyrs and heroes” which resulted in foundation of The National Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust “Yad Vashem”. One of the leading aims of the Memorial is on behalf of the State of Israel and all Jewish people to express thankfulness to those non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jewish people during the Holocaust. The final criterias for the award of the title “Righteous among the Nations” were determined in 1963. Today they are followed by a special committee including famous historians, lawyers, representatives of Jewish people who survived in Holocaust led by the member of the Supreme Court of Israel. Since 2005 it has been headed by judge Jacob Turkel. The committee considers and makes decisions about each case separately.   

  • What is the procedure of awarding the title?

A person who is recognized as Righteous for having taken risks to help Jews during the Holocaust is awarded a medal in their name and a certificate of honorable Righteous. The names of Righteous are carved on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. Also the Memorial is authorized “to confer honorary citizenship upon the Righteous Among the Nations, and if they have died, the commemorative citizenship of the State of Israel, in recognition of their actions”. Today the title ceremonies take place in the Righteous’s countries of residence through the offices of Israel’s diplomatic representatives. In Ukraine the first title ceremony took place in September of 1991. As for 1 January 2018 in total there are 26 973 Righteous among the Nations from 51 countries.   

  • A title “Ukrainian Righteous” exists in Ukraine. Is it the same as the Righteous Among the Nations?

Not exactly. The Ukrainian Righteous – is a honorific title introduced in 1989 by Ukrainian Jewish council and fund “International Day of Remembrance for the victims of fascism”. The award is given to Ukrainians who rescued Jews during the World War Two in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Jewish Council supplies Yad Vashem with the information for the award Righteous among the Nations. But not always a person who is titled as “Ukrainian Righteous” is recognized as the Righteous among the Nations. A complexity of criterias and procedure in Yad Vashem influences it. A title “The Babyn Yar Righteous” was introduced in 1989 as well to commemorate people who saved Jews in occupied Kyiv. The first award of diplomas took place in November 1989. In 2007 a title “The Children of the Righteous” was introduced to award children born not later than 1943 whose parents rescued Jews, thus their children were in fatal danger too. These people are awarded with a diploma “The Son of the Righteous” or “The Daughter of the Righteous”.   

  • How many Ukrainians were titled as Righteous among the Nations, Ukrainian Righteous or Babyn Yar  Righteous?

The newest statistics will be published on the official website of Yad Vashem in 2019. According to the latest data, as for Jan 1 2018, 2 619 Ukrainians were awarded as The Righteous among the Nations. One of the first to be awarded was Maria Babych, who saved a Jewish girl Irit Osipowa in occupied Rivne. Later after the war Babych became the Osipows’ family member and moved to Israel together with them. The title of The Righteous among the Nations was given to her on May 1 1962. Since that time the number of Righteous increases every year. For example, in 2017 the title was given to 46 people.

As for Jan 1 2010 the title “Babyn Yar Righteous” was given to 607 people. The first to be awarded was an Orthodox priest Oleksiy Hlaholev, his wife Tetiana and children Magdalyna and Mykola, who helped lots of Jewish people in occupied Kyiv by sheltering them and supplying with fake documents. 

The exact number of Righteous of Ukraine isn’t known, it’s about 3 000 people. At the same time 1 625 of them were titled as The Righteous among the Nations. Certainly, because of some particular reasons, not everyone who helped Jews during the Holocaust was given at least one of those awards.

Maria Babych and Golda Meir during the official ceremony of opening of the Garden of the Righteous among the Nations 1.05.1962 The source: https://goo.gl/rmP7Qr
  • Why the discussion about the Righteous in Ukraine has started just now?

In the USSR the Holocaust subject was officially banned because of political reasons.  First of all the specific fate of Jews during the Nazi occupation didn’t fit into ideological concept of “All-soviet people”. Secondly, Soviet-Israeli diplomatic conflicts and a fear of activation of Jewish national movement affected it greatly. A communication between the rescuer and the rescued person, if the last ones lived outside the USSR, was also under suspicion. Some facts about rescuing Jews during the Holocaust, like the organized action initiated by the Metropolitan of UGCC Andrei Sheptytsky, were used as propaganda, aiming illustrate so-called relationships between “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists” and “Jewish Zionist”. The work on the search and titling as “Righteous among the Nations” openly and actively started just after Ukrainian Independence was proclaimed. Many of witnesses didn’t live up to that time.

  • I know about people who saved Jews during the Holocaust. What can I do?

First of all, check a list of Ukrainian Righteous among the Nations. Maybe people you know about already are on the list. In case if you don’t come across the name in the register, you can apply for the confirmation of the status of the Righteous among the Nations with the use of particular documents to Yad Vashem Memorial. The list of documents needed and step by step guide are published on the official website of Memorial:


  • Is it possible to award Righteous that has already passed away?


Yes. The title can be awarded posthumously. 

  • I am familiar with a family of the Righteous and his story. I’m certain that this story is worth to be heard. Where should I ask for help?

Today The Memorial Museum of totalitarian regimes “Territory of Terror” works on an oral history project, the aim of which is to find and record the testimonies of witnesses of 1930s-1940s. If the Righteous or the members of their families don’t mind sharing their stories of survival with our museum, send us an email with the information and we will contact them:  territoryterror@gmail.com  

  • If I want to learn more about Righteous among the Nations where should I look for the information?

First of all, we recommend you to check the official website of Yad Vashem Memorial: www.yadvashem.org/righteous.html

Also you can pay attention to:

– project “Polish Righteous – renovation of memory” of Museum of the History of Polish Jews POLIN: https://sprawiedliwi.org.pl/pl 

– project “Portraits.Ua” of National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War: https://xn--e1agqdganc.com.ua/

– a register of the Righteous among the Nations of Ukrainian Institute for Holocaust Studies “Tkuma”: http://www.tkuma.dp.ua/images/public_dounload/2016_dovidnik_pravedniki_for_inet.pdf

  • Are there any movies about the Righteous among the Nations?

Yes, there are. Today there are already 8 episodes of short films “Word of righteous” (directed by Svitlana Levitas and Margarita Yakovleva). You can learn more on the official project’s Facebook page: facebook.com/Word-of-the-Righteous-291600848000153

Also there are some documentaries about Ukrainian Righteous among the Nations on UA:Pershy (UA:Перший) – “Oleksands Shulzhenko. Fate of the Righteous” and “Righteous”.

We also recommend you to watch animated documentary movie “Person with a face” dedicated to Righteous among the Nations Jacob Suhenko, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust in Rivne: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyBC-so84-U


And a feature film “In Darkness” by Polish director Agnieszka Holland, about Lviv Righteous among the Nations – Leopold Soha. The movie was nominated for “Oskar”.

Prepared by:

Andrii Usach

Anna Yatsenko    


Translated from Ukrainian by

Halyna Vyliyka-Zhdan