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Good deeds deserve big headlines

Publicizing good deeds could help inspire more.

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As synagogues burned across Nazi Germany in 1938, a Torah was saved in my father's German village. Not by Jews, but by Christians. I saw its sacred scrolls almost 50 years later in a memorial room in Israel built by Jews who fled after that night, Kristallnacht, and started life again a continent away.

Seeing the Torah gave me hope. Even one small story of goodness about Nazi times is reassuring if, like me, you were raised on 1950s Hollywood movies of Germans in black boots killing Jews. Were there others who saved Torahs?

I thought of Anne Frank's faith, even toward the end: "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart." I wanted to believe that, too, but had never dared: So many had died because of illusory optimism that it was safe to stay. Yet this rescued Torah with its charred edges – there was even a knife gash – made me think: Maybe, just maybe...

A few months later I discovered that a second Torah from the village was rescued that night. It is now in Burlington, Vt. The widow of the man who brought it there told me that "a Gentile saw it lying in the street and thought, 'This is not right! A holy book!' " He picked it up, buried it in his garden, and brought it one night to her husband who was leaving for America.

I wish my father's entire village of 1,200 had rescued Torahs. But most people did as they were told by a man shouting from the street to stay indoors and shut the curtains. That's what I heard from those who fled the village (the Jews) and those who stayed (their former Christian neighbors). They recalled how "everyone got along so well before Hitler" and that some tried to maintain decency during Nazi times.

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