In a time when Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party was engulfing Europe in hatred and fear, everyday heroes emerged to stand up to the terror. 

Many fought quietly, as a Swiss diplomat who took advantage of Nazi officers' respect for paperwork, or the Dutch teacher who saved 600 children by smuggling them out of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in baskets. Others were more brazen in their defiance, including a teenage girl who, with her sister, shot Nazi officers from her bicycle.

Some of these heroes would survive the war, others weren't as fortunate. All demonstrated humanity that history shows persists even in the darkest of times.

1. Virginia Hall Was One of  World War II's Most Dangerous Spies

During World War II, Nazi officials were constantly hunting down resistance fighters and the allied spies who aided them. But there was one foreign operative the Third Reich held special contempt for—a woman responsible for more jailbreaks, sabotage missions and leaks of Nazi troop movements than any spy in France. She was an American, Virginia Hall, but the Nazis knew her only as “the limping lady.” Read the full story here.

2. Carl Lutz Fought the Nazis Through Paperwork

Carl Lutz
Swiss Diplomat Carl Lutz among the ruins of the former British legation in Budapest, Hungary. He saved half of Budapest's Jewish population during the Holocaust.

Credited with saving half of Budapest’s Jewish population from the Holocaust, Carl Lutz used paper, not weapons, to fight the Nazis. He even issued official Swiss protection to safe houses throughout Budapest. And, as thousands of Jews were forced to walk to various concentration camps in Austria and Germany, Lutz, with his wife, pulled as many people as they could from the grim march and issued them protective documents. Read the full story here.

3. Freddie Oversteegen Killed Nazis With Her Sister

Freddie Oversteegen as a teenager during World War II.
National Hannie Schaft Foundation

Freddie Oversteegen was only 14 when she joined the Dutch resistance during World War II, and only a couple of years older when she became one of its armed assassins. Oversteegen and her sister, Truus, were taught by their single, working mother that it was critical to fight injustice. The sisters' actions weren't only subversive, they were dangerous. Read the full story here

4. Teacher, Johan van Hulst, Saved Hundreds of Jewish Children

Johan van Hulst
Evert-Jan Daniels/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
Former Dutch teacher and politician, Johan van Hulst, in 2012. He saved hundreds of Jewish children from the Nazis.

In 1942 and 1943, Dutch educator Johan van Hulst arranged for the transport of some very precious cargo. It was passed over a hedge, hidden in baskets and sacks, and then whisked out of Amsterdam by bicycle. The cargo wasn’t food or supplies: It was Jewish children, smuggled and saved by van Hulst and his colleagues during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Read the full story here.

5. Oskar Schindler Sheltered Jews by Employing Them

In 1939, Oskar Schindler, an industrialist and member of the Nazi party, purchased a formerly Jewish-owned enamelware factory in Kraków. When the Jews working in the factory were transferred to Plaszow in the fall of 1944, Schindler lobbied for and was granted permission to relocate his munitions manufacturing operations to Brünnlitz (Brněnec), a town near where he grew up, where it would be classified as a subcamp of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp.

He also made the case that the Jewish laborers who had staffed his Kraków factory were essential to his wartime production, and needed to come with him to Brünnlitz. Approximately 800 men and between 300 and 400 women were transferred to the factory in Brünnlitz—and spared from death camps—because their names appeared on what’s come to be known as “Schindler’s List." Read the full story here.

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