A Different Kind of Survivor

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By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Sometimes, we get too caught up in our preparations, endlessly ruminating and debating minutiae in an attempt to perfect or improve everything we consider necessary for the good of ourselves, our families, or our communities: plans, strategies, skills, resources, everything. In short, all the stuff we may or may not need to survive an SHTF that may or may never come, this or that way.

However, there’s another side of that universe we should be aware of, talk about, and above all, revere: how some people are capable of not only surviving but finding ways to help others survive as well when things hit the fan for real. I find that deeply selfless, noble, and inspiring.

To honor that, and perhaps inspire others, too, I selected a few true stories of real-life heroes, actually ordinary individuals who voluntarily put themselves in great danger, frequently risking their own lives, wealth, reputation, livelihoods, and that of relatives or acquaintances, to save other human beings during one of the darkest times and worst SHTFs humanity has ever been through: World War 2. 

The two qualities of true, real-life heroes

It’s a group of individuals from various cultures and backgrounds with different personalities, abilities, qualities, and flaws who, at one moment, made their mission to save other people’s lives or alleviate suffering. Despite the risks, they rose to the challenge, and that made a world of difference for thousands.

All these different men and women possess two qualities in common, the qualities of true heroes.

One is the capacity to differentiate right and wrong, good and evil – not in hindsight but when they see it, as things are playing out, or even before that – invariably, through the fog of chaos, disorder, and deception. That realization contains a crucial lesson, as the world is headed again to challenging times, so we better watch out. 

The second quality makes all the difference: the courage to act. It stands to reason that an even greater number of people had the same insights about what was to happen, or what was going on around them. However, they stood up to everything when push came to shove, while the rest didn’t. I’m not criticizing anyone here: it’s something rare because it takes a lot to do that, and not everyone has it. 

Just as well, the reasons behind their acts matter very little in the face of what they achieved. However, how most of them did what they did provides amazing insights and food for reflection. They are lessons of tenacity, creativity, ingenuity, and more. It’s one of the reasons why I decided to write about it, also because it forces us to rethink how SHTF plays out in the real world, something I believe we need to do constantly.

Oskar Schindler’s famous list

I couldn’t start with anyone other than German Oskar Schindler. His role in saving the lives of more than a thousand Jews during WW2 is widely known, thanks in great part to Steven Spielberg’s magnificent, touching, award-winning 1993 movie Schindler’s List. 

David M. Crowe’s 2004 book Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind the List (2004) tells “a much richer and nuanced story, something important because no human is without doubts and flaws, and Schindler had his despite committing one of the kindest, bravest and most selfless acts in modern history.” [SOURCE]

I brought that verbatim from the book’s Amazon Kindle page because it expresses my feelings about Schindler and all these other men and women much better than I could with my limited English. That, and C.S. Lewis’ quote at the start, perfectly encapsulates what I’m trying to convey in this post, which is the complexity, nuance, and the fantastic combination of bravery and kindness they displayed during the darkest of times.

The other reason I wanted to highlight (and recommend) the book is because we don’t get much of Schindler’s transformation from the movie. Though Spielberg let it come through here and there with his typical mastery and delicacy, I feel he focused more on his noble feats, how much he sacrificed and risked, the level of evil he faced, and what he achieved with all that.

Spanish spy and double agent Juan Pujol Garcia

Like Schindler, Juan Pujol Garcia was a complete failure in every area of his life before World War 2. He was not a successful student, soldier, businessman, or movie mogul. In addition, his marriage was disintegrating. Yet, he was fearless and crafty, and his work during the conflict caused significant financial and military losses to the Nazis. 

In addition to wasting millions of dollars on misleading information, he played a crucial role in persuading the Nazis that the D-Day strikes were simply a pretext for a larger attack, diverting resources away from the front lines.

When the war started, Pujol made three separate approaches to the British to work for them. He went to the Nazis after they turned him away, and they took him in and gave him the pseudonym Arabel. He approached the Allies once more after gaining credentials from his work as a Nazi spy, and was hired as a double agent, codenamed Garbo.

Pujol then started feeding the Nazis a concoction of factual but ineffective falsehoods. The Nazis were typically the last to learn about valuable information. He even developed a network of 27 undercover operatives who weren’t real and didn’t exist. Still, he sent in their fictitious spending sheets, and the Nazis paid their wages.

Pujol is among the few individuals who have ever received an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) from King George VI and an Iron Cross from the Nazis (which needed Hitler’s personal approval because he wasn’t a soldier).

Pujol was afraid that the remaining Nazis would come after him after the war. In 1949, he went to Angola with the assistance of MI5, where he staged his own death from malaria. After that, he relocated to Lagunillas, Venezuela, where he opened a modest bookshop and gift shop and lived in seclusion until his passing in 1988

Dr. Eugene Lazowski and the false typhus epidemic

I keep saying creativity, ingenuity, and the capacity to adapt and improvise are some of the best traits during times of crisis. Many in this list possess those characteristics, but Dr. Eugene Lazowski, a Polish doctor who saved people from the Nazis by creating a fake typhus epidemic in the city of Rozwadów, is perhaps the best example. 

Lazowki’s friend introduced him to a particular bacteria strain that, when injected into a person, would cause them to test positive for typhus without suffering from the ill effects of the disease.

Lazowski began to inject this bacteria strain into non-Jews because he knew that the Nazis would immediately kill Jewish people infected with typhus. He then sent the blood samples to German labs. Once typhus was detected, the Nazis proceeded to quarantine the outbreak area. The quarantine prevented the deportation of approximately 8,000 men, women, and children to concentration camps, ultimately saving their lives.

Marcel Marceau, the mime who saved dozens of children

Marcel Marceau, a French mime, utilized his experience in acting to save and transport Jewish children during World War II. He would smuggle them over the Swiss border, telling them to keep quiet and miming to make them calm, composed, and into the role. He helped at least seventy children.

Marceau would pose as a Boy Scout leader to get into Switzerland and take large groups of kids on leisurely excursions throughout the countryside. He would use his mime abilities to amuse and quiet the kids during the trip to avoid drawing attention from German soldiers or accomplices.

It is believed that Marceau’s actions have prevented at least 70 Jewish youngsters from dying. He carried on performing as a mime artist after the war and rose to prominence as one of the most well-known actors worldwide. He was eighty-four when he passed away in 2007.

Chiune Sugihara and the “Visas for Life”

Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat stationed in Kaunas, Lithuania, issued thousands of visas to Jewish refugees living in Poland and Lithuania. These “Visas for Life” allowed the refugees to travel through Japan and into safe havens, escaping certain death. 

These often included a passage through Russia, but it was only allowed if the refugee had a specific destination, which Sugihara provided with his visas. After Poland, it was only a matter of time before the Nazis invaded Lithuania, so he started dispensng the “Visas for Life” as soon as he heard the accounts of atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews in Poland. 

Sugihara issued the visas against his government’s orders since Japan had sided with the Axis. He was eventually recalled and lost his career, but he saved the lives of an estimated 6,000 Jews during the war. For that, he received the Chassidey Umot HaOlam, the Order of Righteous Among the Nations from Israel.

The Polish social worker who smuggled 2,500 children out of the Warsaw Ghetto

Irena Sendler, codenamed Jolanta, smuggled around 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and saved them from the Holocaust. She kept detailed records of their original and new identities in a jar buried under an apple tree, intending to reunite families after the war. She did that with the help of many other women, providing false identities and finding families and entities to shelter the children.

Irena took extraordinary risks to preserve the integrity and future of families facing extreme racial and social prejudices. In 1943 she was arrested and tortured by Gestapo, the Nazi police, without revealing anything about the children. 

She was sentenced to death but escaped execution when the underground organization Polish Council to Aid Jews bribed the German officials to let her go. He kept her activities, eventually saving thousands (some estimations talk about tens of thousands) from death.

Desmond Doss: the soldier who saved tens without ever touching a gun

I couldn’t let this out: the feats of North American soldier Thomas Desmond Doss were so brave, his character so strong and resolute, and his story so incredible that he also got his story told by Hollywood in the Oscar-winning Hacksaw Ridge (2016) movie. It’s a great flick about an exceptional feat and worth watching. 

The son of a drunken ex-WW1 combatant, Doss – a deeply religious young from Lynchburg, Virginia – refused even to touch a firearm. He enlisted in the US Army to work on the battlefield as a medic soldier after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. With unparalleled courage and resolution, he faced the resistance of the Army’s bureaucracy and that of his peers, who felt he could put himself and others in danger for not carrying a weapon and refusing to kill the enemy.

Those qualities and his physical endurance got tested shortly after he was allowed to complete his training when he saved an estimated 75 of his fellow men and even some enemies during the battle at Hacksaw Ridge for the taking of Okinawa in Japan. He took the wounded from the battlefield, carried and descended them on the ridge with a rope, all on his own. 

Doss was twice awarded the Bronze Star Medal for actions on Guam and the Philippines. He became the only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for his brave feats during wartime.

There are many other individuals and stories worth talking about

For instance, stockbroker Nicholas Winton saved the lives of 669 Czechoslovakian children, most of them Jewish, by taking them to England. He never told anyone what he did and refused to take credit until his wife found a scrapbook of the children he had saved and gave it to the BBC: an incredible and selfless man and a true hero on all accounts. 

Or Adolfo Kaminski, the dry cleaner specialist who used his stain-removing skills to forge official documents, saving thousands of Jews. 60 Minutes reported on Adolfo Kaminsky’s heroic effort in 2017. It’s also worth watching. Kaminski died last January.

I believe there are still numerous others who remain anonymous, their stories untold. So, it may seem unjust to name only a few and leave so many others out. But time and space are limited, and in this case, fortunately so. Besides, the idea is to inspire readers to seek more about these real-life heroes. 

Conclusion and final thoughts

Right now, something similar is happening in places where people are fighting, killing, and oppressing others. Likewise, we may or may not come to know the people and their feats of bravery and selflessness one day, but what matters is the people they’re saving and the good they’re doing. 

Knowing that and also studying history while trying to put ourselves in the shoes of all these individuals – to imagine what they and the ones they saved went through – is an exercise in humility and humanity. I can only marvel at how, in the middle of absolute chaos, confusion, and destruction, some individuals could see through all that and the propaganda, ideology, and manipulation and still do what’s right and good. 

Even hoping humankind never goes through something like that again, there’s no shortage of evil and fighting on this planet. I don’t mean in a distant hellhole, but close around us. And that requires the same clarity, courage, and selflessness to combat that or alleviate the suffering of others and perhaps also save ourselves.

Are there some other heroes whose stories you admire? What are your thoughts on the courage of the people in this article? What do you think causes some people to be so selfless in the face of evil?

Let’s discuss it in the comments section.

About Fabian

Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average Joe who, since his youth, has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.

Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City, is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.

Fabian Ommar

Fabian Ommar

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  • I’m wondering if many of these children that were hidden and saved were some of those that ended up on the Orphan Trains?

    • Funny you should mention those children, Jan. One of those orphans from one of those trains came into our town as an infant. He was adopted by a family here, and became a mascot for the local Fire Department, at the age of 12 years old. When his time as a mascot was over he just hung around and swept up and helped the firefighters any way he could, and when he was old enough he became a volunteer fire fighter himself. He was a volunteer on the fire department longer than any other person, and when he passed away in his 70s, he was still serving as the Safety Officer of the department. He was a simple, strong, humble but remarkable person, who began his free life as an orphan on an orphan train. We are fortunate that there were some people around back then who cared enough for little infants that they saved his life.
      Old Duffer

  • I knew about most of these amazing people, but did not know about Marcel Marceau’s contributions. It takes a special person to see what is going on and do the right thing, regardless of danger to themselves. Thank you for highlighting these people.

  • Correction re: this article excerpt: “…after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1944. “

    Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 … after FDR spent two whole years trying to figure out how to goad Japan into a “surprise” attack … for the benefit of his high dollar oligarch supporters that owned petroleum properties in Asia … and war with Japan would strengthen the oligarch’s marketplace position. See Robert Stinnett’s 2001 book “Day of Deceit” for details.

    Back on the above article’s topic. Another hero who probably saved countless lives was Sidney Reilly, a Russian-born man who served as a successful spy for Great Britain’s MI6 organization in the early 1900s, mostly in Europe. In Russia after the successful Bolshevik Revolution an organization emerged, known in English as “The Trust” as a way for opponents of the communist regime to organize and exercise power as a group. It was in fact a honeypot … intended to suck in communist opponents so Lenin and then Stalin could deal with them brutally. When Reilly learned of this and exposed the truth (probably saving countless lives) Stalin had him arrested and executed.

    A couple of decades later Ian Fleming used much of Reilly’s life to inspire his creation of the James Bond novels. (Yes, there was a real Ms. Moneypenny in France working with MI6.) Given how Reilly died it seemed ironic that the 1963 Bond movie “From Russia With Love” didn’t reveal what really happened to Reilly. Later in 1983 a British TV series under the title of “Reilly, Ace of Spies” told a more honest account of Reilly’s life.

    –Lewis

  • I have watched Hacksaw Ridge many times. I always get very emotional throughout. It is a great watch!
    The qualities these heroes possess are as you say. I also believe they do not really count the cost. They just act. I also believe that trusting God has something to do with it.
    It isn’t always pretty or easy but something that just needs doing. So you do it.
    Amazing people in any case! Thank you for taking the time to put this together.

  • thought this one should be on the list….Roger Louis Schutz-Marsauche “frere Roger”

    i met him about two month before his violent death….with a catholic priest hovering over his every move….for the Vatican he was no friend of theirs, just a loose end…..

    the man has set up a place you have to see and live….kids/teenagers from everywhere come there, many with a black outlook on life….that man and that place puts life and purpose back into those almost lost…..yeah, defintily a hero in all ways.

  • Yes it is nice to be able to be prepared. Yes if we could actually have everyone prepared. I ask why not take care of the problems so we don’t need to be prepared? Most of these problems come from government negligence. Government misinformation and outright lies. problems that seem to enrich the warmonger corporations that protect other nations, but America suffers its invasion.—– I, Grampa

  • Virginia Hall the most dangerous of spy’s. You Tube the history guy did a great video on her. Her code name was the white mouse.
    The Ten Boom family. The Hiding place is a great book about what they did & how they did it. They saved so many Jews & many others who would have died. Their family paid a great price for what they did.

    • My husband and I love watching the History Guy and learn a lot from his presentations.

      Yes. The Ten Booms. Corrie at 50 years old when they were arrested for hiding and helping to smuggle out Jews in Holland. Her father was about 90 and died shortly after their arrest; her sister Betsie died in the Ravensbruck; her nephew died during the war and her brother died shortly after the war due to contracting spinal tuberculosis in a concentration camp.

      They were an ordinary family of middle aged and elderly Christians who did the extraordinary and defied the Nazis. It’s an incredible story. https://tenboom.org/about-the-ten-booms/

  • Nice to hear of Corrie ten Boom and Raoul Wallenberg. Zsindelyne Tudos Klara also hid children during WWII in Budapest. A devoted Christian with a deep faith in Jesus.

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