Skip to main content

Richard Hurowitz, Author of In the Garden of the Righteous

During a time of unspeakable evil, there were very few, very brave people who risked their own lives to save others.

Richard Hurowitz’s most recent book, In the Garden of the Righteous, brings forward 10 little-known stories of those who went above and beyond to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

An Italian Tour de France champion. A Portuguese diplomat. A circus ringmaster. Why did these people decide to act when others didn’t?

Our host David Stiepleman talks to Richard about how he researched and wrote his compelling book, the reaction he’s gotten around the country, and what kinds of environments produce people who are spurred to act and take big risks to do what’s right. National cultures are the aggregation of the rules and norms of our families, schools, towns and businesses, and cultivating those building blocks really matters.

Listen to full episode:

Listen On:

Spotify Apple Amazon Heart Deezer

More from this episode:

Episode Transcript:

David Stiepleman: Hi everyone. Welcome back to It's Not Magic, our podcast from Sixth Street. Today you'll hear my conversation with our friend and author Richard Horowitz, who just published an important book about the Holocaust, in particular, about people who risked their lives to rescue Jews during World War II.

Richard Hurowitz: Not just people who save people during the Holocaust, but people today who are doing good things should be recognized, not just because they deserve it intrinsically, which they do, but also because that kind of modeling is important. And so I've been really touched by the amount of people that want to hear these stories and really kind of want to understand what made them so special.

David Stiepleman: We met Richard doing a deal about 10 years ago. He's a smart and interesting person, and his book is called In The Garden of the Righteous. It's really 10 stories about largely unsung heroes. It's a page turner, and I think it's important for leaders of organizations, including businesses. Richard has thought a lot about what distinguishes people willing to stand up and take unimaginable risk for what's right. And one of his conclusions is that national cultures really matter. The culture of our families, of our towns and schools, our houses of worship and our businesses are the building blocks that make up the collective rules and norms that tell us what we’ll permit and what we won't permit. And so, cultivating those cultures where we are right now can really matter. We talk about realistically how rare these stories were, but how people do good things and how we should spotlight those things. Richard tells a story of someone named Roddy Edmonds, an American hero from Kentucky, whose story didn't go in the book, but whose actions in saving American Jewish POWs is unbelievable and deserves recognition. We talk about culture and small acts of kindness and how education doesn't guarantee decency and a lot of other things. I hope you'll enjoy the conversation.

David Stiepleman: Hi, Richard. Thanks for joining us. It's great to have you here.

Richard Hurowitz: Thanks for having me.

David Stiepleman: It's a pleasure. I think your book is a great book. I think it's really well written. I want to talk about how you did that. I also think it's a really important book. I would love you to start by telling one of the stories that I've heard you talk on other interviews about Gino Bartali, and I think it's a fantastic story about a really interesting character. Can you tell us who he was?

Richard Hurowitz: Sure. So the book is about stories of rescue during World War II of Jews and other people who are being hunted by the Nazis. And it focuses on 10 different stories and pretty much what I've learned is it's a very undercover area of history, not just in World War II, but even among people who focused on the Holocaust. And so there are many people like Bartali who had these extraordinary stories that are just completely unknown now. He was not an unknown figure. In fact, he was definitely the most famous athlete in Italy. He was a cyclist, probably the most famous athlete in Europe at the time, certainly one of them. And he won the Tour de France in 1938. And just to contextualize this, cycling is still a big European sport, but at the time there was “cycling mad,” particularly in Italy.

Richard Hurowitz: And if anyone's ever seen the movie The Bicycle Thieves, you know that continued for a long time. And so he was this very famous celebrity. I try to make the right comparison to somebody like a LeBron James. And sports were also extraordinarily important to Mussolini and his regime, the fascists. He had a famous quote where he said “I want to turn Italy from a nation of mandolin players to a nation of warriors and athletes.” And so sports was a big part of what he was doing, both in schools—and he liked to portray himself as a sportsman—but also for the professional athletes. And so at that time, Primo Carnera was the heavyweight champion of the world. He dedicated his championship to Mussolini in the Olympics, which were held in Los Angeles. Italy came in second in medal count. They hosted the World Cup the year before Bartali won the Tour de France. And so everybody dedicated their victory to Mussolini. Bartali didn't do that. This is in 1938 right before World War II broke out and he was a devout Catholic. And the only other sort of institution in Italy that had any kind of counterweight to the fascists was actually the church. The church is very complicated, which we can talk about. But when he won the Tour de France, he actually went to a church in Paris and dedicated it to Mary. And when he returned, it was not lost on the fascists. I've seen his police file and he was kind of shunned and made into this sort of - they said they gave instructions to the press to just cover whatever he is doing in cycling but don't cover any anything else about him, and try to downplay Bartali.

Richard Hurowitz: So he was already on the crosshairs of the regime When World War II broke out, he was drafted like most people and he ended up actually serving as a bicycle messenger. So the idea was he could stay in shape and the guy that he reported to was a cycling fan. So Bartali did a couple of things. First, he hid a family of Jews in the basement of a building he owned, next to his house in Florence. He was Florentine and he also hid a Jew and a Romani because they were also persecuted as well, as victims of the Holocaust, in his bicycle shop. And he did this throughout the war. And at any time this was quite a dangerous thing to do. At one point he was actually interrogated, but then maybe even more interesting is he became part of something called the Assisi Underground, which is not that well known, but it was a pretty wide clandestine network in the north of Italy that was spearheaded by the Catholic church.

Richard Hurowitz: And this is fascinating because what was going on was they were hiding Jews, particularly in Assisi but all over in convents and monasteries, there'd never been a Jew who had lived in Assisi. And yet now they were being hidden in the cloisters, as well as partisans and other people on the run. And critically important to this was false identity papers. And so Bartali would put the fake papers that were counterfeited in his bicycle. And if he was really the only person in Italy at that time who not only had an excuse to be out in his uniform with his name on the back biking for hundreds of miles a day in training, he also had the physical ability to do that so he could actually bike from Florence to Genova in one day. So he was bringing these papers and intelligence around, and he was kind of hiding in plain sight.

Richard Hurowitz: So there were all these stories of him being stopped at checkpoints, and he would say things like my bike is perfectly calibrated. Don't touch the bike. You know, and people would say, don't touch Bartali’s bike, you'll cost him the tour. And then there were other scenes where he showed up once at a train station in a town that was a big crossing. And when he showed up he was so famous that it caused a huge ruckus. And even the police and even the Nazis were crowding him, and people were giving him cappuccino and he's signing autographs. And in the meantime, in the background, the partisans he was working with were moving Jews from one train to the other and down south to the free zone. So he did all of this amazing work. The Assisi Underground probably saved about 700 Jews. He personally, again, by hiding Jews, we know of at least six or seven people he saved. And then of course, this is pretty common among rescuers. He never told anybody. He never talked about it.

David Stiepleman: You talk about this in the book, like this is a common theme where you have to pull it out of him. And he actually never told the story. His son wrote a book about him. What’s that all about?

Richard Hurowitz: He confided in his son. And there were rumors right after the war, and it was well known in the Jewish community what he had done. But he really only talked about it with people who had been there. And there were a couple people that approached him, but I've seen footage from his 80th birthday party, and he didn't even want to talk about how he also rescued a bunch of POWs. His son said to him one day, “why are you telling me this?” And he said “well, one day you'll know when's the right time.” But he said “if you do good for somebody and you talk about it, it takes away from it.” And he also said he really wanted to be remembered as a cyclist. He didn't think what he did was extraordinary.

Richard Hurowitz: He said that the people who really died or were put in prison, they're the ones who are the heroes. I'm just a cyclist. And he has this wonderful line. I found it very beautiful where he said “some medals you win in this life for winning a bicycle race, and they go in a museum or a trophy case, and other medals you get in the next life and they're pinned to your soul.” And he really believed that. And it's really extraordinary also because he was somebody who was a household name in Italy. After he retired, he became this famous sort of curmudgeonly commentator. The Pope was a fan. He was the Coca-Cola spokesperson. He was friends with Maria Callas. And he lived to be in his eighties. And so he died around 2000 and certainly had the platform had he wanted to talk about this.

Richard Hurowitz: And again there was a book that came out that he was so upset about when they made it into a movie. He tried to shut it down. It is almost universal among the rescuers that they don't – forget brag about it, they often don't even want to talk about it. But certainly, the refrain is the same: “I didn't do anything extraordinary. I did what anybody else would do. I just did the decent thing.” It’s kind of spooky because I've read at this point probably thousands of accounts and it's said over and over and they use almost the exact same language.

David Stiepleman: Well, let's talk about that. Because you said the common refrain is that anybody would do this. You also said at the beginning something that's true, which is that this is under reported, or this is not a common theme in talking about World War II or about the Holocaust. And in part that's because actually not a lot of people did this. And can you talk about that? I mean, s how many righteous among the nations are there? 27,000, I think. And even if you round up or whatever, it's just a drop in the bucket in terms of the people. And so talk about this and maybe talk about it from the context of why'd you write this? Why is this important to talk about?

Richard Hurowitz: So yes, there, so there's 27,000 people that have the title of righteous among the nations. And one example I try to do to contextualize that for people, because 27,000 people sounds like a lot, right? But that was at a population of 500 million in Europe. So I'm sitting here in New York, but most basketball stadiums are about the same size. But if you take Madison Square Garden as an example, and you fill it up with a representative sample of Europe at the time, you would have one person who is a righteous among the nations. Now the righteous title is extraordinarily difficult to get. There's very stringent criteria, and I think too stringent because you have to risk your life or your career. You have to have eyewitness testimony. You can't be Jewish.

Richard Hurowitz: Obviously all of the failed rescue that went on was not accounted for. There are other forms of rescue we can talk about or helping that I think are really critical. Primo Levi talked about a man in Italy who, when he was interned, a laborer every day brought him soup. And he said this man kept me alive because I still knew that somebody out there knew I was a person and cared about me. And so that man is not getting the righteous among the nations of war, but it's like one out of 20,000 people. But even if you double it, I mean, even if you multiply by 10 or a hundred, it's still, most people did nothing. They're just extraordinarily rare people. And I think we can learn a lot from them.

Richard Hurowitz: I'm a big believer that who a culture values and who we celebrate is a huge reflection of who we are and what we value and how we will ultimately behave, not just in extreme circumstances like the Holocaust, but in everyday circumstances. And certainly since World War II there have been 40 genocides, but you can even just talk about how a nation and how people treat each other. So I think it's very important to celebrate these people. They're very, very unknown. So what I learned was that other than Wallenberg and then after the movie Schindler, and maybe the rescue in Denmark, people, unless they were rescued by these people, or they were their family, they don't know who they are. I opened the book with a rescue of a man named Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who—it starts actually with the rescue of the people who wrote Curious George. But over three weeks, he was a Portuguese consulate, he saved as many as 30,000 people by giving them Visas when no one else would do it. And so there's probably a hundred thousand people alive today. And there were many famous people that he saved, but also mostly just poor, mostly Jews on the run, but other refugees as well.

David Stiepleman: Can we talk about him for a second? I want to linger over him for a minute.

Richard Hurowitz: He's the single largest rescuer in the Holocaust, and yet nobody has heard of him. And I think there was a rabbi who was involved, a California rabbi was one of the people who sort of tried to start changing this narrative in the sixties. And he said there's a historical injustice that everybody knows who Heinrich Himmler is and who Hermann Göring is, but nobody knows who Aristides de Sousa Mendes is. And so Yad Vashem from its founding had as one of its core missions actually remembering the rescuers. And Golda Meir gave a speech when she was foreign minister, when she dedicated what's called the Garden of the Righteous where they have this tradition that every time someone's honored they plant a tree. And she said that these people were drops of love in an ocean of poison was the phrase that she used. And so I think as anybody of goodwill owes it to them, because these are some of the most heroic people in world history who rose to the occasion at the worst time in world history when most people either were standing by or collaborating or worse. And we need to know their stories for many reasons. And there are many reasons why they were overlooked and all of that.

David Stiepleman: You reconstruct him for us, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, he's a very relatable person and character. You reconstruct this moment where he's in the consulate in Bordeaux, right in the Portuguese consulate. And he's got all these people lining up outside and they're desperate. They know what's coming or they think they know what's coming and they need to get out and he kind of gets sick. He doesn't know what to do. It's clearly like he's having an anxiety attack or something. And then he kind of comes out of it. And he draws this very human conclusion like if I'm not going to do this, who's going to do this? I can't let these people die. What is that moment? And how did you think about him? Because he felt very human to me. He felt very familiar to me.

Richard Hurowitz: Yes. I agree. And actually the Christian Science Monitor referred to him as the breakout star of the book. So he does seem to have this effect on a lot of people. I'd written an article about him from The New York Times that went completely viral. And what you described is correct. If you go back to the lead up to that, he was an aristocrat born in Portugal. He was a twin, and his brother became the foreign minister. They were both in the foreign service. And his brother was the one that was kind of the rising star. And Sousa Mendes was a bit more of the other type of diplomat. He was an amazing entertainer. And Bon Vivant and Einstein were in his house and he had this huge family of 14 children.

Richard Hurowitz: And he was a person who loved life, just had this kindness. And before the moment you mentioned, the dictator of Portugal, Salazar, had sent out a memorandum to all of the consoles, basically saying no Jewish refugees. And the reason he did that is because Franco, he didn't want to get Spain pulled into the war and antisemitism and all of that. And so, Sousa Mendes had already violated that twice before this moment. And one time actually not for even a Jewish, but it was for a professor on the run from Barcelona. And he'd been reprimanded. So he actually knew that the government wouldn't look kindly on what he was about to do. And you had this moment in Bordeaux that shows again World War II is like the highest drama ever.

Richard Hurowitz: So literally you have the largest traffic jam in history coming down from Paris as France falls, you have the government of France arrives in Bordeaux, the future government of Vichy France is there, De Gaulle is briefly there before he flees to the UK. And you then have like literally millions of refugees and people are going door to door asking for Visas because you needed a few different Visas to get out. One of which was an exit Visa. And everyone slammed the door, including the United States of America. And so he had this conscience, right? He looked outside and there had been rumors that the Portuguese consulate were maybe sympathetic. And he came out actually to see what was going on because it was such a ruckus. And he met a young rabbi who had a large family, and he said to the guy why don't you spend the night?

Richard Hurowitz: And the rabbi spent the night and they talked, and de Sousa Mendes talked about how he was very devout Catholic as well, but he thought he was descended from Conversos. And he said to the rabbi, look, I think I can get you and your family out. I'll give you Visas. And the rabbi said to him, I can't take Visas for my family, and what about all the other Jews out on the street? That wouldn't be right. And again, when I wrote this book, there are all these moments where you're like “what would you have done?” And there's an example. I would've taken the Visa, I'll tell you that right now. But he didn't. And so de Sousa Mendes was struck by this, and he did have this moment, and I actually have seen the letter he wrote to his brother, where he said “I think I'm having a nervous breakdown.”

Richard Hurowitz: And he had sent his two oldest sons were there and his nephew. And so they all wrote about this that he literally took to his bed and was very tortured. And then he dramatically got up and said to his family what you said. And then he said I would rather stand with God against man than with man against God. And then he went out and made this very dramatic statement where he said, I'm going to give a Visa to every person who wants it, regardless of your religion or who you are. And so then over the next three weeks, he did that in an act of supreme pettiness. A British woman showed up at the embassy for a regular tourist Visa. And she was asked to wait because they said we've got a little bit of a situation here.

Richard Hurowitz: There's hundreds of thousands of refugees, can you wait like 10 minutes? And she stormed out and complained to the British Embassy, which reported it to Lisbon, at which point very senior officials came down to try to stop him. And everyone knew that with the Germans, there'd be a capitulation imminently. So he then started going all around the south where they all reported to him and gave Visas, he was just writing them on pieces of paper. And like his hand was - you can see in the archives his signature start to fade. And he personally escorted people across the border. And then three weeks later, the door slammed shut. And then he was, for his efforts summoned back to Lisbon, and put up on disciplinary hearings. The disciplinary hearing came back and said he should be reprimanded.

Richard Hurowitz: The foreign minister said he should be demoted and then Salazar personally, because he really didn't like him, sealed his file and said he should be fired and lose his pension. And then Sousa Mendes, who had grown up very wealthy, ended up with this very sad end. His wife died prematurely. He had gone through his entire life savings. I saw the street where he died in a Franciscan hospital, with basically Franciscan robes. His children had to leave the country. He had children all over the world, including two from Berkeley, California who were born there. They were American citizens. They volunteered and fought for the United States. They used to fly at his home flags from all of the places where his children were born. So there was an American flag there.

Richard Hurowitz: And then of course, later, or even during his lifetime, the Portuguese tried to take credit for what he did. And it wasn't until the nineties that he was recognized. He's now a national hero in Portugal, but he had this very sad end, as did many of these rescuers. There's a moment where the Jewish community and Lisbon tried to help him when he had like no money. And he showed up in his, at that point, thread bear diplomatic garb. And there was a part of this kitchen that was for refugees and part was for people to have a regular meal. And he was in line and a young Jewish volunteer said sir, you should go to the other room.

Richard Hurowitz: But he said, no, no, no, we're all refugees. So again, we don't know exactly how many people he saved because it was very chaotic. But over three weeks, at a minimum it was 10,000 people. And so again, he is the largest rescue by a single individual in the Holocaust. And he's virtually unknown. And so that's sort of one of the reasons I really wanted to write the book. And as I started telling these stories in periodicals, the response was so great to hear stories like this, that I think they're so inspirational and so powerful. That's why I ended up turning them into a book. But I agree with you. I mean, there's something about him, like his kindness and the fact that he also moved into action knowing this was not going to end well for him. He talked about how he knew he was going to be punished. And in fact he was, and his life was ruined forever basically, he just had a breakdown because he had a humanitarian instinct and he couldn't stand the suffering because literally he had children showing up, having seen their parents murdered by the Nazis, people fleeing with machine gunfire and unimaginable scenes. And it touched him.

David Stiepleman: Let's talk about culture because you and I have had this conversation a little bit. At first I was a little shy about linking World War II, the Holocaust and trivializing those massive tragedies that words don't really work to describe and talking about it on a business podcast, right? And, talking about organizational culture and a lot of things that we talk about in our business and that we've talked about with other guests, in very different contexts. But I'm less shy about that, especially right now as we talk about culture on university campuses—college campuses post October 7th, as we're talking about antisemitism, which is just unfortunately directly on point because our regional cultures, our national cultures, they're components of just all the individual cultures that we have. Is that a lesson from the book? And if so, what can we learn about how we inculcate, I guess, the right kind of cultures where we're going to be sympathetic and empathetic, where we're not going to, certainly not murder people, but where we're going to be inclusive and we're going to inculcate the behaviors that you saw as commonalities among rescuers? Am I trivializing? Are we trivializing important things or is this important?

Richard Hurowitz: No, I don't think you are at all. Because, I think I talk in the book about what are the lessons we can draw? There are people out there doing what these people did today. I'm sure we will hear stories out of Israel and Ukraine. And I recently had the privilege of sitting next to the man Paul Rusesabagina who was the manager of Hotel Rwanda. And actually talking to him was like talking to somebody out of my book. It was pretty remarkable, like all of the characteristics that these people that I've noticed, pattern recognition he had. But I think there's also very important lessons to understand about what makes a culture, broadly speaking.

Richard Hurowitz: You know, the term is used altruistic, and there actually has been, I think in our country and in other countries, particularly in the West, a desire for organizations like businesses or not NGOs or certainly schools to be, mission driven and altruistic. And employees want that, and customers want that. I think we've gone down the wrong road, but I think there's a lot of lessons to learn. And I think that's a really admirable goal. So, I don't think it's trivializing. That's why I mentioned the story of the soup, or the man in Denmark who was one of these amazing rescuers. And he said “we were the tip of the spear, we risked our lives.” In our country, people would look the other way. The further east you went, the worst it went.

Richard Hurowitz: And I think it's really important, by the way, also not to judge people because the punishment in a place like Holland for helping Jews was prison. In Poland, they would kill you and your family. And actually, there was a recent, I think an entire family was sanctified by the Catholic church for, they all were killed because they were trying to save Jews. They killed the Jews too. So it's very hard to say where you would behave, but where I definitely think we can, where there is an opportunity to make a difference, what's the culture around it? And that's what made it successful. And so I'm particularly fascinated, actually, and I wrote an article when the book came out for The Wall Street Journal about this, about places, but it could as easily be organizations, where you had unbelievable success rates, like literally 99 to a hundred percent of the Jews saved.

Richard Hurowitz: And it wasn't just Denmark, which is a very famous story where everyone from the king down basically stood together from the day of the occupation and said you cannot round up our Jews. And in fact, there's an apocryphal story that the king wore the star of David. And the reason it's apocryphal is because they never allowed them to put the star of David on any of the Jews. And even the SS recommended against rounding up the Jews because they knew that if they did it, the Danes would go absolutely crazy and it would cause a huge headache. And Hitler himself, personally, finally ordered the roundup, and then they were tipped off. And the entire country, and this is where the Olympic rower you mentioned, was one of the people in this sort of amateur flotilla, very similar to Dunkirk.

Richard Hurowitz: And they rode all the Jews across to Sweden. There were about 7,200 Jews and about 800 people married to Jews. And they all got across except about 500. They were taken to Theresienstadt . And then the Danes would check on them constantly: “How are the Jews? Send them food, medicine.” They insisted on inspection and all but 50 of them survived. But then you take another place like Albania, majority Muslim, a place where Jews and Christians had lived together since the Roman Empire, and then Muslims after the advent of Islam, peacefully—sort of like the town of Toledo in Spain. And it was the only country where FDR’s ambassador was Jewish, and actually cabled back. I've seen the cable. This is the only country I know in Europe without any religious bigotry. It's also the only country with more Jews at the end of the war than before the war.

Richard Hurowitz: And it was on a list at Wannsee where the Nazis created the final solution. They made a list of all the Jews, and they wrote Albania, 200. Other places, there's an island in Greece, called Zakynthos, a hundred percent survival rate. The town of Le Chambon in France, a Protestant descendant of Hugenots, there're a chapter in my book, saved 5,000 people, 3,500 Jewish children. So the question is, what makes this possible? And that was by the way, a nonviolent place. And, the pastor was known as a major figure in the nonviolent movement. And so I think, there are a few things. And, one of the most important things, I think people make fun of this anti-bullying campaign. And I think it's very important because what you see is when the majority of a culture or a country has an ethos that we're not going to tolerate hatred, we're not going to tolerate bigotry. Those are not our values. And then they have the willingness to stand together to take action, which is a lot easier to do than as an individual. But if somebody stands up and says, “Hey, that's wrong, you shouldn't say that, that's hateful.” Or even, “That's just mean.” And everyone else stands up together and says, “Yes, those aren't our values.” And there's schools like where you see that. And that's how you create a culture where it becomes very difficult for even the Nazis to be successful. So I think that's a very, very important lesson. And it comes from the top, but it has to go through the whole culture, and you have to really be insistent on both the ethos and then police it. But I will say one other thing I was thinking about in light, you were talking about the universities.

Richard Hurowitz: Because there was very little systematic research for a variety of reasons we can talk about done on rescuers after World War II. There was a lot done on the perpetrators the Milgram experiments, the Stanford prison experiments. There was a lot done on bystanders, but very, very little done on rescuers. And there's one study that's not particularly satisfying because I mean, I have a lot to say on this from my own research, but it was a Freudian study, and the only thing they found was that how you were disciplined as a child tended to correlate very strongly with your willingness to rescue and to stand up and to maintain your moral compass. And they found that this also correlated greatly with what they were looking for, was this altruistic personality. But it negatively correlated with a desire for authoritarianism.

Richard Hurowitz: And one thing I found was interesting is the discipline that was loving and explained and transparent and commensurate¬¬— almost every rescuer experienced that in their home. The people where the parent flew off the handle or things were unclear, or the punishment was like you spilled something on the carpet and your parent like punched you. Those people tend to be very authoritarian. And so I think there's something to that when you talk about cancel culture, the idea of forgiveness. So obviously when you have a bad apple or somebody does something that's objectively terrible sexual assault, that needs to be punished and it needs to be addressed. And I do think due process is important, but it needs to be addressed.

Richard Hurowitz: But the idea that like sort of anonymously somebody can be canceled for something slight, that actually is a very authoritarian impulse and doesn't actually I think help, even when people are well-meaning in what they're trying to do. Again, everything goes back to early childhood and how you were treated and the original culture you grow up in, which is your home. The one thing that almost every rescuer had, I mean, most of them were driven by something bigger than themselves, but the one universal thing is they all had somebody in their early childhood who was often a parent or both who did a couple things. They told them, “You shouldn't be mean or bigoted to other people” and they exposed them to other people. And also said, if you see something, you should act. Arena Sendler who saved 2,500 children from the Warsaw ghetto, risked her life every day. Her father was a doctor who had told her, “If you see someone drowning, you have to save them.” But the other thing they did was they, many of them grew up in loving and supportive homes, and so they weren't afraid to make mistakes. They felt valued. And if you think about being a rescuer, you had to really have a lot of self-confidence because you had to believe that your moral compass was correct when everyone around you was doing something different. And the biggest risk that any rescuer took was denunciation. So the most rescues failed and failed with fatal results because of somebody turned you in for spite or bigotry, or often for small amounts of money or because they wanted your house.

David Stiepleman: Yeah, to your point: make no mistake, I would've taken the visas, as you said, and no one knows what they would be like, but statistically I would've done the same. But the point is that I might look the other way if someone were being brave, right?

Richard Hurowitz: Right. And we can all do that

David Stiepleman: that kind of matters. Yeah.

Richard Hurowitz: And also the other thing that matters because you read Holocaust survivor testimony, I mentioned Prima Levy, but many survivors talk about that somebody who let them stay the night in their barn or gave them a cup of coffee or even just smiled at them because they knew they were on the run and just gave them like hope. Those people literally years later, they would talk about them and how that gave them the power and the stamina and the ability to survive. And I think you don't know what someone's day is like. Right. And so, when you show some small act of kindness you can actually have a major impact without realizing it.

David Stiepleman: I don't want to over hammer on the business culture thing, but you mentioned cancel culture, and we had a panel discussion that we're going to going to put out. Anyway, one of the panelists talked about Grace in their corporate culture. We think of it as like just the presumption of good faith. Not everybody's going to say everything perfectly. We're going to make mistakes. And obviously these are much smaller stakes than what we've been talking about. But creating that space where you can actually kind not be disproportionately punished for stuff. And we obviously get people in our businesses well after they're formed as kids, but I think it matters that if you create a safe space where bad things have to be punished, you have to speak your culture. You have to kind of draw the lines and put your money where your mouth is. But you also have to create an environment where there's forgiveness and there's understanding. And it just engenders better behaviors, better results. And maybe we can stitch together kind of a quilt of better cultures kind of all around so that we can perform better nationally, God forbid it comes up.

Richard Hurowitz: I agree. I will say I had the experience that was really eye opening of, I did a lot of interviews for the book, and the set of interviews that I did that were the most interesting to me were the children of the rescuers, because it was a mixed bag. And so people like Hyron Bingham, I spoke to three of his children, they view him as a Saint. Darian Fry's son, has been outspoken, not just with me, where he said his father was kind of violent and bipolar. And even these people in Le Chambon who are these known non-violent, very famous.

David Stiepleman: This is about Chuck May and his wife? Yeah.

Richard Hurowitz: I spoke to his daughter who's 95. She was incredible. She read my chapter and said the carpet was a different color, but she also said “my parentsI never would've expected them to because they were so busy, but they didn't come to my piano recital.” And it still bothers her. She's 90. So what I found was that this made them human, right? I mean, these weren't people that set out to save the world like a Mother Teresa. I mean, some of them were… So Irena Sandler was a social worker, but again, she actually had quite a complicated personal life. And to me there the lesson is you don't have to be a saint to be a hero. And these were just people that rose to the occasion. And these were ordinary people. I mean, like education, if anything actually correlated negatively, which I think we're seeing on university campuses.

David Stiepleman: That's fascinating. Yeah.

Richard Hurowitz: Yeah. Somebody in who was saved in Le Chambon said these were not people that read the newspaper every day, but they read the Bible. I mean, everybody at the Wannsee conference had either a PhD or a law degree. I'm a big proponent of education and higher education, and I'm the product of it. But it is an interesting thing. It doesn't necessarily make you a kind person.

David Stiepleman: I want to actually talk about the level of knowledge that you're finding out as you go around the country and talk about your book. But the Wannsee conference, of course, is where the high level Nazis got together and decided on the final solution. And so all of them having PhDs—I didn't know that, that's not surprising, I guess, but it's a fact to linger over for a second. I do want to talk about your process. It's effectively 10 books. I mean which makes it sound like a very long book, but it's not. How did you do it? A word on your research? And then I want to talk about selection. because you left some very interesting stories out of the book one of which you refer to in the prologue.

Richard Hurowitz: Yeah so the original book was supposed to be 15 stories, but then it would've been a tome. And my agent and my editor and I had a chat. And it's funny you say that it's like 10 books, because my editor pointed that out to me, and I will never do that again, because that was the research. But particularly with the Holocaust, I'm a trained historian and a lawyer like you. And so I was very focused on making sure there are a thousand footnotes in the book. There were originally 2000 until my editor and agent had a chat with me. But it's really important actually particularly with the Holocaust, and the idea that there is obviously a Holocaust denial out there, to make sure that things are as accurate as possible.

Richard Hurowitz: So we, I say we, because I actually had quite a lot of help on translation because there were at least 12 different languages that I did archival research in of which I know too. I have English and broken Italian and so in archives all over the world particularly helpful is actually Yaba Sham because every time someone is nominated, there's a pretty thick file with eyewitness testimony and documentary testimony that's in there and then I did as many interviews as I could, most of the survivors, I spoke a lot of experts in the field, but also a lot of the survivors, they were children at the time, but they still have a lot of recollection.

Richard Hurowitz: And then again, as I mentioned, I spoke to as many family members as I could. It was a process of selection as well because and I've continued to write some other stories for papers, but I try to find stories that were representative of a cross section of the type of rescue that went on geographically, the different types of professions people were in. We talked about a cyclist. I also wanted things that were really good stories with drama or color. So there's a rescue and a circus, and there's the story of Gino Bartali, and there's also things that document the different types of the Holocaust. So part of the book is in France, which was a very different thing than the chapter on Irena Sendler, which was in Poland where you really had all the hellscapes that you think of, or in Poland where the death camps and the Warsaw ghetto. And I just saw this movie, the Zone of Interest. And that's where the worst of the worst of the worst that we think of happened.

David Stiepleman: Would you talk about Roderick Edmonds from Kentucky, who I want to think of a prototypical, American character.

Richard Hurowitz: Roddy Edmonds. He is amazing. I mentioned him in passing. I actually just wrote an article in August. I have a pet project that maybe some of your listeners want help on with is to get him recognized.

David Stiepleman: That was in Time Magazine. We'll post it. It's a good piece.

Richard Hurowitz: He was a guy from Kentucky, and he was enlisted as a non-commissioned officer in the US Army. And he was at the Battle of the Bulge. He was a master sergeant, and he was part of a group of 20,000 American soldiers that were sent to reinforce what was called the Siegfried line. And they were captured, their commander surrendered. But this was towards the end of the war. And they were put into POW camps by the Nazis. And I didn't know this, but the Nazis actually rounded up American Jewish soldiers. And they would send them east to labor camps, and they would disappear them. And on a US dog tag it would say there was a letter H which that meant for Hebrew.

Richard Hurowitz: And it was there in case someone was killed, they would know how to bury them, but all the Jewish soldiers were getting rid of their dog tags. And so the Nazis were really looking for them. And they were originally sent to one camp where they put the Jews and Edmonds saw the worst barracks with vermin all over. And then for some reason, after a few months, they separated them by officers - non-commissioned officers and enlisted men. And so he went to the NCO camp, and there was already British and Russian and Canadian prisoners of war there. And 1200 Americans showed up, and he was the highest ranking of the non-commissioned officers. 200 of the 1200 were Jewish. And the first night it came over the loudspeaker from the Commandant. He said, all Jews report out in front of the barracks in the morning. And Edmonds, who by the way, I suspected never met a Jew until he was in the US Army, called everyone together. And he said, we're all going out. So the next morning they went out in formation, he was at the head, and there were a lot of eyewitnesses because pretty much everyone survived. And the commandant came storming over to him and he said, these people cannot all be Jews. And Edmonds looked at him and he said we're all Jews here. And then a Nazi pulled out his Luger and he pointed it at Roddy Edmond's head, and he said if you don't tell me who the Jews are, I'm going to shoot you. Again, pretty cool customer. He responded, if you shoot me, you better shoot all of us, because this war is almost over, and you're going to be hanging for war crimes.

Richard Hurowitz: And the guy turned red, put the Luger away and stormed off. And so he saved, again, 200 Americans and then there’s also there was a whole separate story about how he actually ended up getting the Americans liberated before anyone else, because he refused to allow them to get pushed east when the allies arrived. But anyway, he comes back to the United States, tells nobody this story and dies with nobody knowing it. And then years later, his son is a pastor and his granddaughter was doing a school project and was asked, what did your grandfather do during the war? And they found an article in the New York Times where a guy, who was one of the people he had rescued said, when I was in the Army this guy Roddy Edmonds saved my life.

Richard Hurowitz: One of the people he saved actually became the host of the children, soo Wonderama. But that was how they found out the story, and then the son sort of tracked down people that had been there. And so he was honored as a righteous among the nations. He's the fifth American—only one for saving American Jews. And so he received the medal. President Obama spoke at the ceremony, but my project is as follows,But Obama did attend and talked about how he's this great American hero. But the United States has not honored him. And there's two ways of doing that. And the first is that every year there's legislation that's been put in the last few years into Congress, and they just can't get enough people to show up to vote. So if you have any pull, you should tell your congressman to vote. And the other thing, which to me is sort of Mindboggling, is that the I think it's the Medal of honor is the highest military honor.The Army has refused to give it to him on the grounds that his actions did not take place during combat. And yet he had a gun pointed at his head by a Nazi, but somehow this is not viewed as in combat. And so, he has been on a technicality, denied this, but I think this is a pretty heroic American who should be honored. And again, we see the same pattern of telling nobody. I mean, his son found out and his granddaughter by accident, by reading like an archival article in The New York Times. And so, somebody who he saved happened to remember it. And for like 40 years later was interviewed about their own experience and mentioned him, and that's how it came up. But he is a real American hero and deserves recognition from our country.

David Stiepleman: No kidding. It's an incredible story there's so many threads to pull. I do want to, you cover a lot of them in your book, and I really urge people to read it. I do want to ask you about going around the country and talking about it. What have you been hearing? What are people asking you about? What are your observations? What are you surprised by?

Richard Hurowitz: I think I'm always surprised by the different audiences, which stories they gravitate to and there's certain ones I would've thought would've been different. Another surprise is I would've thought more people would've asked like questions about God in the Holocaust. And I've really only gotten those a few times and always from adolescence. But the book came out before October 7th, and it had started as a series of articles that, as I mentioned, one of them went to number two on Reddit, and they were shared very widely without any negative kind of antisemitic backlash to me on Twitter or anywhere, which I found remarkable. I mean, I've written about Cleopatra's monetary policy and gotten sort of that stuff.

Richard Hurowitz: So there's something about them that I think is very inspirational and that continues. it's been all audiences. So I was on the radio in Arizona where someone asked me at the start to please explain what the Holocaust was. And then I've spoken to a lot of Jewish audiences. I've spoken to a lot of religious audiences, but also just general audiences, people interested in history so it has like a following among people for their dad or their grandfather that loves to read about it. because these are unknown stories from World War II. I've been asked since October 7th that some of the conversations have taken on a little bit of a different tone, because I never thought that people would ask “do you think the Holocaust could happen again?”

Richard Hurowitz: And I talk about how it's kind of a unique thing, but there's 40 genocides since World War II, 500,000 people died in Syria in the last 10 years. And there's things going on right now, but after October 7th, I've sort of changed my mind certainly that I do think it could happen again. It could certainly happen. So that's been a big change. It's been interesting. I think people are looking for inspiration and they're looking for positive stories. And again, I think people have been interested in, we didn't talk as much about what made individuals do this, but also then what made groups do it and again, in people, the thing that doesn't surprise me, and I hope I'm making a bit of a difference on this, is I've yet to come across people who know these stories.

Richard Hurowitz: Even not the Arizona audience, but highly educated people who focus on the Holocaust. I mean, I spoke last week in California and I was in a room of probably 200 people and some of the guy who interviewed me said, how many people have heard of Aristedes de Sousa Mendez. And like two people raised their hand. But again, I'm an optimist, so even though I'm saying I'm worried, I do think you know that there are a lot of good people in the world. And I think that what we really need to do is focus on people. We don't do a good enough job, I think, and that's part of what my response from having audiences who are interested in this is, I think people want to do it, but the dark side of us does focus on the evil.

Richard Hurowitz: It focuses on why people did this. Look at the news; the news is always filled with what's terrible. And we need to do a better job of honoring people who do good things and at a big scale, but also at a smaller scale. And we need to teach children that that's what we should aspire to. I brought Abe Foxman, who is the head of the ADL, who's been a mentor to me on this book, to my daughter's school. And you could hear a pin drop when he said at the end of the day, is it more important to touch somebody's life than how much money you have or how many followers you have on Instagram or whatever. And many people want to feel that way, and we need to tap into that. Like, there is goodness in people, and again, it's as you point out, it's like building blocks, right?

Richard Hurowitz: You start with people and then families and then organizations and then countries. And I think we need to do a little bit of a better job of honoring—it's, great to honor actors and my degree is in ancient history, so I always think where are we on the cycle of Rome and the decadent society? But we need to not just talk about people who save people during the Holocaust, but people today who are doing good things should be recognized. Not just because they deserve it intrinsically, which they do, but also because that kind of modeling is important. And I've been really touched by the amount of people that want to hear these stories and really kind of want to understand what made them so special.

David Stiepleman: I'm going to let you have the last word there because I think that's really important and I look forward to continuing this conversation with you over the years as friends. It's a friend, a guy we know in business and, and now personally writes a book. It's a really good book. It's really well written. It's very, very well done. People should get it. It's important. And it's a page turner. Congratulations. It's great. Thank you.

Richard Hurowitz: Oh, thank you so much.

David Stiepleman: That was Richard Horowitz. We spoke on December 21st, 2023. I've been thinking about the book a lot since I read it and about the conversation ever since. In The Garden of the Righteous, it's really well done. You can't put it down. I think it matters for leaders of organizations and communities to think about what we celebrate and honor, and how we cultivate cultures that advance civility and independent thought and decency. because each component of broader culture matters and the alternatives are awful. Thanks again to Richard. Thank you to everyone for listening.

David Stiepleman: You've been listening to It's Not Magic, a Sixth Street podcast. You can read more about our guests on sixthstreet.com and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. If you enjoyed today's podcast, please share it and follow it @SixthStreetNews on Twitter for more news on the show and our firm. Thanks to Sixth Street's production team, Patrick Clifford and Ritvi Shah, putting this together with sound engineering by Stephen Colon. Our theme song is, It's Not Magic an original creation by Patrick Dyer Wolfe. Once again, I'm David Stiepleman. Thanks for listening. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Sixth Street and Sixth Street is not providing any investing, financial, economic, legal, accounting, or tax advice or recommendations in this podcast. Please see additional disclosures on our website for more details.


AUM presented as of 9/30/23 and excludes assets and commitments of certain vehicles established by Sixth Street for the purpose of facilitating third party co-invest opportunities. Calculation of assets under management differs from the calculation of regulatory assets under management and may differ from the calculations of other investment managers.