The light of a single candle can brighten even the darkest night.
The World War II indeed was the darkest period in modern history. The terror that fell upon Jewish people was unimaginable. All over the Europe, people were being pulled out of their homes and taken to the unknown.
That “unknown” were actually concentration camps where people had worked hard and suffered until they were killed. Those poor people were transported in trains, loaded into wagons like they were cattle.
While the others chose to look at the other side while this horror was occurring, one man had decided it was too much. Too much suffering and dying. Youra Livchitz came up with a plan to try to save at least some people being taken to the slaughter.
It sounds like the story from “Schindler’s List”, but it’s actually a different story. The one that also deserves its own movie.
Youra Livchitz was a Jewish doctor of Russian origin. This man was a member of resistance form its beginnings.
People at that time still didn’t know what exactly was happening in those prison camps, but they could assume that it was something horrible. Barely anyone who entered the Nazi camp ever came out.
Youra managed to find out the time of the departure of one of the trains that was taking Jews to Auschwitz. Together with two non-Jewish friends, Youra organized one of the greatest rescues during the wartime.
These friends were Jean Franklemon and Robert Maistrau. These three brave men did what no one dared doing.
When a train with 1,631 Jews left Mechelen on April 19, 1943, Youra and his friends were ready. So were a few of the people on the train. A couple of them knew what the resistance was planning so they were prepared to help everyone leave the train when the time came.
Robert Maistriau gave an interview in 2008 recalling the night of the rescue. This man told how the rescue group consisted of only three men, equipped with only hurricane lamp covered with red paper, a pair of pliers each and a single pistol. Yet, they managed to ambush the train!
The plan was to fool the engineer with the red lantern, so that he would confuse it with a stoplight. The plan worked, and when the train stopped, Youra used his pistol to draw the guards’ attention, so that the other two of his companions could open the doors of the train. They told the people to quickly leave the train and try to run away.
Robert said that he could never forget that terrifying night and the sound of the brakes.
Of course, the Nazi guards started the fire immediately. Sadly, 23 unlucky souls lost their lives in their attempt to run away and 1,400 of them didn’t even managed to leave the train. However, around 200 prisoners managed to jump out of the train and run away.
The organizer of this rescue mission, Youra Livchitz, didn’t live long enough to tell the story. He was betrayed and his efforts to continue rescuing captured Jews were thwarted.
He was executed for his deeds. Yet, Youra kept his head high even then; he looked right in the face of the firing squad, refusing to wear a blindfold.
His fellow rescuers, Jean Franklemon and Robert Maistriau luckily survived the Holocaust, and Robert Maistriau lived long enough to share the story about this heroic rescue mission in the book of Marion Scheiber, “The Twentieth Train: The True Story of the Ambush of the Death Train to Auschwitz”.
In addition to this story, there is a sign in the Dallas Holocaust Museum that says:
“The world is too dangerous to live in-not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit and let it happen”.
This is a quotation by Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds if all times.
Youra, Jean and Robert showed that there are those who refuse to sit back and do nothing. During the darkest times, they were among those who lit the candle and brought a ray of light into people’s lives. They demonstrated hope, bravery and altruism when those virtues seemed to have disappeared.
Share this incredible story with your friends and family and keep the legend of these three brave man alive.