The Thirty-six Righteous – Simon Wiesenthal’s tribute to Anton Schmid

This is an extract from chapter seventeen of Wiesenthal’s book, The Murderers Among Us, (Joseph Wechsberg, ed.), published in London by William Heinemann Ltd (copyright 1967 Opera Mundi, Paris).

Anton Schmid was a devout Catholic who suffered deeply when he saw other people suffer. He was also a man of exceptional courage. His story might never have become known except for various pieces of testimony in our files on Murer [Franz Murer was the Nazi Deputy Commissar for the Vilnyus district of Lithuania]. Among the 250 survivors of the Vilnyus ghetto, there are several whose lives were saved by Anton Schmid. They later told me his story.

Many Germans in Vilnyus secretly condemned Murer’s atrocities, but they didn’t dare do anything. Schmid decided it was his Christian duty to help the oppressed Jews. He became a secret one-man relief organisation. He would slip into the ghetto, at great personal risk, bringing food to starving Jews. He would carry milk bottles in his pockets and deliver them for babies. He knew that thousands of Jews were hiding elsewhere in Vilnyus, and he acted as courier between them and their friends in the ghetto. He carried messages, bread and drugs. He even dared to steal Wehrmacht guns, which he gave to Jewish resistance fighters.

“He did all these things without ever waiting for anyone to thank him,” a survivor told me. “He did it out of the goodness of his heart. To us in the ghetto the frail, quiet man in the Feldwebel’s uniform was a sort of saint.”

The inevitable happened. The Gestapo discovered, during the first days of April 1942, that Schmid had tried to smuggle five Jews out of the ghetto and bring them to the near-by woods at Ponary where they hoped to hide. He was arrested. In the morning a German court martial sentenced him to death.

Four days later, on April 13 Anton Schmid was executed. He died with the five Jews whom he had wanted to save. He was buried in a small soldiers’ cemetery in Vilnyus. Two days later, the priest, Pastor Fritz Kropp, sent Schmid’s last letter to his widow in Vienna.

[The following transcripts of Schmid’s letter and the chaplain’s letter that accompanied it, were obtained from the Yadvashem’s Shoah Resource Centre.]


My dear Steffi,

Thinking of you in joy and in sorrow, I am informing you, my dearest, that my verdict has been announced today and that I must part from this world, am sentenced to death. Please remain strong and trust in our dear God who decides the fate of each one of us. I could not change anything anymore, otherwise I would have spared you and Gertha all this. Please forgive me, therefore, I did not want to cause you this pain, but unfortunately it cannot be changed any more. I am ready to die since this is the will of God and His will be done. You must resign yourself to this. I ask you again, please forget the pain which I inflicted upon you, my dear ones, and keep quiet about it. After all, I have only saved human beings, even if they were Jews, and this was my death. Just as I have always done everything for other people, I have also sacrificed everything for other people. Everything else you will hear, because a comrade will visit you and he will tell you how the court judges. Please do read the letters 1-4 which you are sure to receive, you will understand from them that I had intended it differently, but I considered you, my dear ones.

My dear ones, I beg you again, please forget me, it had to be this way, fate has willed it like that. I am concluding these last lines which I am still writing to you and I send many greetings and kisses to the two of you and to you my dearest one in this world and in the other world where I shall be soon in God’s hand and I remain your ever loving.



Dear Mrs Schmid,

I am herewith fulfilling the sad duty in transmitting to you the last lines which your dear husband has written. On Monday 13 April he had to say goodbye to this world. I was with him during the last hours in order to give him pastoral support. He received once more the holy sacraments and strengthened himself in prayer and in God’s word and remained strong to the last moment. His last words were the Lord’s Prayer, which I prayed together with him. His last request and his last wish was that you also should remain strong and that you should comfort yourself. I join in this wish, hoping that you find comfort and that there will be a meeting in God and that you continue your hard path in life in strength and courage and in confidence in God’s providence.

Your dear husband’s grave is in the soldiers’ cemetery 1914-1918, in the Wilna part of the city Antotol.

With the most devoted greetings,

Fritz Kropp, War Priest


[Wiesenthal’s account resumes:]

The name of Anton Schmid appears in several diaries of Jews who were later killed in the ghetto of Vilnyus. All described his kindness and courage. A few of the survivors remember him well. One day my friend Dr. Mark Dvorzecki, from Tel-Aviv, whose testimony during the Eichman trial had helped to convince the Austrians that Murer would have to be tried, came to see me in Vienna. He gave me the address of Anton Schmid’s widow.

I went to see Frau Schmid, a tired, elderly woman who keeps a small shop and has very little money. Her married daughter, Gertha, lives with her. They told me that life had not been easy for them in 1942, when it became known in their district that Feldwebel Schmid had been executed because he’d tried to save some Jews. Some neighbours even threatened Frau Schmid, the widow of a ‘traitor’, and told her to go elsewhere. A few people broke the windows in her home.

I asked Frau Schmid whether she had a wish. Yes, she said, she would like to visit the grave of her husband in Vilnyus. This was not easy to arrange for Vilnyus was, until 1965, closed to civilian tourists by the Russians. I told the story to the Soviet Ambassador in Vienna and asked him to get permission for the family to go to Vilnyus. I said the Documentation Centre [the war crimes organisation that Wiesenthal headed] would finance the trip. On October 29, 1965, Frau Schmid, her daughter and son-in-law took the train to Minsk and from there they took a plane to Vilnyus. The Documentation Centre will arrange that a tombstone be placed on the grave of Anton Schmid, with the inscription:

Here rests a man who thought it more important to help his fellow man than to live

Frau Schmid showed me an earlier letter from her husband, dated April 1 1942. At that time, he was already under investigation by the Gestapo. “Everybody must die some day,” he wrote. “One can die as an executioner or as a helper. I want to die as a helper.”

An old Jewish legend, often cited in Hassidic teachings, has it that there are thirty-six righteous men on earth, unknown to others, and themselves unaware of their mission. The legend goes back to Isaiah 56, where it says, ‘Glory to those who trust Him.’ ‘Him’ in Hebrew is written ‘LO’, and these two letters, according to the Hebrew system of numeration, in which certain letters also stand for certain numbers, make up the number 36. Also, according to the Babylonian Talmud, ‘the world has not less than thirty-six pious men who receive daily the face of God’. The thirty-six righteous men, according to these teachings are mostly poor, simple, ordinary people – workers, farmers, water-bearers and so on – but ‘the world is supported by them’. They are ‘the vessels into which the suffering of the whole world flows … If even one of them were not here, the world would perish with suffering’. They never make themselves known to other people. They appear at times of dire need, during great catastrophes, perform their duty and die.

[Here ends Wiesenthal’s testimony.]



Christians believe that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory – that none are righteous, but one alone! That the same one “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows”. The “punishment that was on him as brought us peace” and “God has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (see Isaiah 53). We participate in his righteousness by putting our faith in him, and by living in submission to his Spirit. It is that same Spirit that gives us the power and freedom to lay down our lives for others, as he has done for us.

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