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Honour for officer

Last updated: 2004-04-26

John Withers

John Withers

Forty-nine years after he saved the lives of two young Jewish teenagers by hiding them within the ranks of his Army unit, former US Lieutenant John Withers has been honoured in a ceremony which took place at Congregation B'nai Israel in New Jersey,

"John Withers represents the best of America and the best of humanity," said Rabbi Jack Rosoff. "He extended a helping hand at substantial personal risk to save the lives of two teenage boys. It is important for people to know that there are those in the world who will put themselves at risk for people in need," he added.

Near the end of World War II, a time when the U.S. Army was segregated, Withers lead an all-black supply convoy unit in Germany. In direct violation of Army orders and at the risk of a dishonorable discharge, Withers hid two Jewish teenagers within the ranks of his truck company for over a year.

The two, both survivors of Dachau concentration camp, were literally sores, skin and bones when they came to the unit, and stayed for more than a year becoming stronger, healthier and learning English from Withers and his men.

At the time, Withers fought for freedoms that he, as a Black American, could not enjoy; black soldiers rode separately from whites and were expected to step aside when a white walked by. Yet, he understood the difference between right and wrong, and knew that leaving these young men, whose families were killed in the Holocaust, was wrong.

Because of his heroic humanitarian acts, Withers has earned the title "Righteous Gentile," a named given by the Jewish community to those who saved the lives of Jews before and during the Holocaust.

In a recent interview published in the Wall Street Journal, Withers said of his decision to hide the boys, "I think I identified with them very strongly and instantaneously."

Dr. John L. Withers, now 87 years old, is a retired Foreign Service Officer, who served in Laos, Thailand, Burma, Korea, Ethiopia, Kenya and India. He served in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1947.