In 1944 when the Germans were deporting Jews, Raoul Wallenberg a young Swedish diplomat would climb on top of freight trains and run along the cars handing out documents, fake but real enough to convince the Nazis that the recipients were under Swedish protection. Wallenberg would then jump off the train and demand that these people be released with him. On one occasion, the German soldiers were instructed to shoot Wallenberg on sight, but impressed by his courage they shot over his head as a warning instead. How Raoul Wallenberg a young man from one of Sweden’s most prominent families ended up saving tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust is a story of ingenuity, courage and chutzpah. Sadly his own fate remains unknown.
Every day on my way to work I pass a small park that says ‘Raoul Wallenberg reserve’ and never thought much about it, until I recently learnt about his heroism when the Australian Government announced that they were recognising him as Australia’s first honorary citizen.
More recently Charles Ramsey (pictured above) became a national hero in America. Ramsey was famously eating McDonald’s on his porch when he heard cries for help and went to investigate and helped break down a door to rescue Amanda Berry and two other women who had been held captive for a decade in a cellar in Ohio, Cleveland. Ramsey offered a ray of hope in a bleak, dark story and dealt with the attention using humour even saying ‘I knew something was wrong when a white girl ran straight into a black man’s arms’!
Of course given the age we live in, Ramsey has become an immediate Internet sensation with McDonald’s saluting him on twitter, YouTube videos etc. Even his employer Hodge’s Cleveland, the local restaurant where he works as a dishwasher, has started making “Cleveland’s Hero” T-shirts featuring Ramsey’s face. Proceeds from the shirts will go to the victims. One fan has had Ramsey’s face tattooed on his leg, giving hero worship a whole new meaning. Ramsey immediately dismissed any offer of the reward money saying that he just did the right thing, adding ‘Give it to the girls’.
And closer to home an everyday scenario that would test the hero in us. It seemed just like another day on Wooloowin platform in Brisbane’s north side, when a passenger waiting on the platform slipped and fell on the tracks, minutes before the arrival of the next train. Student nurse, Kate Ashby made a split second decision and jumped on the tracks to rescue the man, saving a life but risking her own to do so. Kate when interviewed said she was acting on instinct but also how she rang her classmates later to say she would be late but had a good excuse! Kate Ashby is being commended for her bravery. In this chilling footage we witness how Kate takes the lead and this energises other passengers who are probably in shock to help.
Sadly it doesn’t often turn out well for heroes. In 2007, Brendan Keilar a Melbourne city solicitor, was killed in front of horrified rush-hour CBD bystanders after he tried to intervene in an altercation involving a gunman and a young woman. It was heart breaking seeing images of his young children at his funeral a few days later and also moving watching his 9 year old son accepting a bravery award for his father’s heroic actions a year later.
Interestingly a psychologist interviewed on TV said while we all like to imagine we would do the right thing, we simply can’t predict how we would respond unless we are in the actual situation. So in situations like this would you freeze, flee or step in and be a hero? I’m unsure how I would respond, I do know one thing for sure though. People like Raoul Wallenberg, Charles Ramsey, Kate Ashby & Brendan Keilar make me proud to be human…and that’s not something we get to feel often.
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