Considering the scale and caliber of WWII, it’s reasonable to assume that many of those who fought in and survived the war would go on to be household names. In fact, that assumption would be entirely accurate. A quick search of “notable people who survived WWII” will yield millions of results, with the top result being a Wikipedia page with hundreds of alphabetized names. The following people were involved in the war in one way or another and continued on to make history in other ways.
While this may not be a name you recognize, Abraham made history as the first former Nazi to convert to Judaism. Abraham, who was a Hitler Youth member and a Luftwaffe pilot for the Nazi Army, was originally born Karl Heinz Schneider.
During his time as a dive bomber pilot, Abraham was stationed in Poland. It was there that he witnessed a group of Jews being executed by SS members. The event proved to be transformative to the Nazi soldier. From that point forward, Abraham would fake illness to avoid combat. He would adjust his aim to purposely miss designated targets and sabotage bombs to stop detonation.
In order to pay penance for his wrongs, Abraham worked as a coal miner for twenty years. A third of his income was anonymously donated to organizations centered on Jewish orphans and concentration camp survivors. In the mid-sixties, Abraham moved to Galilee, Isreal, where he officially changed his name, converted to Judaism, and became an Israeli citizen.
Every year, more and more stories come to light about the brave and intelligent women who played a substantial role in WWII. One such woman is Vera Atkins. Over the course of the war, Atkins trained approximately 400 secret agents—a majority of whom were women. Their training lasted for months on end as Vera ensured they were equipped for missions and could flawlessly account the most minute details of their new identities.
As the war drew to a close in 1945, Atkin was dismayed over her agents who remained unaccounted for—over 100 of them could not be found. Knowing she needed to find these women, she forced her way onto the British War Crimes Commission. It was there that she became known as a ruthless interrogator. It is reported that she easily coaxed the commandant of Auschwitz to admit their crimes in a matter of hours.
Atkins never lost sight of her overall goal, though. She used the information gleaned from her interrogations to continue the search for her lost spies. She hunted down names etched into the walls of jail cells, meticulously studied sketches from a concentration camp survivor who had been a former Vogue artist, and intercepted important letters. The missing women were not a national priority, so all such work was done rather covertly and privately.
Atkins spent years searching for her girls and worked to retrace their last steps. She knew their fates, yet she had sent them to their end and felt it right to find them—no matter the end. Atkins made it her life’s purpose to honor the brave women who gave their lives to the war.
To say that the best of humanity presents itself during times of great suffering can surely be applied to WWII. Hundreds of incredible stories like the two above are waiting to be read, shared, and honored. Hundreds more remain a secret or as a family’s beloved lore.