Paul Grüninger, a Swiss police commander, saved about 3,600 Jewish refugees during WWII by backdating their visas and falsifying other documents to indicate they entered Switzerland when legal entry of refugees was still possible.
For his actions, he was dismissed from the police force, convicted of official misconduct and fined.
Reflecting back later in life, he said “It was basically a question of saving human lives threatened with death. How could I then seriously consider bureaucratic schemes and calculations.”
Maggie Lena Walker, the daughter of a former slave and cook, was the first woman to charter a bank in the United States in 1902. The bank offered loans and mortgages to black residents of Richmond, Virginia who were otherwise denied service by white-owned banks.
A year later she started a department store allowing black customers to shop with dignity: To enter through the main doors instead of a side entrance, to try on clothing before buying, and to eat at lunch counters. Her store displayed clothing on brown-skinned mannequins and hired exclusively black women to work as clerks.
Later the same year, Walker utilized her newspaper to urge Richmond residents to boycott the city’s segregated streetcar system. The boycott was so effective the company operating the street cars declared bankruptcy two months later.
Frances Louisa Clayton, better known as Jack Williams to the soldiers with whom she served, disguised herself as a man in order to fight for the Union Army in the American Civil War. She served in both cavalry and artillery regiments, and participated in eighteen battles, most alongside her husband until he perished at the Battle of Stones River.
“Keep awake. The longer possible. Struggle against sleep. The calculation is easy. In one hour, I make 30 false papers. If I sleep one hour, 30 people will die.”
Adolfo Kaminsky often went without sleep. Sometimes for days in a row.
He was only 18 years old, but already a forger of documents for Jews in Paris during WWII. And usually for those in the most urgent situations. His resistance cell received tips of who was to be arrested for deportation to concentration camps. Then Adolfo would forge documents for these people.
It was like working on “a production line at a fate factory,” he would later tell his daughter.
“The smallest error and you send someone to prison or death. It’s a great responsibility. It’s heavy. It’s not at all a pleasure.”
But he felt a need to do the work. “I saved lives because I can’t deal with unnecessary deaths — I just can’t.”
His forged documents saved about 14,000 people.
Sources: https://nyti.ms/2petBrX, https://bit.ly/2JgyVFa
West Palm Beach, Florida, circa 1910