Stanley Nowinski ’37: Righteous Among the Nations
In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day today, Jan. 27, we honor the memory of Stanley Nowinski ’37 who earned the distinctive honor of being named Righteous Among the Nations.
Nowinski was the son of Polish Catholic immigrants and grew up on a farm near Ripon. His service during World War II and his humanitarianism led to recognition on the world stage for his assistance to displaced Jews after the war.
Nowinski majored in German, history and economics at Ripon College and later taught German here. He was drafted into the military in 1941. He was one of the seven surviving sons in the family who all served during the war, including Peter Nowinski ’45.
Stanley Nowinski was an officer in the Rainbow Division, 42nd Infantry, of the U.S. Army in Europe and was one of the liberators of the infamous Dachau Nazi concentration camp. After V-E Day in May 1945, he was assigned as the Displaced Persons Control Officer in Salzburg, Austria. He was charged with collecting, feeding, clothing and housing displaced people, then repatriating them to their home countries. Many Jewish survivors from Eastern Europe feared going back and claimed they were Italians, with the ultimate goal of going to Palestine (modern-day Israel) instead.
Against orders and at the risk of jeopardizing his military career, Nowinski worked with Bricha, an underground Jewish survivor organization, to help about 40,000 Polish and German Jews with altered identification papers pass through the Italian reception center to Palestine.
“It wasn’t exactly illegal,” Nowinski told The Journal Times newspaper of Racine, Wisconsin, in 1973. “If they said they were Italians, my job was to get them back to Italy. I just wouldn’t look too carefully at their papers.”
He also authorized Abba Weinstein (later Abba Gefen), a Bricha leader, to form the Committee for Assistance to Jewish Refugees and worked to get more food to refugees.
Nowinski later served in the Korean War and retired from the Army in 1961 as a lieutenant colonel. He then taught German and American history at Union Grove High School in Wisconsin for six years.
In 1973, Nowinski and his wife, Hazel, were invited to Israel where he received the Remembrance Medal and the Righteous Among the Nations designation for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. At Yad Vashem, a national shrine housing a mourning light for those who didn’t survive the Holocaust, the Nowinskis relighted the light and visited the archives, a rare honor.
Nowinski is cited as a hero in several Jewish history books. He died in 1993 at the age of 81.