Award Winning Essay - Moral Courage: Heroes

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"On behalf of the Anti-Defamation League and No Place for Hate®, we are honored to congratulate you on being the Grand Prize winner in ADL’s 2016 Spring Essay Contest, Division II: 7th and 8th grade. We received over 350 essays, and your essay, Moral Courage: Heroes, resonated with judges and stood out among all the others.  As the Grand Prize winner, you will receive a cash prize from the contest’s sponsor, TD Bank." gavi mellman

Moral Courage: Heroes   By: Gavi Melman

Not all heroes wear capes and fly. Normal people do amazing things every day, risking life and limb for another human being who they might not even know. Without these courageous acts of loving-kindness the world would be much different and crueler than it is today. These types of people do everything from opening the door for an older person, which is something we can all do, to putting themselves in harm's way to protect the defenseless. While some acts are more astounding than others, every action counts.

According to the dictionary, moral courage is defined as "the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences." I think this is mostly true, but that they left out a key part: it is the courage to take action against injustice despite the fear of negative consequences in the future, AND despite the current and recurring pressure to conform and "go with the flow" even when one knows that "the flow" is morally corrupt.

Loukas Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos are heroes who impacted the world, despite immense risk, for the better. Loukas Karrer was the Mayor of Zakynthos, an island in Greece, during the time of the Nazi occupation soon after World War II began. When the Nazis conquered Greece, the governor of Zakynthos asked Karrer for a list of the names of all the Jews that lived there. The Mayor was indecisive at first, and decided to ask the Bishop Chrysostomos on his opinion of what he should do. Everyone knew that every single person whose name he put on that list would be 'exterminated'; the only question was if he would comply with the macabre request or have the moral courage to fight it.

As it turned out, the answer was that he not only could, but would fight. Both Karrer and Chrysostomos showed immense moral courage and refused to sell out their loyal Jewish citizens to worshippers of the Angel of Death. Enraged, the governor gave them one more chance to change their minds and demanded that they give him the paper with the Jewish names on it. Most daringly of all, they decided they would give him a paper with names - though not the ones he was expecting. When the governor took the note the men had given him, it had but two names on it: Loukas Karrer and Dimitrios Chrysostomos. They vowed that if the Nazis wanted to take their Jews, they would have to take them first.

Not only did Karrer report to the governor; he also wrote a letter to Hitler, the man who had ordered the deaths of Zakynthos's and the rest of Europe's Jews. In the letter, Karrer explained that the Jews in his land were officially under his protection and could not be taken away to be killed. Karrer wanted to make it as clear as possible that his Jews, if no one else's, would survive the Holocaust, regardless of Hitler's wishes.

Even without the names, the Jews could still hypothetically be sniffed out by the Nazi bloodhounds, so for their safety Karrer ordered them to hide. Many hid in Christian homes where they were protected and treated like family. On an island of thousands, with less than 300 Jews total, not one Christian gave up their Jewish friends' identities to the Nazis. All of them knew about it; if even one had been too weak to keep quiet and had caved in and told, the whole Jewish community might have been lost. Fortunately, the group effort and the work of each individual payed off and not a single Jew was caught.

Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos did not die while standing up for the rights of their fellow Greeks. Loukas lived from 1909-1985, while the Bishop's life spanned the years from 1890 until 1958. They both survived to see the good they caused and the 275 Jewish lives they saved. Neither thought he was being a hero - they had simply done the humane, respectable thing to do.

Doing what one thinks is right - even if in reality it is really wrong - shows moral courage. Unless one takes control of his own situation and changes it, nothing gets better. The brave mayor and bishop took the matter of their Jews lives into their own hands and decided to save them. Hopefully people will have the chance to be heroes like Karrer and Chrysostomos by changing lives for good.