20 Heroes of World War II

History, specifically the time around World War II is full of Heroics, and the bookshelves are filled with tales of great men of war. However, the names and stories of most of these heroes perish with history. Some of these stories of heroes became a legend and told from generation to generation. We can’t calculate the number of heroes who sacrifice their life during the World War II, but we have collected some of the heroes who made their nations proud by their work and sacrifice. After the years, World recognizes their efforts and awarded them with the national and international Awards.

1. Audie Murphy

Audie Murphy was one of the most decorated American soldiers of WWII. He received every military combat award for valor available from the United States Army, as well as Belgian and French awards for heroism. He got the Medal of Honor at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off a whole company of German army for an hour in France in January 1945. Then he leads a successful counterattack while wounded and without ammunition. He was born into a large sharecropper family in Hunt County, Texas. After the Attack on Perl Harbor, her older sister helped him for the requirement in the military. He enlisted in the Army, after turning down by the Marine Corps and the Navy. In 1944, Audie Murphy participated in the liberation of Rome and Invasion of the Southern part of France. He fought at Montelimar and led his soldiers on an assault at L’Omet quarry near Cleurie, France. After the war, he enjoyed his 21-year acting career. He worked in the film To Hell and Back. He died in a plane crash in Virginia in 1971, before his 46th birthday.

2. Matt Urban

Matt Louis Urban was an American and United States Army Lieutenant Colonel. Matt Urban is one of the most decorated army officers who got the Medal of Honor for heroism in World War II. He fought valiantly in combat on numerous occasions despite being wounded many times. He was born with the name of Matthew Louis Urbanowicz in New York on August 25, 1919. He was commissioned in the U.S Army as Second Lieutenant of Infantry on 22 May 1941 and started his duty at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He served in six campaigns during World War II and was wounded his seventh time while charging a machine gun position of the enemy in Belgium, in September 1944. Matt Urban was promoted to Major and Lieutenant Colonel on 2 October 1944 and 2 October 1945. He was retired from Army medically on Feb 26, 1946. Matt Urban got over a dozen decorations from the U.S Army for combat, including seven Purple Hearts. In 1980, the U.S Army awarded him with the Medal of Honor and four other decorations for his actions in Belgium and France in 1944. He died on March 4, 1995.

3. Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler was a Polish nurse, social worker and humanitarian who served in the Polish Underground in German-Occupied Warsaw during World War II. She was born as Irena Krzyzanowska on Feb 15, 1910, in Warsaw. She was the head of the children section of Zegota, the Polish Council of Aid Jews, active from 1942 to 1945. With the help of two dozen of other Zegota members, she smuggled more than 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and furnished them with false identity documents and shelters, saving them from the Holocaust. Irena saved more Jews lives than any other individual during the Holocaust. The German army found her activities, and the Gestapo arrested her. After that, they tortured her and sentenced her to death. However, she managed to evade execution and survive. In 1965, the State of Israel and Righteous Among the Nations recognized her. Later in life, Polish Government awarded her with the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest honor, for her humanitarian works. She died on May 12, 2008, in Warsaw, Poland, at the age of 98.

4. Giovanni Palatucci

Giovanni Palatucci was an Italian police officer who had believed to have saved thousands of Jews in Fiume between 1939 and 1944 from being deported to Nazi extermination camps. He was born in Montella, Avellino, Italy. He entered police service in Genoa in 1936, and he was assigned to Fiume the following year. A research panel of historians led by the Centro Primo Levi reviewed more than 700 documents in 2013 and concluded that Giovanni Palatucci had followed German and RSI order regarding the Jews and allowing the deportation of the more than 570 Jews living in Fiume and surrounding areas. 412 Jews were deported to Auschwitz and others to an Italian city. He died on Feb 10, 1945.

5. Dimitar Peshev

Dimitar Peshev was the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Bulgaria and the Minister of Justice before World War II. He was born in 1894 to an affluent family, in Kyustendil. He fought on the southern front in World War I and completed his law studies a year after the war and became a judge. He was the good friend of Bulgaria’s Jewish community. Dimitar Peshev rebelled against the pro-Nazi cabinet and stopped the deportation of Bulgari’s 48,000 Jews and got the title of “Righteous Among the Nations.” Peshev Ridge in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica is named after him. In Washington DC, the intersection of R Street NW and 22nd Street near to the Embassy of Bulgaria was given the honorific of Dimitar Peshev Plaza. Dimitar Peshev died on 20 February 1973, in Sofia, Bulgaria.

6. Ernst Werner Techow

Ernst Werner Techow was a German right-wing assassin. He was born in Berlin, Germany on 12 October 1901. He took part in the assassination of the Foreign Ministry of Germany Walther Rathenau, in 1922. After the release from the prison, he joined the Nazi party. Later in World War II, Ernst Werner Techow joined the Volkssturm. Techow changed his mind about political beliefs after his release from prison. He joined the French Foreign Legion with the name of “Tessier.” He became popular for helping Jews escape from occupied France. The American Journalist George W. Herald turned it into a story for Harper’s Magazine in 1943. The Soviet Red Army captured him and killed him near Dresden on 9 May 1945 due to misunderstanding.

7. Witold Pilecki

Witold Pilecki was a Polish soldier, the founder of the Secret Polish Army resistance Force in German-occupied Poland and member of the underground Home Arm formed in February 1942. Witold Pilecki was the author of Witold’s Report, the first brief Allied intelligence report on the Holocaust and Auschwitz concentration camp. Witold Pilecki was Roman Catholic. During the 2nd World War, he volunteered himself to get imprisoned in the Auschwitz death camp to get intelligence and escape. In the camp, he organized a resistance movement and in the start of 1941, informed the Western Allies of Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz atrocities. He escaped from the camp after nearly two and half years of imprisonment in 1943. He took part in the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944. Witold Pilecki remained loyal to the London-based Polish Government-in-exile when Soviet Union takeover of Poland. He was arrested by Soviet Secret Police in 1947 on charges of working for “foreign imperialism.” Witold Pilecki was executed in 1948 after a show trial. Due to lots of sacrifices, he was considered as “One of the Greatest wartime heroes.” On Jan 27, 2013, the Polish Ambassador to the US, Ryszard Schnepf, described Witold as “the Highest example of Polish Patriotism” and “Diamond among Poland’s Heroes.”

8. Simo Hayha

Simo Hayha, nicknamed “White Death” was a Finnish marksman, using the Suomi KP/-31 and a Finnish M/28-30 rifle, in the Winter War, he had killed 505 men, the highest record number of sniper kills in any major war. Simo Hayha was born in Rautjarvi near the present-day border of Russia and Finland and initiated hi military service in 1925. Before the Army, he was a hunter and farmer. Hayha joined the Finnish militia suojeluskunta at the age of 20 and succeeded his marksman skill in shooting in Viipuri province. Hayha home was full of trophies for marksmanship. During the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, he served as a sniper for the Finnish Army against the Red Army during the Battle of Kollaa in temperature between -40 C and -20 C, Dressed completely in white camouflage. He had the credit of 505 sniper kills. All the kills were accomplished in less than 100 days. On March 6, 1940, he was hit by an explosive bullet in the lower left jaw by a Red Army soldier. He was picked by fellow soldiers who stated that “half his face was missing.” However, he did not die. Simo Hayha regains consciousness on 13 March and the day was declared as Peace Day. He died in Hamina in 2002 at the age of 96.

9. Jack Churchill

Lieutenant-Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Jack Churchill was the Officer of British Army who fought throughout the World War II armed with bagpipes, longbow, and a basket-hilted Scottish broadsword. His nicknames were “Mad Jack” and “Fighting Jack Churchill.” He was famous for his motto: “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.” According to records, he carried out the last recorded longbow and arrow, shooting a German NCO in a French Village during the Battle of France in 1940. In May 1940, He and his unit, the Manchester Regiment, ambushed a German patrol, in France. He gave the signal to attack by cutting the enemy Feldwebel with a barbed arrow. He is the soldier known to have felled an enemy with a longbow in World War II. He helped the evacuation of 700 Jewish doctors, patients and students from the Hadassah Hospital on the Hebrew University campus in Jerusalem. He also appeared in a film Ivanhoe in 1952. He retired from the Army in 1959 and got two awards of the Distinguished Service Order. He died in 1996 in Surrey.

10. Henryk Slawik

Henryk Slawik was a Polish politician in the interwar period, activist, social worker, and diplomat, who helped save more than 30,000 Polish refugees during the World War II. The Refugees includes 5,000 Polish Jews in Budapest, Hungary. He furnished them false Polish passports with Catholic designation. On 23 August 1944, Henryk Slawik was executed with some of his fellow Polish activists in concentration camp Gusen on the order of Reichsfuhrer SS. The place of Henryk Slawik burial remains unknown. According to reports, he helped as many as 30,000 Polish refugees in Hungary. After 1948, both governments of Hungary and Poland did commemorate his works and pointed out his importance for humanity. He was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem Commemorative Authority on Jan 26, 1977.

11. Necdet Kent

Necdet Kent was a Turkish diplomat who risked his life to secure Jews during World War II. Necdet Kent was born in Istanbul Turkey on 1 January 1911. In 1937, he entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and posted as vice consul to Athens, Greece. Later, appointed as vice consul at Marseilles, France, and worked there until 1944. After WW II, he continued his career in the Turkish Foreign Service. He died on 20 Sep, 2002 at the age of 91. Necdet Kent, Selahattin Ulkumen, and Namik Kemal Yolga, also Turkish diplomats who had worked in European countries and saved man Jews during the WW II, were honored with Turkey’s Supreme Service Medal in 2001. Israel also awarded him with the Award of Righteous Among the Nations, for rescuing Jews during the World War II.

12. Hugh O’Flaherty

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, CBE, was an Irish Roman Catholic priest, senior officer of the Roman Curie and important figure in Catholic resistance to Nazism during WWII. He was born on 28 Feb 1898 in Lisrobin, Kiskeam, County Cork. In 1934, Hugh O’Flaherty was appointed Monsignor. In early days of war, he toured prisons of war camps in Italy and tried to search prisoners who had been reported missing. During the World War II, Hugh O’Flaherty was responsible for saving lives of 6,500 Allied soldiers and Jews. He got the nickname of “the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican” due to his ability to evade the traps set up by the German Sicherheitsdienst and Gestapo. He was the only Irishman named Notary of the Holy Office that time. He suffered a serious stroke during Mass in 1960 and was forced to return to Ireland. He died on Oct 30, 1963, at the age of 65. In 2008, the Irish television TG4 broadcast a 51 minute documentary on Father Hugh O’Flaherty.

13. Douglas MacArthur

Douglas MacArthur was an American five-star general and field marshal of the Philippine Army. During the 1930s, he was the Chief of Staff of the United States Army and played an important role in the Pacific theater during the 2nd World War. Douglas MacArthur and his father Arthur MacArthur, Jr received the Medal of Honor for their services in the Philippine Campaign. He was one of the five men ever to rise to the rank of General of the Army in the US Army. Douglas MacArthur was the only man to become a field marshal in the Philippine Army. During 1914, he conducted a reconnaissance mission and was nominated for the Medal of Honor. He became Chief of Staff of the 42nd Division in 1917. He retired from the US Army in 1937 and became the Military Advisor to the Government of the Philippines. In 1941, he was recalled to duty as commander of the US Army Forces in the Far East. During the invasion of the Philippines by the Japanese, he became the Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area. For the defense of the Philippines, he got the Medal of Honor. Douglas MacArthur officially accepted Japan’s Surrender on Sep 1945; he became the effective ruler of Japan from 1945 to 1951. He earned more than 100 military decorations from the U.S and other countries.

14. Alvin York

Alvin York, also known by his rank, Sergeant York, was one of the most decorated soldiers of US Army in WW I. He got the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on German Machine Gun nest, killing 28 German soldiers and capturing 132 soldiers. He was the hero of the World War I. At the World War II, his age was fifty-four years. He tried to re-enlist in the Army and commissioned as a major in the Army Signal Corps. He toured many training camps and. Alvin York raised funds for war-related charities such as the Red Cross. He served during the war with the honorary rank of Colonel in the Army Signal Corps. He got the rank of Colonel with Seventh Infantry of the Tennessee State Guard. Due to his works in WWII, newspapers continued to call him as “Sgt. York”. York died on Sept 2, 1964, at the Veterans Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee.

15. Abdol Hossein Sardari

Abdol Hossein Sardari was an Iranian statesman and diplomat who saved the lives of multiple Jews during the World War II. He was famous as the “Schindler of Iran” and was the uncle of Fereydoun Hoveyda and Amir Abbas. He was in charge of the Iranian consular office in 1942, in Parish. A sizeable community of Iranian Jews was living in Paris when Hitler invaded and occupied the city. Nazi Germany and Iran had an agreement for the protection of all Iranian Citizens. He was able to protect Jews of Iran, whose families were living in Iran since the time of the Persian Empire. He strongly defended this point to the Germans and ascertained that the Iranian Jews had protection under this status. He also began issuing hundreds of Iranian passports for non-Iranians Jews to save their lives. He died at the age of 1981 at Nottingham. He has been honored by Jewish organization including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Convention in Beverly Hills on many occasions.

16. John Rabe

John Rabe was a German businessman and member of Nazi party who was famous for his efforts to stop the atrocities of the Japanese Army during the Nanking Occupation. He also protected and helped Chinese civilians during the Event. He created the Nanking Safety Zone to shelter more than 200,000 Chinese people from slaughter during the massacre. Officially, he represented Germany and acted as senior chief of the European-American establishment that remained in Nanjing, the capital of China at that time. John Rabe died of a stroke on Jan 5, 1950. His tombstone was moved from Berlin to Nanjing in 1997 where it received a place of honor. In 2005, his former residence in Nanking was renovated and accommodated the “John Rabe and International Safety Zone Memorial Hall.” Wartime Diaries of John Rabe are published in English as The Good German of Nanking (UK Title).

17. Charles Coward

Charles Coward, famous as the “Count of Auschwitz” was a British soldier captured by Germans during the World War II. He had the credit of rescuing many Jews from Auschwitz and claimed he had smuggled himself into the camp for one night. He joined the British Army in June 1937 and was captured in May 1940 while serving with the 8th Reserve Regimental Royal Artillery. He made two escape attempts before reaching a prisoner of war camp. After that, he made seven further attempts. He managed to be awarded the Iron Cross while posing as a wounded soldier in a German Army field Hospital. In December, he transferred to the Auschwitz III labor camp where more than 10,000 Jewish slave laborers were working. Due to his command over the German language, he was appointed Red Cross liaison office for 1200 to 1400 British prisoners. He used Red Cross supplies to buy from the SS guards corpses of dead prisoners. He gave the documents and clothes taken from the non-Jewish corpses to the Jewish escapees. Then these Jews had smuggled out of the camp altogether. In this way, he saved at least 400 Jewish labors. In January, the POWs were merged under guard to Bavaria and were eventually liberated. He died in 1976 at the age of 71.

18. Angel Sanz Briz

Angel Sanz Briz was a Spanish professional diplomat of Francoist Spain during WWII. He saved the lives of more than five thousand Hungarian Jews from Nazi persecution. After studying law, he was posted to Cairo. In 1942, he was sent to Budapest where he helped the Jews by issuing them fake Spanish papers, getting houses in Budapest to provide shelter for the refugees. In 1944, when Red Army reached Budapest, the government ordered him to leave for Switzerland. After that, he continued his career and posted to Washington DC and San Francisco. In 1976, he was sent to Rome as Ambassador of Spain. He died there on June 11, 1980. He was recognized by the Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem in Israel in 1991. He got the title of Righteous Among the Nations. The Hungarian government awarded Angel Sanz Briz the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 1994.

19. Raoul Wallenberg

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish architect, diplomat, businessman, and humanitarian. He was famous for saving tens of thousands of Jews in Jews Nazi-occupied Hungary from the German forces during the Holocaust and Hungarian during the last stages of WWII. During his services as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest between July and December 1944, he issued passports and sheltered Jews in building named as Swedish Territory. During the Siege of Budapest by the Red Army on 17 January 1945, he was detained by SMERSH on espionage. He was reported to have died on July 17, 1947, while imprisoned by communist authorities in the Lubyanka and affiliated prison in Moscow. Due to his brave actions on behalf of the Hungarian Jews, he has been the subject of many humanities honors after his presumed death. He was nominated twice for the Noble Peace Prize, in 148 and 1949. The US Congress made him an Honorary Citizen of the United States in 1981, the second person with this honor, after Winston Churchill. Many honors are given to him by many countries such as Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Georgia, Hungary, Israel, Russia, Peru, Sweden, UK, and the United States.

20. Giorgio Perlasca

Giorgio Perlasca was in Italian who, with the assistance of official diplomats, saved 5218 Jews from deportation to Nazi Germany death camps in Eastern Europe. At the start of World War II, he worked for the Italian Army in the Balkans. Later, appointed as an official delegate of the Italian government and sent to Eastern Europe with the task of buying meat for the Italian Army fighting on Russian Front. Italy surrendered to the Allied forces on Sep 8, 1943. He was arrested and sent to a castle reserved for diplomats. He used a medical status for free travel within Hungary. Got the name of “Jorge” and became a free man in Poland. Giorgio Perlasca made the false announcement that he had been appointed as the Spanish Consul-General to Hungary. He was active in hiding and feeding thousands of Jews in Budapest, throughout the Winter. After War, he returned to Italy. He was designated as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel. A bust of Giorgio Perlasca was created in Budapest. He died of a heart attack in 1992.

Aaric Hale

Aaric Hale is a writer whose expertise includes an array of topics across several industries—having done several articles on science, history, and the latest trends. Interested in the act of learning itself, he tries to keep his mind busy with exploring histories, global news, and about the world. Aaric Hale also wants to contribute to the popularization of science and communicate ideas across the globe.