40 Acts of Valor: Stories of Selfless Heroes

1Maximilian Kolbe

Maximilian Kolbe

A Polish priest named Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to die in the place of a man in Auschwitz after he overheard him cry out for his wife and children. The man he saved, Mr. Gajowniczek, died in 1995 at the age of 93.

2Frances Kelsey

Frances Kelsey

An FDA official named Frances Kelsey saved the US from a generation of children with birth defects such as flipper-like arms and feet by repeatedly blocking the authorization of a drug named Thalidomide in the 1960s that was already approved for use in pregnant women in Europe.

3Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler

A woman named Irena Sendler worked as a plumber in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War 2 and saved over 2,500 Jewish children, smuggling many of them out in her tool box. She was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize but lost to Al Gore.

4Nicholas Winton

Nicholas Winton

During World War II, a stockbroker named Nicholas Winton saved the lives of 669 Czechoslovakian Jewish children who were destined for Nazi death camps by taking them to England. He refused to take credit, and his accomplishment went unnoticed for 50 years until his wife found a scrapbook of the children that he saved and gave it to the BBC in 1988.

5Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer

Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer

Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer was a Dutch woman who saved 10,000 Jewish children during World War II by charming and paying off Dutch train workers and German officers, including a young Adolf Eichmann.

6Jencie Fagan

Jencie Fagan

In 2006, a teacher named Jencie Fagan stopped a school shooter by hugging the shooter. The shooter dropped the gun, and the teacher held him firmly against her until other teachers arrived to help.

7Minnie Freeman

Minnie Freeman

In 1888, a Nebraska teacher named Minnie Freeman saved all of her students after a freak blizzard struck. The winds were so strong that the roof and door blew off the school. She roped the kids together and led them over a mile in whiteout conditions to the nearest farmhouse.

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8Marcel Marceau

Marcel Marceau

Marcel Marceau was a French mime who used his acting skills to save Jewish children during World War II. He smuggled them over the Swiss border and would mime to keep them happy and get them to stay quiet. He saved at least 70 children.

9Ina Koenig

Ina Koenig

In 2012, a German kindergarten teacher named Ina Koenig jumped down a 75-foot mine shaft when one of her 3-year-old students accidentally fell down it. It was filled with cold water. For more than 2 hours, she kept the child's head above the deluge, saving his life, until help arrived.

10Liviu Librescu

Liviu Librescu

Liviu Librescu, who was born in Romania and raised in Israel and the United States, was a scientist, engineer, professor, teacher, and Holocaust survivor. During the Virginia Tech shootings, he held the door of his classroom while the gunman kept shooting through the door. His bravado ended up saving 22 of his 23 students.

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