People Share 30 Of The Most Unexpected Acts Of Kindness Throughout Our History
While Ukraine is being invaded by Russia, we at Bored Panda decided to take a look back at the past and remember the moments when people proved they can be there for one another despite the difficult circumstances they were in.
We discovered a post on the subreddit r/history that has plenty of these examples—it began when user ThatLegendjpb asked the community to describe their favorite unexpected acts of kindness. Turns out, there have been plenty of such instances!
From ancient Rome to WWII, everyone began sharing proof that humanity isn't as bad as it sometimes seems so let's take a look at some of the wholesome stories and hope that the bloodshed in Europe will end soon.
Japanese Diplomat in Lithuania during WW2. He was giving free travel passes to anyone who asked, especially Jews fleeing the holocaust. He was ordered by his government to stop and refused. As his embassy was being closed down, he and his wife were signing documents and handing them out to all refugees all the way to the train station; even to the point of throwing signed documents out the window as the train left.
He saved 6,000 to 10,000 lives by his actions and was later named among "the Righteous of Nations" and had his name and story entered into a museum in Israel to be forever remembered.
Dr. Darren R. Reid, a historian who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Dundee and is now a lecturer at Coventry University, told Bored Panda that it's often not the scope of an action that can make it honorable.
"Personally, the greatest acts of kindness for me come from the smallest of gestures," he said. "Holding the door open for a stranger, smiling at someone when you make eye contact with them when you pass them in the street, making conversation with someone you find yourself sitting next to on a park bench, etc. These are far from the most elaborate acts of kindness, but they are things we can all do every second of every day. They cost nothing and, if everyone did them, I think the world would overall be a little better."
But if Dr. Reid was to answer the question on Reddit, he would probably choose the acceptance of refugees from warzones with no preconditions. "We should not live in a world where governments (such as the British government) only accept refugees in limited numbers. The rhetoric and ideologies of the Far Right have been allowed to burn through our society for too long. It is time we start putting humanitarianism and human rights back at the center of our thinking," he said.
But teaching young people at Coventry University has taught Dr. Reid that random acts of kindness, even if it means simply being a decent person, still hold value. "The young people I teach are dedicated humanitarians who are dedicated to making the world a better place and fixing some of the messes that have been created in recent years. They give me a lot of faith in the future," Dr. Reid explained.
The candy bomber story post-WWII makes me cry every time. He’s still alive today. He’s 99 years old!
The US airlifted tons and tons of supplies daily to West Berlin when they were blocked and left to die by the Soviet Union. One pilot dropped tiny parachutes of candy for the German kids after an encounter with a group of them and they asked him what he was chewing. It was gum and they’d never seen one. He gave one to them and one kid split one piece of gum into many tiny pieces and shared it with all the kids. They said, “Someday we’ll have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, we’ll never get it back.” After that, he secretly started to gather candy, chocolates, and gum for them and told them to watch out for his plane. But he violated the rules by doing that and he was called to the office thinking he would get in trouble but he was encouraged instead. It was really heartwarming. The kids are now grown and they celebrate him every year and invite him to Germany all the time.
It was the sweetest story. I love it so much. Wars or times of crisis really bring out the worst or best in people. Eventually humanity always wins.
But what about groups of people, not individuals? Are, say, governmental entities capable of acting in someone else's interest? Absolutely! Sometimes.
"In terms of historic examples, look no further than the Choctaw who donated $170 to Ireland during the potato famine," Dr. Reid said.
"You have to understand that the Choctaw were a Native American tribe who suffered terribly during this period. They were one of the first nations to be forcibly removed under the Indian Removal Act, a piece of legislation designed to ethnically cleanse the eastern United States of its indigenous population. Aside from being forced out of their homes, the Choctaw were then marched across the continent, a journey that cost them at least 25%(!) of their population. The journey was so devastating they called it the Trail of Tears. That's already an astounding loss, but once the Choctaw arrived at their new home, they had few resources and, so, even more of their population was lost. It was a terrible, genocidal incident, and it is in that context that the Choctaw, learning about what was happening in Ireland, donated whatever they could to help."
In a lovely epilogue, Dr. Reid told us many Irish made donations to help two Native American reservations (Navajo and Hopi) in 2020 during the outbreak of the coronavirus, citing the generosity of the Choctaw as their inspiration. "With stories like that, who couldn't be hopeful?"
Not sure if this qualifies. The cemeteries of fallen soldiers in WWII in the Netherlands are adopted by local primary schools. Every year, they clean up the graves, add flowers and bring homage.
This includes the cemeteries of German soldiers
A Japanese pilot bombed a Canadian town during WWII and started a huge forest fire. He returned after the war to apologize and offered them his sword, which is still on display to this day. He went with the intent to commit ritual suicide if that’s what they wanted as an apology since he felt so ashamed of it. They made him an honorary citizen instead and the sword is displayed in the library.
During the Civil War, textiles mills in Manchester, England refused to work with cotton picked by slaves, putting a massive economic burden on the city, and Lincoln personally sent them a letter thanking them.
Wasn’t there a story from Gallipoli where an Australian sergeant was trying to show his men proper grenade throwing techniques, and he threw a can of beef towards the Ottoman line to demonstrate? Then a few minutes later a tin full of cigarettes was thrown back with a note in rough French (the lingua Franca of the time) thanking them for the gift of beef and offering the cigarettes in return?
Don't know much about the details of this conflict, but during the siege of Weinberg, women were allowed to leave the city carrying anything they could on their backs. Rather than carrying their possessions, they took their husbands. The king who was leading the siege praised them and decided to keep his word, allowing them to leave.
Perhaps not really nice in modern terms, when the alternative was just slaughtering half the city, but comparatively nice in its time.
During ww2, American bombers were bombing Bremen, and a bomber was severely damaged by German fighters. Fighter pilot Franz Stigler, recently rearmed and refueled, caught up with the retreating bomber in his BF109, and could see through the damages the injured crew. Instead of finishing it off, he stayed close to the bomber so that german Anti-Air would not target them. He tried to mouth and gesture for them to fly to Sweden to get aid, but pilot Charlie brown and crew didn't understand. Franz then maintained the escort until they were over open water.
Franz did this because he considered finishing a damaged plane with the injured crew the same as shooting parachuting pilots, which was (and is) a war crime.
Charlie Brown 50 years later managed to find Franz and they became friends until Franz's death.
One of my favorite stories of World War II involves Denmark. In September 1943, Denmark had been occupied by Germany for a month or so. The news came out that all Jews would be deported to camps the next day, but the Danes refused to allow that to happen.
In a day—a SINGLE day—they were able to get 90% of Denmark’s Jews to the coast. From there, they crammed the refugees into every seaworthy vessel there was, many of them just little fishing boats, and brought them over to Sweden, which had not been occupied and was still neutral. Although some boats were stopped, and although some opportunistic Danes took advantage of their neighbors’ desperation, it remains in my mind one of the most heroic actions of history.
When I think of the ways an entire country can mobilize to be kind, I always think of that night.
The Dutch government donates tulips to Canada every year as a thank you for hosting their royal family during WW2 and the Canadian involvement in liberating the Netherlands. A princess was born in Canada and the hospital room was declared extraterritorial so she could be born Dutch.
Ottomans supplied the Irish people during the famine (hence the crescent on Drogheda united)
An Indian king (the Indian Oskar Schindler) provided refuge to 20,000 Polish orphans during WW 2. It's a fascinating story of humanity at a time of great suffering.
The memorial in Gallipoli reads:
Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country to of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
That reminds me of the "good nazi", John Rabe.
He was the local Nazi party representative in Nanking in the run up to the Japanese attack. He used his status and monumental brass balls to establish a safety zone. It's estimated he saved the lives of some 200.000 Chinese nationals.
During the war, he moved back to Germany and after the war, his party membership got him in trouble and he and his family lived in poverty for a number of years.
When the citizens of Nanking learned of this they raised $2.000 for him and sent him monthly food packages from mid-1948 to when the communists took over China.
In 1862 Lancashire (UK) cotton mill workers refused to work with any cotton that was picked by slaves. A lot of them lost their jobs and their livelihoods because of it. Really great symbol of kindness from people who had barely anything, to begin with.
The Northern part of the Netherlands was liberated by Canadians and Polish troops (although most people think they were Americans). The gratitude of the Netherlands to Canada is already described elsewhere, but we (I am Dutch) also have a soft spot for the Polish people.
When in the 80s Poland was trying to get their own independence instead of being a vassal state of the Soviet Union, the economy collapsed and there was a large shortage of food, goods, etc. The Solidarnocs movement tried to help, together with the Catholic church, but they needed help.
Word reached the Netherlands and some collections were started. Within no time, we had multiple convoys of 150+ large trucks filled up to the brim with everything from potatoes to teddy bears. Many contacts were made between local communities in Poland and the Netherlands.
Maybe not kindness directly, but when Napoleon sent his troops to subjugate the Haitians fighting for their independence his Polish troops when learned that people they were supposed to take their lives from were simply fighting for their freedom, they switched sides and fought alongside the Haitians (a lot of them at least). For this, they received Haitian citizenship and settled there.
I have an example that is pre-historic. A body of a young man from a nomadic people was found in a gravesite the US (Florida I think). He was surrounded by objects useful in his afterlife, so he was not merely dumped. Examination of the body indicated he had been born with a crippling disease. He was not capable of walking and would have been entirely dependent on his family, clan or tribe for survival. Yet he lived to young adulthood and was valued. He had been carried around and cared for by them.
During WW1, the Canadian city of Halifax experienced a catastrophic explosion in December when a supply vessel carrying explosives and ammunition collided with another ship that detonated its cargo. At the time, it was the largest man-made explosion. This destroyed a large portion of the city, caused a tsunami, blinded and took a lot of citizens' lifes who were watching from their windows. Shortly after, a blizzard hit the area. American ships nearby were affected by the blast and altered course to help. Boston sent relief aid and supplies. Every year, even 100 years later, Nova Scotia sends a large fir tree for Christmas as a token of gratitude.
You can look at San Marino, the world's oldest existing democracy because there's a lot of it. During the American Civil War, they sent a letter honoring President Lincoln and offered him citizenship, which Lincoln accepted. Also, they took in 100,000 refugees during WW2. Their population at the time was 15,000.
According to the Roman historian Livy, at some point in the fourth century BC, Rome was at war with the Etruscans and the consul Camillus was laying siege to the city of Falerii. In that city there was a tutor who was entrusted with some of the children of the most powerful families. Under the pretext of getting the boys some exercise, he led them outside the city walls and all the way to the Roman camp, thinking that he would be richly rewarded for bringing these valuable hostages.
But Camillus, ever the model of Roman virtue, was so appalled that he had the tutor stripped and beaten, then gave all the students sticks and flails so they could whip him all the way back to the gates. The Falerians, when they saw what was happening, were so astonished by Camillus's righteousness that they immediately surrendered, willingly and peacefully, confident that they would receive a fair treatment under Roman rule.
Queen Victoria gave many books to the Chicago Library after the Great Chicago Fire.
Didn’t the English and Welsh unions participate in the Gay Pride parades in London in the Eighties because a group of gay advocates supported a small welsh town during the labor strikes? There was a movie about it-Pride. Good flick.
King Rama IV of Siam (now Thailand) offered war elephants to Abraham Lincoln during the American civil war.
In Belgium, every new law has to be passed via the king himself. In 1990 there was a law to fully legalize abortion to be passed. The king himself, king Baudouin, was a member of the catholic church and couldn't get any children with his wife, queen Faiola.
Passing this law would be against his beliefs as a Christian and against their own child's wishes. Realizing it was the right thing to do, he stepped down as king of Belgium for a day. That way parliament could approve of the new law and he never approved it.
I’d say, Ruth Coker Burks, an AIDS awareness activist and caregiver back in the height of the AIDS epidemic. So many people had been kicked to the curb, utterly abandoned to die a horrible death alone, and she was one of the only people willing to step in and help them. It’s equally parts tragic and infuriating that she had to do any of that in the first place, but the fact that she did genuinely makes me cry every time I read about her.
A pretty famous incident is the unofficial Christmas truce during WW1. They shared presents from home like chocolate and tea, and then in other parts of the line there was no truce and they still fired on each other
Some 60 years ago, the USSR proposed to the UN to bundle international efforts to eradicate smallpox. Now almost exactly 40 years ago, humanity succeeded.
Operation Manna and Operation Chowhound. In the spring of 1945, the Netherlands was suffering from a famine. A truce was brokered between the allies and the local German occupation leaders to allow several thousand tons of food to be delivered into the occupied Netherlands.
A sort of Chivalry seems to be a fairly common thing among wartime pilots. When Manfred Von Richthofen was shot down he was given a full military funeral by the Australian Flying Corps (They were the nearest Allied Air Unit and took responsibility for the body).
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