The two most common reactions to a disaster are 1) running away while peeing your pants, and 2) taking out your phone and hitting "record" (while peeing your pants). After all, we have the military, paramedics, and so on to handle that stuff. But what happens when they're unavailable or simply don't give a shit? That, as we love to point out, is when random whoevers go, "Welp, here goes nothing," and step in to save the day.
Still believe the world doesn't have any heroes? Then turn off those goddamn 24-hour news channels and read about ...
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Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Catholic monk of German heritage who died in Auschwitz anyway. It's Clerks' "I'm not even supposed to be here" taken to an incredibly macabre level. Except Kolbe wanted to be there, because fuck Nazis.
He's Hitler's exact opposite, down to facial hair size.
From his monastery in Poland, Kolbe published multiple religious journals, reminding readers that those goose-stepping assholes hassling Jews for existing really ought to go screw. The Nazis arrested him, but as soon as he was released, he went back to his anti-Nazi literature and started sheltering hundreds of Jews on top of that. There's poking the bear, and then there's continually slamming a barbed-wire bat into its skull.
As a result, Kolbe was arrested again and shipped off to Auschwitz, where he was beaten mercilessly for preaching to prisoners (which he kept doing). Two months later, angry about an escapee, Auschwitz guards randomly selected 15 prisoners for death by starvation and dehydration. None of them took the news well, including Polish army member Franciszek Gajowniczek, who implored guards to spare him for the sake of his wife and children. That's when Kolbe stood up and offered to take the man's place. The stunned guards allowed it, because they don't cover these types of situations in Nazi school.
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"How dare you volunteer for the death bunker?! Off to the death bunker with you!"
And then Kolbe ... didn't die. Despite three weeks without food or water and most of his bunkermates dropping dead around him, Kolbe lingered on, just to piss off his captors some more. Finally, the Nazis lost their patience and injected him with carbolic acid, because this guy was pulling a full Rasputin on their asses. In the end, Gajowniczek died in 1995 at the ripe old age of 94, and Kolbe was canonized in 1982 as St. Maximilian "Stone" Kolbe.
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"In an unprecedented turn of events, the pope uttered the phrase 'big-ass testicles' no fewer than 36 times in today's speech."
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Two days after Hurricane Katrina hit, 20-year-old Jabbar Gibson and his friends were desperate to escape their dilapidated housing project in New Orleans. Now's the time to mention that Gibson was a small-time drug dealer and thief, who had stolen vehicles before. So what's one more, especially when the alternative is a violent drowning death? He found a school bus, figured out how to drive the thing, and off he went to pick up as many friends and family as the bus could fit. Roughly 60 people climbed aboard, way beyond capacity, but since it's not hard to choose between cramped legs and cramped inside a coffin, nobody complained.
Carlos Antonio Rios/Houston Chronicle
The "figured out how to drive the thing" part puts him above most drivers we've had.
Then, the cops came. Seeing a guy with a record driving a stolen bus, they ordered everyone off and were likely about to commence with the cuffin' when Gibson countered with his secret weapon: his momma. Bernice Gibson told the cops that her son's "theft" was the only way to save dozens of lives. Unless they had a better idea. They didn't.
Off Gibson drove, hoping to make it to the Houston Astrodome and periodically stopping to squeeze in more people. After 13 hours, Gibson and his human Tetris puzzle arrived at the Astrodome. His was the first bus to arrive, beating police and emergency workers -- actual trained responders. Everyone rejoiced!
Oh, wait, no. Everyone told them no.
"We were just about to hang the 'NO VACANCY' sign."
The Astrodome was exclusively for people already inside the New Orleans Superdome. It was the most infuriating reinterpretation of the National Lampoon's Vacation "Sorry, the park's closed!" scene imaginable. However, after 20 minutes of "Now what?" the Red Cross' heart grew three sizes, and they allowed Gibson's entire crew inside. Gibson's been nabbed for various charges since, but unlike most people covering his story, we'll leave it at that. The 60-something people whose lives he saved, on a day when nobody else gave any shits about them, would want it that way.
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In 2007, a Virginia Tech student committed the worst mass shooting rampage in American history (a record he depressingly held for only nine years) when he killed 32 people and injured 17 at his university. This number would've likely been a lot higher if it wasn't for one unassuming man, Liviu Librescu:
The 76-year-old Romanian had officially seen enough shit for two lifetimes. As a child he found himself slumming in a Nazi concentration camp, and as an adult he ran afoul of infamous communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. After Librescu refused to renounce Judaism and join the Red Party, Ceausescu banned him from working anywhere in the country, for anybody. Not that he would have made much anyway, because Communism, but still.
Librescu managed to leave the country and wound up at Virginia Tech in 1985 -- and he was still there on April 16, 2007, the day of the massacre. Once the killer approached his classroom, Librescu directed his students to climb out an open window and get out fast. But, since getting 20-plus kids through one window takes time, somebody had to predate Hodor by a decade and hold the door shut. Librescu did just that, using as much power as his three-quarter-century body could muster to keep the shooter out.
"Sorry, this class is for non-dangerous psychopaths only."
The plan worked. Even as the killer shot his gun through the door, Librescu held it tight, and 22 out of his 23 students survived the massacre. The teacher wasn't so lucky. Five bullets struck him, and he died later in the day, a life-saver almost two dozen times over. Librescu was fine with that (as his son put it, "He did not fear death"), just so long as his students survived to see decades more of life, both the grime and the shine.
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In 2013, court interpreter Nawal Soufi decided to give her phone number to a few people before leaving Syria for her home in Italy -- never expecting it to go super-viral. Soon, her phone started blowing up with panicked texts and calls from hundreds of Syrian refugees who crossed the Mediterranean but were lost at sea, or their boat was broken, or they hit the misery lottery and it was both. Due to that pesky little thing called "humanity," she personally responded to every cry for help. And she's still at it.
She couldn't even pose for this picture without fielding a call, apparently.
A typical Soufi day involves near-constant fielding of calls and texts. She'll request their GPS coordinates, which she sends to the Coast Guard, and repeatedly races to greet the boats and work on guiding refugees to safe haven. On a single day, eight migrant boats called her over 20 times each, because their boats were dilapidated and everybody was freezing. Meanwhile, we get frazzled if more than one kid needs their diaper changed in an hour.
This work alone would be amazing enough, but Soufi supplements her schedule by breaking the law. See, many refugees arrive in Italy because it's the closest non-warry country to them, but they'll have much better job and housing prospects if they go to other European countries. Except they technically can't. According to the Dublin Agreement, an immigrant must stay in whatever country collects their fingerprints. Guess what the Italian Coast Guard is very interested in, post-rescue?
via IO donna
Not hugging you, we're pretty sure.
So Soufi quietly works to secure them train tickets out of the country, since the alternative is to hand them to human traffickers who helpfully mark up those tickets by hundreds of Euros. And somehow, despite devoting her life to getting migrants to safety, smuggling them out of Italy to more safety, and posting regular "They're safe" Facebook updates for loved ones to see, she still works as a court interpreter. We'd compare her to Batman, but we're pretty sure he gets way more hours of sleep.
On Sept. 11, 2001, immediately after the terrorist attacks began, the U.S. ordered all active planes rerouted elsewhere, under penalty of being shot down. Canada, being close by and super-affable, found itself dealing with hundreds of unexpected incoming flights -- especially the smaller cities, since they had more runway space.
Airport janitors in Canada remember 9/11 for very different reasons.
The airport in Gander, Newfoundland, for example, went from landing maybe six planes a day to 38 at once, carrying a total of 6,700 people. In a town of 9,000. Gander just wasn't equipped to deal with that many visitors ... which didn't stop the locals from immediately accepting every single newcomer as one of their own. Businesses, churches, schools, and basically every other building with walls and a roof became shelter for the unexpected refugees. After Mayor Claude Elliot went on TV and asked for anyone to donate bedding supplies, everybody wound up with a blanket (kind of a requirement for Canada in the fall).
Town of Gander
Except for Elliot, now that he has that big-ass medal keeping him warm.
Police asked residents not to let the stranded into their homes, but Gander people didn't care, treating their unexpected guests like best buddies. Some are still best buddies to this day. Professionals helped out massively, too. Gander pharmacists provided medicine free of charge, and the city's bus drivers ended a strike to haul people around for free. By the time everyone had reboarded their planes on Sept. 15, many a tearful goodbye had taken place. There's a Broadway musical about this most crowded week in city history being slated for 2017 (and probably a Ben Affleck movie that totally forgets to mention Canada).
SCENE: Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. "Eh look, everybody came back!"
Ten days after the Chernobyl disaster, a large pool of radiated water had formed right under the plant's nuclear reactor. The marriage of a pornographically hot nuclear core and a small lake of radiated water would have produced nuclear steam large and mean enough to spread radiation untold distances, potentially turning Europe into one gigantic Fallout LARP. The only reason that didn't happen was three low-level Chernobyl engineers named Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov.
Baranov was so low-level, he didn't even get to appear in pictures.
The men volunteered to dive into the radioactive pool -- armed only with wetsuits -- and open the valves that would drain the liquid and render the core a big hot load of nothing. Ananenko chose to go because he knew where the valves were, Baranov volunteered because he had a light to help guide them through the dark waters, and Bezpalov joined because you always want an understudy in case your insanely dangerous assignment accidentally turns suicidal.
The three dove in and swam toward the valves. Then, just to be a dick, Baranov's light died. So now, not only were the men swimming in nuclear sewage, they were doing so blindly, fumbling along the pipes in hopes of touching something that felt like a valve.
A dramatic photograph of that moment.
Finally, they found the valves, opened them, and immediately got the fuck out of the rapidly draining pool. The lava-like core fell through the floor, but no water meant no doom-steam. Everyone was safe ... as safe as one can be when chilling in Chernobyl, anyway.
Websites less rigorous than our dick-joke-loving selves love insisting that the three men soon died of radiation poisoning. Not only did their little swim not kill them, it didn't even come close. While Baranov did pass away due to cardiac arrest (19 years later), Bezpalov survives to this day, and Ananenko not only lives but still works as a nuclear engineer.
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While visiting Little Rock University Hospital in 1984, a regular (non-doctor) woman named Ruth Coker Burks came across an AIDS patient withered down to the skeleton, crying out for his mother. Burks learned from the nurses that his mother wasn't coming, nor was anyone else. However, when she went to break the bad news, the now-delirious man held out his hand and said, "Oh, Momma. I knew you'd come." Burks ran with it and held the man's hand until he died hours later. She then buried the man herself, since no one else would.
Crying already? Oh, that's just the beginning.
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This is already sadder than every Pixar feels-montage combined.
From that moment and for roughly a decade, Burks took in nearly a thousand AIDS patients whose families had left them for dead, either out of fear of a virus they thought could be spread simply by breathing, disgust by their kin's homosexual lifestyle, or all of the above. Since hospitals had also abandoned these patients to wither away in quarantined rooms, Burks essentially became a one-woman hospice machine: soothing the dying men, bathing them, feeding them, helping them with paperwork, getting their medicines, comforting them, and -- in over 40 cases -- burying them, as churches and pastors also wanted nothing to do with them.
About the medicine: Many pharmacies didn't carry the pills patients needed. Burks quickly learned to keep as many dead people's medications as possible, in case her next patient couldn't get any. It was an "underground pharmacy," like the Underground Railroad in that it did a ton of good, but if humanity wasn't so terrible we never would've needed it.
"Saint" seems like underselling it.
The pharmacies that would work with Burks weren't much better, treating her as a walking AIDS bomb who needed a Lysol bath each time she desecrated their store. They'd even make her keep the pens she used to write checks with, because nothing says "educated people of medicine" like lemon-scented walks of shame and hysteria over the icky gay virus taking down Bic one pen at a time.
By the mid-'90s, Burks' services were no longer necessary. In many ways, it's because she helped educate medical science on what AIDS isn't. She actually touched infected people with her bare hands, proving that AIDS doesn't spread via simple skin contact. In addition, since her patients lived, on average, two years longer than anywhere else, she also helped prove that love, support, and physical attention works far better than coldly tossing someone into a sealed room and waiting for the flat line to come. Who would have guessed?
For more people whose mutant powers manifested at the right moment, check out 6 Nobodies Who Turned Into Superheroes Without Warning and 5 Unknown Schmucks Who Turned Into Superheroes in the Clutch.
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