July 21, 2023
You might be tempted to pass on today's story. You might think you've heard it before. A brave woman resisting the Nazi's, risking her own life to save Jewish children.
Take a few minutes and read my story of Andrée Geulen, a Belgian teacher who helped saved some 300 children from Hitler's gas chambers.
I continue writing their stories because, though the circumstances might sound familiar, each features an individual who made a difficult choice with no guarantee they'd succeed, no
surety of the cost, no knowing if they'd survive.
It's only through these many stories that we understand it wasn't a few Oskar Schindler's who had the courage to oppose the Nazis, but many ordinary people like you and me who did not look away from their neighbors' suffering. They stepped up to help.
Andrée Geulen's first act of resistance came when Jewish students were required to wear yellow stars on the school uniforms to divide them from Christians. She asked all her students to wear aprons so the stars weren't visible.
On the Eve of Pentecost, May, 1943, German soldiers raided the boarding school in Brussels, Belgium where Andrée Geulen was a teacher. They expected Christian students would be home with their families for the holy day.
Students in the dorms would be Jewish. They were interrogated and transported.
For harboring the 12 Jewish students, the school’s headmistress, Odile Ovart, and her husband were deported to Bergen-Belsen and did not survive. The Germans interrogated the teachers at the all-girls school Gaty de Gamont , including Andrée Geulen.
One of the German officers told Andrée she should be ashamed of teaching Jewish children. She said, “Aren’t you ashamed to make war on Jewish children!”
She wasn't arrested and left in the night to warn Jewish day students not to come back to school. Their
lives were in danger.
Andrée Geulen-Herscovici. Photo courtesy of the family.
Andrée had started living at the school several months prior
when she joined the Comit de Dfence des Juifs (Jewish Defense Committee) and
taken up the job of quietly meeting with Jewish families to suggest they give up their children to hide them from the Germans.
“Everything was urgent," Andrée said in an interview. “I had some addresses, and I saw it as a race between myself and the Gestapo — who would get to the family first.”
“We told the parents to prepare a suitcase, and that we would return in a day or two…It was the most difficult moment for me...to tear a child away
from his mother and not tell her where we were taking him, and to have her cry and cry, ‘Tell me at least, only tell me, where you’re going to take him?"
Andrée Geulen with some of the 300 or so Jewish children she rescued in Nazi-occupied Belgium.
Photo courtesy AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner
“I am trusting you with the most precious thing I have,” one parent told Andrée.
Some parents were arrested just hours after she had picked up their children.
“Often, when we went to see the Jewish families we would find ourselves in the middle of a roundup: blocked roads, soldiers at all corners and trucks for the transport of the people caught in the hunt… Fortunately, we always almost managed to save some children… We would pass the roadblocks with
one child in a pram, holding the hands of two others. The soldiers would shy away from a mother with many children…”
She kept a notebook with coded information
about the identify of each child and where they were hidden so they could be reunited with their parents after the war, unaware that many who gave up their children would die in the Holocaust.
Andrée Geulen's secret notebook in which she listed the names of the children she had hidden, in the hope of reuniting them with their parents. Photo courtesy: David Silverman/Getty Images
Using the secret code name Claude Fournier, Andrée rented an apartment with Ida Sterno, a Partisan in the Jewish underground who had recruited her to the Jewish
The group needed Gentiles who could move about freely with less suspicion.With her blue eyes and blond hair, Andrée had the Aryan look, plus she spoke German fluently.
But that would not save her if she were caught harboring Jews. She traveled all over Belgium taking Jewish children to convents, monasteries, boarding schools, farms and families where they took on new names and non-Jewish identities.
The young children themselves might unknowingly put themselves in danger. Andrée told of taking the train to smuggle one girl to a new home. When someone in a nearby seat asked the girl her name, she turned to Andree and asked,
"Should I tell her my new name or my real name?”
Luckily, no Nazi sympathizers heard the child.
"The little ones trusted me directly when I told them that we were going to the countryside, to see the cows and chickens," Andree said.
She sometimes walked miles in rural areas to deliver the children, a suitcase in one hand and a child on the opposite hip. “I would have to stop every 30 feet, put the suitcase down and change the child to the other side.”
Andrée Geulen-Herscovici later in life. She died last year at age 100.
In the spring of 1944, Andrée's co-conspirator Ida Sterno was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned. Their group of 12 women had organized a complex network to rescue some 3,000 Jewish
children from newborns to teenagers. Ida was a prisoner in a camp in Malines, Belgium, awaiting deportation to a death came when the Allies liberated the country.
the war, Andrée worked resettling refugees in Belgium, helping find them places to live and necessities for beginning their post-war lives. She married a concentration camp survivor Charles Herscovici, had two children and had a career in social work.
In 1989, Andrée Geulen-Herscovici was recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Centre as Righteous Among the Nations for actions under Nazi occupation.
“What I did was merely my duty,” she told an interviewer. “Disobeying the laws of the time was just the normal thing to do.”
Sharing a few notes from my email box...
I always appreciate hearing from you. Your support and encouragement mean a lot.
Jan is having trouble seeing the images in the newsletter, so I'm working on that issue. Please let me know if the images do not show up for you.
"Wow! What a story! So glad you posted this.
It never fails to amaze me how women like this have gone unnoticed. She was a really phenomenal woman and her
reporting revealed important truths and saved many lives."
Carla wrote after my story about US Army Nurse Frankie Lewey, who is featured on the cover of my book Pure Grit. "Thank you for this moving article today! What an amazing way to start my day! 💗😊💗😊"
Norm wrote after my story about Ella Baker
Thank you for bringing my attention to someone I had known nothing about. What an inspiration she is for us who look and long for a real leader today versus the phonies who strut about the Washington stage. There’s a lot to be said for people like Ella who operate backstage out of the limelight.
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