Belgian who smuggled 300 Jewish children away from Nazis dies aged 100

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Belgian who smuggled 300 Jewish children away from Nazis dies aged 100

Andrée Geulen-Herscovici, who passed awy on June 1 in Ixelles, Belgium, was a member of the Belgian Resistance during the Second World War.

Andrée Geulen-Herscovici. Picture: Yossishussman
Andrée Geulen-Herscovici. Picture: Yossishussman

A schoolteacher who risked her life to help rescue almost 1,000 Jewish children during the Holocaust, has died.

Andrée Geulen-Herscovici, who passed awy on June 1 in Ixelles, Belgium, at the age of 100, was a member of the Belgian Resistance during the Second World War.

Ms Geulen-Herscovici was honored in 1989 with the title of Righteous Among the Nations – the honour given to non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to rescue Jews from extermination.

She was granted honorary Israeli citizenship in 2007 in a ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

She said at the time: “What I did was merely my duty. Disobeying the laws of the time was just the normal thing to do.”

When Geulen saw one of her students at the Gaty de Gamont School in Brussels wearing the yellow star mandated by the Nazis to identify Jews, to shield them she instructed all of her students to wear aprons.

After learning the fate of those Jews captured by the Nazis, she assisted a Jewish friend at the Belgian Jewish Defense Committee in hiding Jewish children at school.

Ms Geulen-Herscovici warned Jewish students not to return to the school, and covertly provided them with false identities and smuggled them to hideouts in Christian homes and monasteries, returning regularly to check on their welfare.

She kept coded records of each child’s original name and their places of shelter to enable those who still had family remaining to reunite with them after the war. She did not tell their parents, because otherwise they would visit them and compromise their security.  Most of the parents of the children Geulen saved were murdered during the Holocaust.

Ms Geulen-Herscovici said: “I still weep when I think of the times when I had to take children from their parents, especially children aged 2-3, without being able to tell the parents where I was taking their children.”

Between the spring of 1943 and autumn 1944, Ms Geulen-Herscovici escorted more than 300 Jewish children to safety – as German troops began rounding up children and their families so they could be deported to death camps.

The teacher had a narrow escape in May 1943 when the boarding school  was raided. Ms Geulen-Herscovici and other teachers were interrogated.

The principal, Odile Obart, had agreed to host 12 children. He and his wife were arrested after a raid on the school and sent to German concentration camps, where they both were murdered – they were also later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

When a German soldier asked if Ms Geulen-Herscovici was not ashamed to teach Jews, she bravely replied: “Aren’t you ashamed to make war on Jewish children?”

Israeli Ambassador to Belgium Emmanuel Nahshon said: “She was a true hero of humanity, and we will carry her memory forever. She was an amazing and wonderful woman who saved many Jews during World War ll.”

A statement from the Belgium Jewish community read: “We received the news of Andrée Geulen-Herscovici passing with deep regret. We are all orphans because we just lost a lady who showed exemplary behavior in the face of Nazi barbarism. She did not look away when the Jews needed help, and she saved them from death. If there were more women and men like Andrée Geulen-Herscovici, the world would be a better place.”

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