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Belgian teacher who hid Jewish children during Holocaust dies at age 101

Andrée Geulen-Herscovici risked her life to help save around 1,000 children from the Nazis, was recognized by Yad Vashem and given honorary Israeli citizenship

Belgian Andrée Geulen-Herscovici poses during a visit to the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, April 18, 2007. (Orel Cohen/Flash 90)
Belgian Andrée Geulen-Herscovici poses during a visit to the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, April 18, 2007. (Orel Cohen/Flash 90)

Andrée Geulen-Herscovici, a teacher from Belgium who helped save approximately 1,000 Jewish children during the Holocaust, died on Wednesday in Ixelles, Belgium, aged 101 years old.

As a young teacher, Geulen-Herscovici was disturbed by the Nazi occupation of her hometown of Brussels when Jewish students arrived at her school wearing yellow stars. She told her students — both Jewish and non-Jewish — to come to school wearing aprons to cover the symbol.

The discriminatory Nazi policies prompted Geulen-Herscovici to join the rescue organization Comité de Défence des Juifs (Jewish Defense Committee) in 1942. There, she met the Jewish activist Ida Sterno, who needed a non-Jewish person to assist her in rescue efforts.

Geulen-Herscovici was among several non-Jewish women who were tasked by the rescue organization with quietly approaching Jewish families to suggest they give up their children to hide them. She also transferred children between various hiding places.

“It was the hardest thing to do, not telling a mother where I was taking her son,” Geulen-Herscovici recalled in an interview.

Operating under the code name Claude Fournier, Geulen-Herscovici was instructed to live at the school where she taught, called Gaty de Gamont, where she helped to protect 12 Jewish students who had taken shelter there.

Belgian Andrée Geulen-Herscovici (second from right) observes a moment of silence in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem April 18, 2007. (Orel Cohen/Flash 90)

In May 1943, Nazis raided the school and arrested the students who were hiding there. Geulen-Herscovici and the other teachers were taken for questioning. The school’s headmistress, Odile Ovart, and her husband were sent to concentration camps, where they both died.

Geulen-Herscovici avoided arrest, and warned her Jewish students of the raid and to not return to the school.

From then on, Geulen-Herscovici operated under a false identity and helped accompany Jewish children to safety.

Geulen-Herscovici took the children to hide among Christian families and at monasteries. She ensured the families were able to provide for them and watched out for them for the duration of the war.

Geulen-Herscovici maintained coded records of the children, including their birth names and hiding locations, so that they could be reunited with their families after the war, but many of the parents who gave up their children perished in the Holocaust.

In 1989, Geulen-Herscovici was recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center as a Righteous Among the Nations for her efforts. The recognition is bestowed by the memorial center to those who are verified to have risked their lives to save Jews during World War II.

During a 2007 visit to Israel for an international convention for rescued Belgian children, she was granted honorary Israeli citizenship in a ceremony at Yad Vashem.

Israel’s ambassador to Belgium Emmanuel Nahshon mourned her death, calling Geulen-Herscovici “a true hero of humanity… she was an amazing and wonderful woman, who saved many Jews during WWII.”

TOI staff contributed to this report.

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