Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem is to honour French aristocrat and Holocaust rescuer Count Henry de Menthon as a Righteous Among the Nations in an official ceremony in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
The title, designated by the museum to commemorate acts of heroism by non-Jews to save Jews from the Holocaust, will be awarded posthumously in the presence of one of the survivors he saved Dina Godschalk, as well as French Ambassador to Israel Christoph Bigot.
Born Claire Farhi, one of seven children of parents Salomon and Emilie-Djemila Farhi, Godschalkwas sent with her siblings to seek refuge outside of Paris in 1943,when persecution of Jews began to escalate in France. Dina and two of her siblings were rescued by dedicated agency Secours National, who placed them in the homes of local residents of the town of Saint Loup le Gray. Claire was driven to the house of de Menthon’s gardener Mr. Vauthier. Remembering her father’s caution not to forget she was Jewish and not to allow herself to become separated from the two brothers with whom she was evacuated, Claire refused to go.
The Count, who was also the village Mayor came to investigate the problem and himself took the three children in to his chateau where they remained until the end of the war. The evacuated children remained in contact with the rest of the family who stayed in Paris, until they were deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where all but one of their siblings died. On being transferred to an orphanage after the war, the children lost contact with their French protectors until many years later, when Godschalk was reunited with one of the Count’s granddaughters with whom she had played in his home as a child. It was then that Godschalk recommended the Count to Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile, which in turn approved him for the title last year.
The notoriously anti-Semitic French Second World War-era Vichy administration began passing anti-Jewish measures as early as 1940, without request from the Germans, continuing to openly collaborate with the German occupying forces to produce a definitive directory of the French Jewish community to aid the Gestapo in rounding up the Jews and deporting them to concentration camps. From 1942-1944, approximately 76,000 Jews were deported from France to Nazi death camps, where only 2,500 survived.
The single largest deportation of French Jews is known as the Velodrome d’Hiver, after the former cycling track-turned-internment camp where some 13,000 Jews were held close to the River Seine in Paris before being deported to Auschwitz.
Records, including a registreee of detainees, were made available to the public as part of an exhibition in July to mark the 70th anniversary of the deportations on July 16 and 17, 1942.
French President Francois Hollande gave a speech at the former internment camp to mark the 70th anniversary, bearing marked similarities to a similar ceremony held by former French president Jacques Chirac in 1995, in which he admitted state culpability in the persecution of French Jews and enabling Nazi deportation and extermination of the wartime Jewish community.
In May, the National Company of French Railways (SNCF) announced the launch of a new joint research project with Yad Vashem into French Holocaust deportations. The agreement saw SNCF make available research into 80 mass transport of French Jews during WWII and will form part of the “Transports to Extinction: Shoah Deportation Database” project by Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research in Jerusalem.
“The ‘Final Solution’ could not have been carried out by the Germans without the extensive cooperation of many people at all levels of society and governments throughout Europe”, said Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev.
The move followed last year’s acknowledgement by SNCF president Guillaume Pepy that the rail company had been “a cog in the Nazi extermination machine” in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. SNCF also confirmed in February that it had handed over digital copies of its archives from the Second World War to three Holocaust museums, including Yad Vashem.