NEW YORK, December 24, 2013 – Is it ever too late to give gratitude? Must there be an anniversary? But time is running out, so every day is an anniversary.
On July 10, 1942, The Roundup of Paris had already begun. On orders from the Gestapo, the French police began knocking on doors and swiftly some 13,000 Jews were whisked to the transit depot Velodrome d’Hiver. They were permitted a blanket, a shirt and a pair of socks in addition to what they were wearing. There was no air-conditioning.
Many were dragged from their homes, their children tagging along, baffled and weeping.
They were told that they were simply being “relocated,” but all were destined for Auschwitz.
But that was Paris, and this was Toulouse – the Free Zone.
Toulouse was the most Catholic of all cities. Yet Christians and Jews lived together in harmony. The mood changed when Hitler arrived. Sarah’s classmate and best friend Incarnacion one day called her a “dirty Jew.” Was that the day she saw the handwriting on the wall?
“No,” says Sarah, now writing her memoir about all that, so many years later. Her father Noah saw it coming when family members began disappearing.
“Even in Toulouse?”
Yes, even in Toulouse. “Germans were directing traffic,” she says, “so they were everywhere.”
Bags packed from day one, it was time to escape. Noah was in touch with the French underground and through other connections he saved his family. Every step he took – Nazi terror all around – could have been the end, but he risked it all to save others as well. To every man comes that day to prove himself a man and when that day fell to Noah, he seized it with both arms. He was a hero.
The world had shut its doors. Prior to the establishment of Israel, there was no place to turn except to righteous Christians.
Like Father LaRoche.
This was the priest who sheltered Jews and who opened all the channels for the getaway across the Pyrenees, risking his own life.
“The people who saved us were in the same danger as we were,” recalls Sarah. “Many were killed.”
The French were informers against their Jewish neighbors and traitors against Christianity.
But there were exceptions, quite noble and notable.
To them, gratitude must be given.
“We don’t know their names,” says Sarah. “That hurts.”
Yet we do know Father LaRoche, and still another name shines through the darkness - Cardinal Jules-Geraud Saliege, the Archbishop of Toulouse.
A month after the Roundup of Paris, seeing what’s in store for Toulouse as well, Saliege wrote a letter of protest in which he declared, “Jews are our brothers.” In other words, do not touch God’s anointed. At his insistence, the document was distributed and read throughout the diocese.
In 1969, Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem honored Saliege as Righteous among the Nations, with this inscription that reads in part:
“Overnight, the document became a manifesto; hundreds of thousands of copies were circulated by members of the Resistance throughout France. Historians consider Soliege’s protest vastly influential in the abrupt turnabout in French public opinion regarding the [anti-Semitic] Vichy regime.”
Moreover, “Saliege instructed the clergymen and nuns to hide Jews, particularly children.”
Sarah was among those children destined to be hidden. But her father Noah proclaimed, “We will live together or die together.” So began the perilous exodus from France for the few. The many who were trapped and murdered are numbered in excess of 70,000.
We will never know how many lives were saved thanks to Cardinal Saliege.
Was it Saliege himself who, in better days, brought chocolates for Sarah, and studied Torah with Noah? Yes, together the rabbi and the priest studied the Hebrew Bible.
Surely it was Father LaRoche. But chances are that it was also the Archbishop himself.
To some, this is historic. To others, like Sarah, this is personal. Surely it was personal to a number of valiant priests and nuns, and to our father, Noah.
New from novelist Jack Engelhard, the award-winning memoir Escape From Mount Moriah here
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