French woman who saved Jews in WWII honored
French ambassador: Righteous Among the Nations highlight the ‘two faces’ of my country.
Marignan, French Ambassador Bigot, Kohlman Photo: Sam Sokol
Yad Vashem unveiled the name of a new member of the Righteous Among the Nations
in a Jerusalem ceremony attended by French Ambassador Christoph Bigot on Monday.
Serge Marignan accepted a medal and certificate of honor on behalf of his
grandmother, Jeanne Albouy, who hid and protected the Wulek family, refugees
from Poland who had settled in France in prior to the WWII.
bestows the honorary title of Righteous Among the Nations on non-Jewish men and
women who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Claire Kohlman, now the matriarch of a large ultra-Orthodox family in Bnei Brak,
was only two-years-old when her father Wilhelm Wulwek was arrested as a foreign
national in 1940. After his release, the Wulek family moved to the Gard district
in southern France and met Jeanne Albouy, whose own husband was then a prisoner
of war in Germany.
According to Yad Vashem, Albouy searched for a safe
place for the Wulwek family, finding them a hiding place in her cousin’s empty
house in the village of Sinsans.
Wilhelm, his wife Mélanie and their
children Victor and Claire were later joined there by Mélanie’s brother Julius
Heller. The children were registered at a local school and the father worked at
an agricultural job.
However, after the Nazis occupied southern France in
1942, the family was in “constant danger,” according to a recounting of the
Wulwek family story provided by Yad Vashem.
When the Nazis carried out
sweeps in the adjacent village, “my parents had to hide,” Kohlman told The
Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“People used to tell them [that the Nazis were
coming] and they went to hide during the night in the fields [and] in the
forests and Jeanne took my brother and me [into her] house and we were sleeping
there, eating there; we were hidden there by her.
Whatever they had to
eat they gave to us also.”
Speaking to an assembly of members of her
large extended clan, the French ambassador and the Marignan family, Kohlman said
that Albouy “showed you can maintain your humanity” even under harsh
“She hid us for three years and worried about us. Many
times Nazi soldiers arrived and searched in the area, and mother and father went
to hide. We were partners to everything in their lives for these years, and we
felt like one family. Jeanne, you did the good and right thing for
“I’m very moved,” she told the Post, noting that now, with the
passage of years, she can “understand even more than before all what they did
for us; that they put themselves in danger to save us.”
Albouy and her
daughter Lucette “never asked” for recognition and “I never thought of that,”
Kohlman said. However, she believes that it was important that Marignan
submitted his grandmother’s name for recognition.
“We believe in the next
world they see that and understand that we didn’t forget,” she
During her time in hiding, Kohlman recalled, she was once
confronted by a German soldier who began to badger her with questions.
wanted to scream but I couldn’t. I was like paralyzed. I remained like a stone,”
she recalled, until “a woman came and told him she didn’t speak German,” at
which point he left her alone.
Contemporary Europeans could learn a lot
from her story, Kohlman believes.
When she was in school in France, she
says, she learned about the French values of liberty and equality and is now sad
that these lessons are being forgotten with the rise of anti-Semitism in
In a similar story, Marignan’s mother, around 15 at the time, was
caught by the Germans, breaking curfew, and was interrogated for an hour.
However, Marignan said, she did not give up the fact that she was hiding Jews in
“I’m very moved,” he told the Post, noting that “there are
extreme anti-foreigner movements in Europe today,” and that people should think
about the heroism of people like his grandmother, who risked her life to save
others who were different.
“This is something that today we should think
about,” he said.
Bigot, speaking with the Post after unveiling Albouy’s
name, engraved on a memorial wall, said that the Holocaust represented a “very
tough part of our history.”
“You had people with zeal who collaborated
[and] and at the same time, you had these people who we honor today, who, in
modesty, saved lives.”
France, at the time, he said, had “two faces,”
both of heroism and collaboration and “this is something that still haunts our
conscience for days, years, and centuries. Its part of us and that is why it is
so important to remember to let the memory pass to the next generation and to
know in certain circumstances you have to disobey, you have to rebel, you have
to listen to your heart and not to whatever can be dictated to you.”
two families had nothing in common, he noted, but their “special human
Irina Steinfeld, director of the Righteous among the Nations
department at Yad Vashem, noted that only those who risked their lives are
eligible for this honor, even if they helped Jews in other ways.
year, she noted, Yad Vashem recognized over 450 righteous individuals and one
can say that this “number is very big and very small at the same time. In taking
a risk for a good deed, the righteous are not just good people, people who did
good deeds. The righteous are more than that.”
It would be
“self-righteous,” she noted, to demand of everybody that they take such extreme
risks. “You don’t have the right to demand that people should sacrifice
themselves and be willing to pay such a dear price.”
“What I take away
from this are these very special moments, these stories, but what I take away
especially is when I look at the people around them. You had Jews who were
persecuted, you have the people who were willing to pay a price to save them and
then you have the perpetrators [and] people who were indifferent. I think that
what we should do is look at the people who are indifferent and this is what we
should take away: not to be indifferent.”
It is important, she said, “to
look around us and to not to permit that a group of people will become
invisible, as the Jews did.
People felt no obligation towards them and
this is what we should take away, that we don’t have the right to permit people
to become invisible.”