French peasant widow saved life of a Jewish child against all odds

French peasant widow Louise Roger never ‘contemplated the danger’ in saving a nine-year-old Jewish child during WWII.

December 7, 2016 11:36
3 minute read.
Louise Roger (Yad Vashem)

Louise Roger (Yad Vashem). (photo credit: COURTESY YAD VASHEM)

In a small town more than 200 km. southwest of Paris in the Second World War, a peasant widow proved that human kindness can overcome socioeconomic and cultural differences, by performing an act of Christian kindness and saving a Jewish child during the Holocaust.

After Jules and Jeanne Roger realized that keeping nine-year-old Jewish-German refugee Ehud Loeb in their house posed too much of a risk due to their involvement in the French resistance, the pair sent the child to the village of the Argy, to live with Jules’ mother, on Louise Roger’s farm.

“Adopting a new identity and with false papers, I became Hubert Odet,” said Loeb. “Only Louise Roger and the priest knew my true identity. I had meanwhile mastered the French language and began to talk in the local dialect. I was a good student, became an altar boy who helped the priest during the celebration of mass. I did this to perfection; I had learned to say the prayers in Latin. I lived a life of falsehood in order to survive.”

There, Loeb said, he felt safe and protected from arrest.

“She protected me from deportation and from the fate of my parents, my family, my Jewish brothers and sisters,” he said. “Louise Roger saved my life when the German occupation forces and French militia were around.”

Ehud Loeb (center, holding a sign) at a school in France during the war (Yad Vashem)

On the farm, Roger and Loeb worked together, with the Jewish refugee tending to the cows and the goats, and learning that hidden deep within each human being is a divine soul.

“Madame Louise Roger may have been lonely and an introvert, she demanded a great deal from herself and from others, but she was a woman with a generous heart,” Loeb recollected. “I do not remember every receiving a hug or a kiss from her, but I loved her and knew that she loved me. I had become her grandchild.”

Loeb wanted to be Catholic like all the others in the village, but the family told Loeb, who would find out later that he became an orphan in the years he was in France, that after the war he must rid himself of his Christian facade and return to his true religion and Jewish roots.

For Roger, her grandson recalled, saving the child and helping him grow was part of her duty to God.

“When Hubert [Ehud Loeb] came into her life, she never asked questions, she never calculated the additional expenses, and above all, she never contemplated the danger from the Nazi barbarians who had no compassion,” said Robert Roger at a ceremony at Yad Vashem recognizing her as Righteous Among the Nations.

She had “a heart that she concealed under an austere exterior, with little manifestations of love and tenderness.”

On December 7, 2008, Yad Vashem recognized Louise Roger as Righteous Among the Nations. At the ceremony in Jerusalem a year later, Loeb spoke of Roger’s heroism, the heroism of the simple peasant widow.

“In those dark days of the Holocaust, of the murder of six million Jews, among them one and a half children, it was often simple people who dared to say: No. No to the negation of the humanity of the other; no to barbarism. These people were real combatants,” he said.

Loeb also recalled a conversation he heard at the ceremony in Paris for her son and daughter-in-law in 1989, one that was most fitting for Louise Roger.

“A young woman approached Jeanne Roger: Permit me to shake the hand of a Righteous Among the Nations, of a heroine, she asked. She went on to say: Madame, what made you act so courageously and take such great risks? Aunt Jeanne did not hesitate and responded: I just did my human duty,” Loeb said.

“Grandmother Louise Roger would have probably given the same response: She too was one of the simple, courageous heroic Righteous Among the Nations.”

Louise Roger died in 1947 at the age of 69.

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