Annette Bonnet-Waldman (3rd from left) and Maryse Delagneau-Dherbier (2nd from right) stand beside a plaque erected in Boulleret, France, honoring Jean and Elise Dherbier, who ‘adopted’ Annette during the Nazi occupation.
(photo credit: BOULLERET MUNICIPALITY)
PARIS – At 10:45 Sunday the residents of Boulleret, a picturesque village in the Loire Valley, gathered at the remembrance square. As in many other villages in France, this square commemorates the fallen in the first and second World Wars.
The mayor inaugurated a special plaque, recounting the actions of Jean and Elise Dherbier from 1943 until 1946.
Annette Waldman was four years old when our story begins. She was born in Paris, and so was her father, but the family originated from a small shtetl in Poland.
When the war broke out, Annette’s father, Isaac, was conscripted.
Her mother, Chana, was arrested by the Germans and the French police, and detained at the Drancy concentration-transport camp on the outskirts of Paris. Annette was left alone.
At first, her relatives sent her to Sully-sur-Loire, a small town hosting several such “orphaned’’ children, but Annette’s uncle felt that the place was not safe enough. He had another idea in mind. Over the years he used to spend his vacations at a little hotel in the Loire Valley. The owners, Jean and Elise Dherbier, had become his friends. He asked them if they would take in little Annette. They agreed immediately.
The Dherbiers welcomed Annette at their home at the beginning of 1943. She was then registered in the local school, with the Dherbiers pretending that she was a relative who had lost her Parisian family during the war. They even signed her up for catechism classes at the local church, building up her new false identity. She stayed with them safe and sound until July 1946, when her parents came back.
“I did not know my grandfather. He died before I was born,’’ Maryse Delagneau-Dherbier told The Jerusalem Post. “But my grandmother spoke to me often about Annette. She was part of our family when I grew up. My father considered her as his little sister. She took part in several family festivities, and came to us to present her husband and her son.’’ Delagneau-Dherbier says that the initiative of commemorating and honoring her grandparents came up just four years ago.
“In 2011 I read an article about a young Jewish girl who was saved by hiding in a farm in the village of my grandparents.
I sent the article to Annette, and we spoke about it.
She contacted the Yad Vashem representatives in Paris. They were very moved. Annette and myself started working on collecting testimonies. The file was accepted.’’ Francois Guggenheim, of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions and a member of the French Committee for Yad Vashem, took it upon himself to follow through with the file. On Sunday he was standing next to the Dherbier family, Annette Bonnet- Waldman and local dignitaries, when the plaque at the Boulleret square was revealed.
Together with Michal Philosoph, a spokeswoman of the Israeli Embassy, they bestowed on the Dherbier couple the (posthumous) title of Righteous Among the Nations.
Annette recounts that the initiative to declare the Dherbier couple as Righteous Among the Nations stirred up many emotions and many memories she had many years kept afar.
“I spoke very little... about the war. In fact, I knew very little of what my family went through.
My mother did not tell us what happened to her from the moment she was arrested and sent to Drancy. It was actually my granddaughter who kept asking me about my childhood.
She always wondered why, in all the family gatherings, there was no one from my side of the family. My parents came back from the war, but their brothers, sisters, cousins perished in Auschwitz.’’ The Dherbiers’ granddaughter insists that her grandmother Elise never considered what she did as heroism, that it was a natural act on her part.
“She was a very religious woman, a person with strong beliefs. Resistance members were coming often to her hotel during the war. So when she was asked to save a little girl, she did not hesitate for a moment.’’