Prince Michel de Ligne (front left) and descendants of a Belgian royal house meets President Reuven Rivlin (front right) and Jews saved by the family during the Holocaust, Jerusalem, July 13, 2016.
(photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON OFFICE)
They are directly or indirectly related to most of the royal houses of Europe and can trace the lineage for more than a millennium. Led by Prince Michel de Ligne, 35 of them, representing four generations from several countries, are currently in Israel to close a noble circle. They are descendants of Eugène, the 11th prince of Ligne, and his wife, Philippine, who during the Second World War hid hundreds of Jewish children in Beloeil, the de Ligne family castle, which is widely known as the Versailles of Belgium.
Eugène and his wife were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations in June 1975, long after their deaths.
Their descendants have come to plant a tree at Yad Vashem in their memories and to meet some of the children they saved, who now, as senior citizens, are living in Israel.
Six of those Jewish children accompanied the de Ligne family on its tour of the country and also accompanied it to the President’s Residence to meet with President Reuven Rivlin.
Only three people knew about the Jewish children separated from their parents and sheltered at Beloeil, and they remained silent, Prince Michel stated.
One of the survivors, Avraham Kapotka, speaking on behalf of the children who had been saved, said: “We were alone. We didn’t know if or when we would see out parents again, but we were in a safe and quiet place, and we thank Prince Michel for preserving the memory of our salvation. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to all those who worked toward saving our lives and providing us with a safe haven.”
Both Rivlin and Prince Michel referred to Elie Wiesel, who died recently, as the voice of Holocaust memory.
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Rivlin said that Wiesel was “perhaps the greatest example of the strength of the human spirit – a man who gave the Holocaust a face and the victims a voice.”
Albert Pacimora, who came on aliya with his wife two years ago and now lives in Ramat Poleg, was with four other children when the Nazis began rounding up Jews in Brussels.
A member of the Jewish resistance called the mothers of all five and warned them that their children were in danger of being either killed or deported to Germany. Four of the mothers felt there was nothing they could do to change the situation.
The only mother who thought differently was Pacimora’s mother, Frida, who was also in the resistance and delivered food to Jews in hiding. She was the only mother who came to protect her child. At first he was sent to Waterloo for five months and then to Beloeil, where no one mentioned the word “Jew.”
“We Jewish children became very good Christians,” he recalled, “the girls more so than the boys.” The youngsters had to recite their catechism every day, “and if we didn’t do it properly, the nuns would give us a wallop on the ear. I can still feel it after all these years.
At the time we thought they were cruel – but they saved our lives, while other Jewish children died.”
Pacimora’s father, Moiszek, was one of the heroes of the resistance and after the war was decorated by the king. Pacimora brought his medals and ribbons as proof. He also brought an inscribed medal that was given to his mother by Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, during a visit to Belgium in 1948. Pacimora paid his personal debt to Belgium by serving in the Belgian army.
For Prince Michel this is his second visit to Israel. The first was in the mid-1970s when Israel still had control over Sinai. He spent two-and-a-half months in Israel on that occasion, traveling from the extreme north to the extreme south.
Two of his aunts, Yolande de Ligne and Ginette vam der Straeten Ponthoz, who personally took care of the children during the war, would have loved to come to Israel, he said, but both are in their 90s and the journey would have been too strenuous for them.
His sister Princess Anne de Ligne spent a month as a volunteer at Kibbutz Nir David in the Beit She’an valley in northern Israel. She was 20 years old at the time and had studied agriculture in Germany and Belgium and thought it would be a good idea to get some hands-on experience in Israel.
What impressed her most during that time was an elderly woman who endlessly peeled potatoes in the kitchen, and when asked if she wasn’t bored replied: “I’m doing this for my country.”
On this particular visit Prince Michel became enamored with Jerusalem, and told The Jerusalem Post
, “I wish could come back and work here.”
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