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(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Belgian woman who has been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for saving 300 Jewish children during the Holocaust will receive honorary Israeli citizenship on Wednesday.
Andree Guelen-Herscovici, 86, had received Yad Vashem's highest honor back in 1989 for her role in saving hundreds of Jewish children during World War II.
All of the nearly 22,000 people who have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem are eligible for honorary Israeli citizenship, but only a few hundred have actually received it, Yad Vashem spokeswoman Estee Yaari said Tuesday.
During World War II, Guelen-Herscovici was a member of a Belgian underground movement, the Committee for the Defense of the Jews, and taught at a private school where about a dozen Jewish children were hidden.
In June 1943, the Gestapo raided the school and arrested the headmaster and the Jewish children they found there.
Guelen-Herscovici, who was told to get out and not come back, knew that other Jewish children who were hidden with families were about to come to the school that was now occupied by Gestapo agents waiting to catch the Jewish children.
She waited for the children outside, and from a distance signaled them to return home.
From that moment, she became deeply involved in finding hiding places for Jewish children, and moved them to Christian families and monasteries.
She kept a secret listing in five notebooks which were hidden away in a rented Brussels apartment of the original names and assumed identity of the hundreds of children who needed a hiding place, many of whom never saw their parents again.
"I still weep when I think of the times when I had to snatch children from their parents, especially children aged 2-3, without being able to tell the parents where I was taking the children," she recalled.
The children were told that due to the shortages of food in the city and the threat of air raids, they were being taken to the countryside to enjoy fresh air, food and a good life.
Risking her own life, she accompanied about 300 children to their new hiding places.
After the war, Guelen-Herscovici worked to ensure that the children were returned to their families - if they were still alive - or to their relatives.
She continued to maintain contact with many of the children that she saved, and married a Holocaust survivor, Charles Herscovici.
A ceremony bestowing the Belgian Righteous Gentile with honorary Israeli citizenship will be held Wednesday at Yad Vashem in the presence of scores of the children she saved, the Belgian Ambassador to Israel Danielle del Marmol and Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev.
"I deserve nothing for what I did. I am not a hero," Guelen-Herscovici said. "I was one of the simple soldiers."
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