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france israel foundation 311.(Photo by: Yonith Benhamou)
‘They rose up against the unacceptable’
Descendants of French Righteous Among Nations visit J'lem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, meet with grandchildren of Jews their grandparents saved.
Most people in European countries would like to stop being haunted by the ghosts of their past, to move on to the future. Some Holocaust survivors in Israel would like to stop delving back into this past and the psychological and physical toll it took on them.

Nevertheless, the Biblical injunction zechor (‘remember’ in Hebrew) compels us not to forget. In fact, it is our duty to teach, to pass on.

In this vein, an uncommon initiative was created by the France-Israel Foundation in order to pass on the stories of the Righteous Among Nations – those unique non-Jewish men and women who saved Jews during World War II.

Nicole Guedj, the president of the foundation and a former French minister, launched the project ‘Memoirs of the Righteous,’ in which the great-grandchildren of the Righteous Among Nations take a trip to Israel.

“For me, it is a major duty to keep alive the memory of those who acted as heroes of France and who stood up to oppose the Nazi barbarity,” Guedj said of the project.

And so, a delegation of twenty young people between the ages of 20 to 35 took part in the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Jerusalem while visiting Israel and its capital for the first time. Judging by their radiant faces and admiring expressions, it was clear that they would remember the emotionally charged visit for years.

Gregoire Lepigeon-Bonnafous, 24, and Pierre Collardey, 30, both great-grandchildren of Righteous Among Nations and members of the French delegation, both proudly accepted the task of passing on the memory of their great-grandfathers. “The reaction of the righteous Among Nations was apolitical; there was no real ideological aspect and much more a humanist dimension,” said Gregoire. “It was about to rise up against something unacceptable, and this is what we should mainly remember.”

Pierre explained why his generation was compelled to tell their great-grandparents’ stories and vouch for their courage. “It is necessary to remain watchful. [The Holocaust] can happen again. I think this is why this initiative has to continue,” he said.

The story of the ‘good guys’ is sometimes into the background. Guedj remarked, “France was not only collaborators. For this reason, it is only fair to re-establish the truth, as well as to perpetuate the memory of the Righteous Among Nations."

History indeed took its place at the forefront of the journey after the Holocaust memorial ceremony, when some of the youths met with Jewish peers whose relatives had been rescued from the claws of the Nazis by the delegates’ own great-grandparents.

The great grandmother of Adeline Lelievre, 28 years old, agreed in 1941 to hide an 8-year-old girl named Berthe Badehi in her home in the Savoie region of France at the behest of a Jewish family from Lyon. “She took care of me for 3 years. They were the most beautiful years of my childhood. They are still my family, my Christian family from France. We are not a Jewish or Christian family, but a family all the same,” testified Berthe, holding Adeline’s hand affectionately. Berthe lives today in Jerusalem and is also a volunteer at the Yad Vashem museum. She returns to Savoie regularly.

Adeline was deeply moved by the encounter. “I’m so proud! I will pass this story on to my children and grandchildren. We youths are lucky, we have the power to pass it on,” she said.

Upon beholding the strong impact of the visit on the youths, Guedj has only one anxiety: “Now I am scared I won’t be able to do it again.”
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