“Ignored by historians… the general public, even by the Jewish people, are the heroic deeds of Jewish rescuers,” Hidden Child Foundation vice president Rachelle Goldstein told the nearly 200 attendees of the organization’s seventh International Rescuers Day program, held January 19 at the Anti-Defamation League’s headquarters. “Today we honor two Jewish women, Renee Wiener and Andree “Poumy” Moreuil, who would not shrink and tremble in their hiding places.” Introduced by foundation president Ann Shore, Wiener described how in 1944, as a 19-year old, member of l’Armee Juive, a Jewish youth resistance group, “she helped deliver weapons, sabotage transport lines and find hiding places for Jewish children.” Fleeing Vienna in 1938, Wiener and her family ended up in Nice, where “life was normal… as long as the Italians were in charge…. Then they left with everyone’s papers, and the roundups began… at l’Armee we dealt in sabotage… transported explosives in suitcases… transported children to Switzerland. We faked names. We went after informers who sold [Jews] to the Gestapo for a price per head. We lured them to a rendezvous and eliminated them.” She smiled and said, “We sent a message with each casket as a warning.” At the end of Wiener’s talk, a young listener in the room rose and said to 86-year-old Wiener: “You’re hip! You’re cool!”
Wiener described how the young people roamed the mountains, trying to find hiding places for the children: “Many farmers were willing…. Convents and monasteries saved them. Sometimes it was difficult to get them back after the war. A friend was caught. She would not leave the children. She was killed. When you are that young, you are not aware of the danger. You get over it! We were not always successful. But we did save some lives.” Several audience members who had been hidden as children asked Wiener if, perhaps, it had been she and her group that saved them by smuggling them into a convent. “I’m not sure,” Wiener said. “We never knew the names.” She mused: “It was easier for us to do this than sit in an attic or basement and wait for the knock on the door. We were Jewish — there was nothing more dangerous than that!”
In a film documentary made in 2005 about Alsace-born “Moreuil (1911-2003), the 92-year-old elegant woman with the elongated visage of a Modigliani portrait recalls: “[At home] we ate peas with bacon. We went to synagogue. Father was not religious, but he held Passover Seders.” During the war, an official made a fortuitous mistake, changing the family’s name, Moise to the less Jewish name Mayse, which, Poumy said, “no doubt saved our lives.” She fled to a mountain village and joined the Resistance, delivering messages by bike and train. She spied on German troops, located German Tiger tanks, brought food and supplies to the underground fighters in the mountains, and once swallowed some communiqués so that they would not fall into the hands of the Gestapo.
“Seven [of my] family members perished in Auschwitz After the war,” Moreuil said. “I was reunited with my husband on a sidewalk in Paris!” The family name was changed to Moreuil. Returning to Alsace “to find my family roots… [and my] grandparents’ graves],” she was told that the family had settled in Alsace in the 1790s. “I told my grandson that his father was Jewish [and that] my symbolic name is Moise. It was not a religious family.” Instead she viewed Judaism “as a tradition of tolerance, [something] I can pass on to my children.”
Goldstein further informed: “The Jews of France represented but 1% of the total population. [Yet] some studies show that Jews comprised about 15 to 20% of the French Resistance.” Among the various groups she cited were “the Zionist resistance organization L’Armee Juive, which was founded in 1942 and organized escape routes across the Pyrenees and smuggled Jews out of the country….. They distributed millions of dollars from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to relief organizations and to fighting units. In 1944, the Jewish youth movement Eclaireuses et Eclaireurs Israelites de France combined with l’Armee Juive to form l’Organisation Juive de Combat…. By the summer of 1944, the OJC had 400 members. They participated in the liberation of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Grenoble and Nice.” In the Southern occupation zone, the French-Jewish humanitarian organization Oeuvre des Secours aux Enfants saved the lives of between 7,000 and 9,000 Jewish children by forging papers, smuggling them to neutral countries and sheltering them in orphanages, schools and convents.” Goldstein paused and looked out at the audience: “I don’t have to tell this group about the OSE; many of you are here today because of OSE.”
Standing in front of a cracking fireplace in her apartment on Manhattan’s Park Avenue, hostess Patti Kenner told the January 19 gathering: “Sometimes I introduce Hillary [Rodham] Clinton [here], sometimes Chuck Schumer. Tonight it is my cousin Erika Dreifus, author of ‘Quiet Americans: Stories,’” recently published by Last Light Studio Books.
Addressing the guests — who included Ruth Westheimer and retired judge Judith Kaye — Dreifus informed that the stories in the collection “were inspired by my paternal grandparents, who immigrated to the United States [from Germany] in the late 1930s.” She said that “a portion of the proceeds from the sales of the book will be donated to The Blue Card,” of which marketing director George Wolf was present. Wolf informed that The Blue Card was founded in Germany in 1934 as a self-help organization. Westheimer piped up: “I want you to know that Albert Einstein and I are two who made it, thanks to The Blue Card!”
Dreifus explained that the stories evolved from “questions I never got answers to from my parents” or “[late] grandparents.” She “answered” those questions herself with the fictional stories, whose underpinnings contain fragments of historical fact. One of these stories is about a high-ranking Nazi’s wife and a Jewish doctor in prewar Berlin, while another is about a Jewish immigrant soldier and the German POWs he’s assigned to supervise.
Wolf informed that “at the beginning, The Blue Card provided newly impoverished German-Jewish families with basic financial support. The Blue Card was reorganized in 1939 in the United States to aid refugees and survivors here. There are approximately 100,000 survivors who are still supported by The Blue Card. “One is 107 years old… but most are in their 70s and 80s,” Wolf said.