Thursday, September 17, 2015

Adelaide Hautval (1906-1988)

Adelaide Hautval was born to a Protestant family in Hohwald (Bas Rhin), France in 1906. She studied medicine in Strasbourg, going on to work in several psychiatric wards.

In April 1942, she was told of the death of her mother who lived in occupied Paris. Wishing to attend her mother's burial, Adelaide asked German authorities for permission to cross the demarcation line separating the two zones of France and was refused. Her attempt to make a crossing without the permit failed: Adelaide was arrested by the German police and transferred to the prison in Bourges.

That June, Jewish prisoners wearing the yellow patch began to arrive at the prison. As she awaited her, she protested the harsh treatment of Jewish prisoners who were incarcerated with her. The reply was that from now on she would share their fate. Undeterred, Adelaide pinned a piece of yellow paper to her clothing that read, "Friend of the Jews."

After incarceration in several detention camps, she was sent with 200 other French women to Auschwitz in January 1943 on a train that became known as the Convoi des 31000. She was housed with 500 Jewish women who nicknamed her "the saint."

She applied her medical knowledge to treat Jewish prisoners who had contracted typhus, secluding them in a separate part of the block, in order to prevent contagion. Employed as a physician by the camp commander, she refrained from reporting the prisoners’ illness and thereby spared them immediate death. She treated Jewish patients with boundless dedication, and her gentle hands and warm words were of inestimable value to Jews in the hell of Auschwitz. “Here,” she said, in words engraved on the prisoners’ memory, “we are all under sentence of death. Let us behave like human beings as long as we are alive.”

Adelaide was assigned to Dr. Eduard Wirths who conducted sterilization experiments on Jewish women in the infamous Block 10 at Auschwitz. She quickly discovered that the experiments were performed without anesthesia. When forced to assist in the surgical sterilization of a young woman from Greece, Dr. Hautval told Dr. Wirth that she would never again attend such a procedure. When Wirth asked Dr. Hautval: “Don’t you see that these people are different from you?” she replied, “In this camp, many people are different from me. You, for example.” 

After her confrontation with Dr. Wirths, she was advised to stay out of sight. She feared retribution but was not punished. In August 1944 she was moved to Ravensbruck where she continued to practice medicine and heal prisoners as much as possible until the camp liberated in April 1945. When she returned to France, her health had been permanently impaired.

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