Sunday, September 6, 2015

Andree Sulzer-Salomon (1909-1985)

Andrée Sulzer, daughter of Jonas Sulzer and Marie Geismar, was born in Grussenheim, Germany (Alsace) on 25 May 1908. In 1931 she married Tobie Salomon with who she had one son, Jean.

Prior to the outbreak of World War II Andrée worked in a law office in Strasbourg. She was active in EIF (Eclaireurs Israelites de France), the Jewish scouting movement, and supported the Zionist movement. The morning after the pogrom of November 9 and 10, 1938 (“Kristallnacht”), she learned that the director of the Jewish orphanage in Frankfurt-am-Main wanted to transfer the children in his care to France. She obtained approval from the Ministry of the Interior and persuaded the Jewish aid organizations in Strasbourg to cover the expense of absorbing the refugee children. 

On 6 December 1938 the group of activists, led by Andre, took in 52 Jewish children aged 11 to 14 and referred them to foster families in and near the city. On 24 April 1939, a similar group of children from Karlsruhe was taken in. These were the starting points of a life’s work dedicated to rescuing Jewish children. When the war broke out, Andree fled with her husband to Clermont-Ferrand after finding refuges for every one of the children rescued from Germany, with whom she kept in touch during and after the occupation.

After the defeat of the French army and the accession of the Pétain government in 1940, Andree joined the children’s rescue organization OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants), drawing the organization’s attention to the fate of families and especially of children imprisoned in internment camps in the south of France. She succeeded in recruiting activists to carry out a plan to rescue the greatest possible number of children from the camps and absorb them, as a first stage, in dormitories opened and operated by the OSE. Thanks to endless appeals to the government to the point of harassment, she obtained approval to evacuate groups of children to institutions outside the camps. Thus, on 26 February 1941, 48 children aged four to fourteen were transferred from the Gurs camp to a government institution for war orphans, from which they were sent to various Jewish institutions. The dramatic parting from their parents was made possible by Andree's skill at persuasion. Activists of the OSE and the EIF were present in the camps as “social workers” who worked under Andree's guidance. At the same time, she worked tirelessly to carry out a complicated operation to assist several dozen children to emigrate to the United States. 

In the summer of 1942 mass arrests of Jews and deportations to the east began. The situation worsened in November 1942 with the German army’s occupation of southern France. Hundreds of children who had been rescued from the camps and absorbed into OSE and EIF institutions were in danger of arrest and deportation. Andree and the members of her teams went underground. Gradually, children were transferred to hiding places in non-Jewish families and institutions. Some of them—mostly those who did not speak French and those who had grown up in ultra-Orthodox homes— were smuggled to Switzerland. Andree even put together a group of children who had relatives in Palestine, arranging for them to be smuggled to Spain via Andorra and from there to Palestine, while the war was at its height. Though they never saw their parents again, hundreds of children survived the Holocaust thanks to Andrée Salomon. Many of them regarded Andree, who comforted those who wept and guided those who were confused, as their second mother.
She served as deputy head of Israel Bonds in France from 1959 until her aliyah to Israel in 1970. Beautiful, charismatic and extraordinary, she became a living legend of whom it was said that in any place where the situation was desperate and people’s physical and emotional strength had run out, she would suddenly appear and find solutions, bringing hope, light and rescue. Her charges and colleagues in her heroic acts remained loyal to her and were in close contact with her until her death in 1985.

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