Sunday, September 6, 2015

Juliette Sanjaard-Stern (1893-1963)

Juliette Stern, daughter of Louis-Jacob Sanjaard and Sophie Cohen, was born in Paris on 23 December 1893. She married Waldemar Sylvain Hauer with whom she had a daughter: Simond. Waldemar died in 1916 and Juliette later married Robert Stern.

At the beginning of the 1930s Juliette visited Palestine and upon returning home established a women’s club, Kadimah, which studied the history of the Zionist movement. In 1935 the club merged with another small organization, Jewish Women in France for Palestine, to establish of a branch of WIZO, of which she was appointed director-general.

In January 1942, when the office for Jewish Affairs (Commissariat général aux questions juives, CGQJ under the Pétain government) decreed the closure of all Jewish community institutions (except for religious communities) and their replacement by the umbrella organization UGIF (Union Générale des Israelites de France), Juliette was appointed a member of that organization’s leadership. She took upon herself the management of Branch Number 5 of the UGIF.

Some of the children who were arrested and imprisoned in the Drancy camp together with their parents were handed over to the UGIF by the Germans. Branch Number 5 lodged them in one of the dormitories it administered. The children were defined as “stuck,” meaning that they could not be transferred to another location, since their final destination was back to Drancy and deportation. Branch Number 5 also dealt with “free” children, who were homeless for various reasons.

The UGIF dormitories could house up to 400 children, but Branch Number 5 had a larger number of charges. Instead of enlarging the dormitories’ absorption capacity, Juliette decided, contrary to German orders, to transfer the children to non-Jewish families and institutions. Members of WIZO and social workers, several of whom were not Jewish, found hiding places for the children, ensuring their welfare and paying a monthly fee for their lodging.

These activities were carried out in secret and at great risk. By using accounting ruses Juliette diverted UGIF funds to meet expenses, in direct violation of official orders. Joseph Antignac, the secretary-general of the CGQJ, suspected her and in spring 1943 contacted the commander of the Gestapo’s Jewish department, Heinz Röthke, asking him to begin an investigation. Instead of doing so, the Gestapo arrested the employees of UGIF’s Branch 5, including their manager, Joséphine Getting. All were deported and murdered.

At the time of the arrest, Juliette was attending a funeral. After this tragic event, she collaborated with the members of the Jewish underground, arranging details of the “kidnapping” of the “stuck” children from the dormitories. However, at the end of July 1944 there were still children, including “free” ones, in the dormitories when the Gestapo arrested and deported 250 of them.

WIZO was responsible for more than a thousand children, all of whom were saved, as were those who were “kidnapped” by the Jewish underground.

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