Monday, September 7, 2015

Kate Rossi-Lipner (1925-)

Acts of Courage Go Unforgotten
Reunion A Tribute To WWII Heroine

By Mary Jane Bezark
Posted June 5, 2000
Found at

MT. PROSPECT — Most SS and Gestapo search parties prowled at night, so 17-year-old Kate Rossi and the three Jewish children she was protecting slept in their clothes.

About midnight on Christmas Eve in 1942, she recalls getting an urgent warning from French resistance fighters about Gestapo troopers in her neighborhood. Knowing time was critical, she hurried the children to a large church where a service was in progress and the four disappeared into the crowd. "That was one of many times Kate kept the children safe in the teeth of danger," said Henri Aboudaram, the 93-year-old father of the youngest of the children. He came to Mt. Prospect from France last week to help Rossi, now Kate Lipner, celebrate her 75th birthday.

Aboudaram's son, Robert, remained close to Lipner until he died at age 60. Aboudaram and she lost touch for 43 years until last October when they met while she was on a trip to Nice. He was quick to accept her invitation to visit for her birthday.

"I never forgot—I never will forget—what Kate did for me and Robert," he said. "Can you imagine such a young person doing what she did?"

Lipner, who has lived in Mt. Prospect for 23 years, kept silent about how she had safeguarded the children because the memories of the war were so painful. But then her grandson, Philip, began asking questions.

"At first, Philip didn't believe those things could have happened," Lipner said. Neither did the teenage daughter of Maurice Spruch. Spruch and his sister, Helene, were the other two children Lipner protected. Tanya Spruch had heard stories from her father and compared them with the tales Lipner had told her grandson; both youths came away convinced. Tanya Spruch began spreading the word about Lipner's heroics, and members of the North Shore Holocaust Education Foundation finally heard. Now, Lipner speaks in schools and synagogues. In 1997, film director Steven Spielberg's Shoah Visual History Foundation videotaped her for its archives. Two years earlier, the Holocaust Martyr's and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem awarded her a medal it reserves for those it calls "The Righteous Among the Nations."

In Nice in the early 1940s, Lipner knew how dangerous the German occupation forces could be. Her father had joined the French army in 1939, was captured in 1941 when Paris fell, and was sent to a German labor camp. Lipner then joined a French underground group, which obtained information via shortwave radio.

"Most people in the South of France [not occupied until 1942] didn't know what was going on in the occupied North," Lipner said. "We in the underground knew people were being taken away by the thousands and thousands, and none of them were coming back."

Recalling those traumatic days, Aboudaram explained how the children came to be sheltered in Lipner's home.

"My wife had died the year before the Germans occupied Nice," he said. "Kate's family lived near my house and Kate often helped care for Robert. When the Gestapo began rounding up Jewish people, a couple by the name of Spruch came to me hoping I could help them protect their children. As we talked, we agreed our children would be safer living with French families than they would be hiding with their parents."

The children settled in with Lipner's family. Shortly thereafter, Maurice and Helene's father was picked up on the street by the Gestapo, and their mother fled to Spain. Aboudaram found shelter in a local monastery. Lipner's mother died of a stroke just weeks after the children arrived. That left Lipner in charge of Robert, 5; and Maurice, 9; and Helene, 7.

While Lipner's mother was living, she was given her apartment rent-free in exchange for cleaning the five-story building. Lipner took over the cleaning.

Her efforts to protect the children were aided by neighbors and something else: "We had two doors to the outside so we had a choice of which way to go when the Germans came looking," she said.

"Another way to keep the kids safe was to move them around. Once, just after I had taken them to stay with my aunt for a week, I was picked up at my place by the Gestapo. They held me for two days and kept saying they heard I was helping Jewish people, but I kept denying it. Finally they took me to a room filled with German soldiers where there was a table with a little baby on it, and they said it was a Jewish baby, and they shot the baby right in front of me," Lipner said, wiping her eyes. "They let me go with a warning."

She turned the tables during a 1944 Allied air raid on Nice.

"I had taken the children to the cellar and gone back for a blanket when I heard an SS man's heavy boots down the hall," she said. "I put a gun my father always kept in the apartment into my apron pocket and stepped out the door knowing that if the German found the children he would kill all of us. Out in the hall, the man stopped to look at me—I was kind of pretty in those days—and I walked up close and shot him. Then I passed out. Later, two men who lived in the building told me they took care of everything," Lipner said.

Aboudaram did not know about that incident until his latest visit.

At the end of the war in 1945, Lipner met and married an American soldier from Chicago, Laurence Banasiaky. After Banasiaky died following a long illness, she married family friend Philip Lipner, who died only a month later.

Lipner has kept in touch with Maurice and Helene Spruch. And now she once again has a connection to Robert Aboudaram through his father.

 Asked how she found the courage to do what was needed to save them, Lipner said, "The children were there, so what could I do—let them die? Of course not. You would have done the same thing, wouldn't you?"

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