Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sabine Chwast-Zlatin (1907-1996)

Sabine "Yanka" Chwast was born in Poland on 13 January 1907. As a young woman, she could not abide the stifling home environment or the widespread anti-Semitism in Poland and decided, in the mid-1920s, to leave her homeland.

Through her studies, she moved successively to Danzig, Koenigsberg, Berlin and Brussels finally arriving in Nancy, France where she began studying art history. There she met Miron Zlatin, a young Jewish student who was preparing a graduate degree at the Agricultural University of Nancy. Miron and Sabine were married 31 July 1927 and in 1929 they acquired a poultry farm which, after some difficulties, proved a success. They were naturalized 26 July 1939. (The couple had no children.) 

Children if Izieu (1943)
After the outbreak of WWII, Sabine began to train with the Red Cross. When the Germans advanced into France, the Zlatins moved to Montpellier, where Sabine was posted to a military hospital. After the formation of the Vichy government in 1941, she was forced to leave.

At the Hérault prefecture in the French-occupied zone, she contacted OSE, a charity for Jewish children, and helped to secure the release of those who had been interned in the camps at Agde and Rivesaltes. When the Germans occupied the rest of the France in 1943, she took 17 children with her to the Italian-occupied zone. Through the recommendation of the sub-prefect of Belley, she received permission to use a house in Izieu and founded the Hérault refugee children's home La Maison d'Izieu (Children's Home of Izieu) where Jewish children were hidden.

On 6 April 1944, the Lyon Gestapo, led by Klaus Barbie, raided the house and took away all 44 children and the 7 adults who were taking care of them. Sabine herself was elsewhere at the time. Forty-two of the children and five of the adults were gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp, while two of the teenage children and the home superintendent, Miron Zlatin, were executed by firing squad at Reval in Estonia.

In 1987 Sabine testified against Barbie in his war crimes trial. The same year she founded an association to create a museum for the Izieu victims. She received support from various sources, including from French president François Mitterrand. The museum opened on 4 April 1994 in the very house that she had used to try to protect the children.

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