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Down the Rear Staircase

Jeanne Henri and Gisele Gonse (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Jeanne Henri-Robert

(1893-1973)

Gisele Gonse was a young Jewish woman who lived with her parents and sister in Paris before World War II. In 1942, Gisele's family fled, but Gisele stayed behind to continue her education in nursing and social work. When Jewish families began to be rounded up and held in the Velodrome d'Hiver, Gisele volunteered to help them. Arrested at the end of the year, Gisele was released. But her arrest did little to deter her bravery, as she began transporting Jewish children to safety.

Gisele was betrayed in 1943, and arrested once again. After being brutally tortured, she took part in a failed escape. The would-be escapees were caught and sent to Auschwitz, where they were to be murdered. Gisele was still determined to escape, and this time did so successfully, leaping from the train.

The escape from the train had left the young woman injured, and despite being barely able to walk, she made her way back to Paris. In Paris, she was introduced to Jeanne Henri-Robert. Jeanne's husband, Paul Reynaud, had become France's premier in March of 1940. But he had resigned not three months later when the French cabinet voted to sign an armistice with Nazi Germany, a move that Reynaud opposed. He was arrested and held by the Nazis until the end of the war. But his wife, who was still free, decided to aid the injured Jewish girl who she had met.

Jeanne hid Gisele in her home in Paris. This was dangerous, as the Nazis would certainly have shot both of them. Gisele's injuries grew worse, and the young woman became seriously ill. Jeanne arranged for Gisele to be treated secretly at a private clinic, then took her home to heal. On May 15, 1944, the Nazis arrived at Jeanne's home. Jeanne helped Gisele escape down the rear staircase, but she herself was arrested. Both women, however, survived until the war ended the next year, and can be seen many years later in the above photograph. For her heroic actions, Jeanne Henri-Robert was named Righteous Among the Nations.

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