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Like Someone Who Has Returned from Hell

Camille Ernst at Yad Vashem tree-planting ceremony, 1972 (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Camille Ernst

Life: 1900-1983

Why you should know him: A French official who saved hundreds of Jews from the Nazis, Camille Ernst was sent to Dachau concentration camp for his selfless actions.

Camille Ernst was the administrative secretary-general in Montpellier, France, during World War II, which meant he was in charge of the local gendarmerie. Because of this important post, Ernst was able to save hundreds of Jews imperiled in occupied France.

Ernst warned Jews about impending arrests and issued special orders that allowed non-French Jews to remain in his locality, instead of being deported to concentration camps.

He also allowed for the release and rescue of hundreds of Jewish children from camps. After their release the children were taken in by various rescue organizations which Ernst knew.

Ernst soon became known for his ability (and willingness) to help Jews in danger. For example, one Jewish woman named Malka Shapira was sent to him after her fiancé was arrested. Ernst arranged for the man's release, saving his life. Soon the authorities realized what Ernst had been up to, and deamnded why so few Jews had been arrested under his watch.

Because of his actions, Ernst was handed over to the Nazis and sent to Dachau concentration camp, where he spent the rest of the war. The imprisonment ruined his health, as upon his release he was like "someone who has returned from Hell."

But later in his life, in 1971, Camille Ernst was recognized for his selfless actions during the war, being named by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Tags: Advocates and Allies

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