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'You Are Everything I Hope For'

Anna Riesen Fleischer named Righteous Among the Nations (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Joachim Flescher was born to a Jewish family in East Galicia in 1906. At the age of 17, he moved to Vienna, Austria, to study medicine. Little did he know that he would never see them again.

Dr. Flescher settled in Rome, Italy, where he worked as a psychiatrist. But under Mussolini, Italy's racist laws restricted Jewish doctors, and Flescher's work became more difficult, with him continuing to treat his patients in secret.

All of this time, Dr. Flescher kept in touch with his family by letter and postcard. He also sent them food and medicine, which kept them alive as the Nazis' actions further threatened their lives. In one letter from 1942, his mother wrote:

My dear son, we have received your parcels...You cannot imagine how precious and important your letters are to me. I read them again and again, savoring each word. May you have a long life for all those words of consolation you are sending. You are everything I hope for. May God let you live so I can see you another time..."

But Dr. Flescher would never see his family again. His mother and father, along with his two sisters and their families, were all murdered by the Nazis. One year after the above note, his mother signed her last letter, "your unhappy mother." Soon the ghetto which held her and the rest of the Flescher family was liquidated. In eight months, her son would face the same threat, as deportations of Rome's Jews began.

About the same time that Dr. Flescher moved to Rome, so did a young Christian woman named Anna Riesen. She moved there from Switzerland with her twin sister, Klara, who worked as Dr. Flescher's assistant. When Klara returned to Switzerland, Anna took over. Soon, the Nazis began to deport Italy's Jews to extermination camps. In Rome, alone, 1,800 Jews were sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered.

Dr. Flescher hid at the home of a Christian patient. Anna, ever his loyal assistant, visited and snuck food to the doctor. But after a Nazi raid on the hiding place, Anna and Dr. Flescher decided a new plan was needed. Their plan was very daring, indeed.

The two decided that the safest place for Dr. Flescher to hide was his own apartment! Anna reported that the doctor had fled Italy, and that his location was unknown. She told the Swiss Consulate that she was moving into his apartment, and obtained a Swiss certificate of protection to place on the door.

On Christmas Eve of 1943, Dr. Flescher took to the deserted streets and slipped into his own apartment. He stayed inside for six months, in complete silence, never even looking out the windows, for fear that his neighbors would betray him. And even in this hiding spot, the doctor was in constant danger. Nazis conducted searches there for escaped POWs. Once, two Italian Fascists came to the apartment and interrogated Anna while the doctor hid in the closet. Anna even sent a signed letter to the house from Dr. Flescher in order to convince everyone that he was not there.

Dr. Flescher hid in the apartment until the Allies liberated Rome on June 4, 1944. He then returned to practicing medicine, moving to the United States in 1949. Anna joined him the next year and they were married. They had two daughters, Diana and Sylvia. Dr. Flescher's reputation as an expert grew through the years, and he continued to help others until his death in 1976.

In 2008, Yad Vashem named his wife, Anna Riesen Flescher, Righteous Among the Nations, for her heroic and selfless efforts during the Holocaust.

Tags: Advocates and Allies

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