Why you should know her: A prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau, herself, Epaud was executed by the Nazis for giving water to Jewish prisoners at the extermination camp.
Anne-Marie Epaud was a French Gentile who learned to care for others early in life. Going to work as a clothes presser after finishing grade school, Anne-Marie was also responsible for raising her six younger siblings when her father passed away.
Anne-Marie soon had a child of her own to raise, as well. Claude Epaud, who was only 13 when the Nazis took his mother, said Anne-Marie was arrested by the Germans on suspicion of working with the French underground, and sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where she was known as “Annette.” Claude also remembered his mother as a “generous woman, very resourceful, loyal to her friends, and perpetually driven to help the needy.” It was this drive that would ultimately cost Anne-Marie her life.
At the postwar Nuremburg trials, a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau testified about Anne-Marie’s tragic tale. Marie Claude Vaillant-Couterier recalled:
“One day, Annette Epaud, one of our companions, a young, beautiful woman of thirty, passed near Block 25 and felt pity for those women, who screamed from morning to evening in all languages: ‘A drink, a drink; water, water…’ She entered our bloc to take a bit of herbal tea, but the moment she slipped it through the bars on the window, the Aufseherin (guard) saw it, took her by the neck, and threw her into Block 25…Two days later, on the truck that was taking her to the gas chambers, she held another Frenchwoman close to her and when the truck began to move, she called out, ‘Think of my little boy if you return to France,’ and the two of them began to sing La Marseillaise.”
That was the last that was seen of Anne-Marie Epaud before she was murdered in the Birkenau gas chambers on February 20, 1943, with prisoners from Block 25, most of whom were Jewish. Anne-Marie knew that fact when she risked her life to quench their thirst. For her selfless actions, Anne-Marie Epaud was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1997.Tags: Advocates and Allies