Mary Catherine (Kate) Rossi grew up in the French city of Nice. As the Nazis overtook her country, Kate lived in an apartment building where her mother was the concierge. But when Kate’s mother died in 1942, her passing left the young woman all alone. Kate decided to join the Resistance and act out against the Nazis and the Vichy government cooperating with their evil schemes.
In 1940, when the Nazis had invaded Belgium, a Jewish family named the Spruchs fled to southern France. Mr. Spruch went ahead of his wife and eight-year-old son and four-year-old daughter, in order to find a good hiding place. Tragically, he was arrested and disappeared, never to be heard from again. But Mrs. Spruch and her two children settled in Nice, the same town where Kate lived.
In late 1942, the Nazis began to threaten any Jews who were in Nice. The two Spruch children, along with another six-year-old Jewish boy, Robert Aboudaram, were sent to live with Kate until their parents could procure them safe passage to Spain.
The children’s passage to Spain was delayed, which meant they stayed with Kate for two years. The young woman, who they called “Katouchka,” took care of the three youngsters, who lived in a small apartment in the basement. At night, when everyone else was asleep, Kate would let them climb to the building’s roof, to see the sky and breathe the fresh air. All by herself, Kate gave the three food and love, spent all her spare time with them, keeping them occupied and telling them stories.
But Kate did more than just provide for the Jewish children’s daily needs. She risked her life – and took the life of an enemy – in order to save theirs. One day, the children’s location was betrayed by a neighbor. An officer of the Gestapo came to the building to arrest them. Kate shared what happened next:
“One Gestapo man came; he was all alone, and I heard his boots. I had a gun in a drawer and I went and put it in my apron pocket and I went outside. I left the children inside. I went in the hall. When I saw the German, I knew that if I didn’t do it, we would all get killed. The children and me and everyone. I took the gun and I went close to him and shot him. I did what I had to do. What would you do with the children? You let them die?”
At the end of 1944, the Spruch children’s uncle took them to Spain, where they were reunited with their mother. Robert’s parents also recovered him shortly thereafter. For her selfless actions, Kate Lipner was named Righteous Among the Nations in 1995.
When asked about her heroism, Kate humbly said, “I had no choice; it was the right thing to do. I needed those children as much as they needed me.”Advocates and Allies