The Nurse Who Hid Hundreds of Pregnant Women from the Nazis

Each week, we try to introduce you to some of the thousands of Righteous Gentiles who stood up for what was right during the Holocaust and risked their own lives to save the lives of their Jewish brothers and sisters. While many of these heroes have been forgotten, it is always nice when one of them is noticed and heralded for their heroism. Such is the case with Elisabeth Eidenbenz, The Times of Israel’s Rich Tenorio tells us, a Swiss nurse who saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish women and children, and who is being featured in a new film:

When refugees fled the Spanish Civil War and World War II, a brave Swiss nurse provided crucial help in southwest France to a niche group of displaced persons — pregnant women and their children.

Despite hostility from Vichy France and Nazi Germany, Elisabeth Eidenbenz is credited with saving the lives of almost 600 children — 400 Spanish refugees and 200 Jewish refugees — through the Maternity of Elne, her maternity hospital in the French municipality of Elne.

Relatively little-known, Eidenbenz (1913-2011) lived to be nearly 100 and was honored by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations in 2002. A new historical dramatic film aims to amplify her heroism…

“Elisabeth was only 25 years old when she founded [and] opened [the] Maternity,” Quer said. “You have to be very brave to accept this work.”

The daughter of a Swiss Protestant minister, Eidenbenz initially volunteered to help the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War — a cause that became desperate with the fall of Barcelona in 1938. In January and February of 1939, a half-million Republican refugees fled on foot to France. On the way, they were bombed by Nationalist and Italian planes — an exodus, termed “La Retirada” (The Retreat), that is being commemorated this year, eight decades later…

The first pregnant woman arrived in January 1939. There would be many more under the care of Eidenbenz and her staff of 12. Expectant mothers arrived four weeks before their delivery date; they could stay up to four weeks after giving birth, after which Eidenbenz would look to place them in a job to keep them out of the camps. The hospital would see 20 births each month in 1940 and 1941…

“Elisabeth had many threats from the Gestapo but did not go down,” Quer said. “[She] hid Jewish women and their children when they were banned. Elisabeth faced the head of the police, fought for deported women.”

The Germans ultimately ordered the Maternity closed in 1944. Eidenbenz returned to Switzerland but continued fighting on behalf of “unprotected children,” according to Quer…

Tags: Advocates and Allies Video

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