‘They Gave Me the Gift of Life’

The Fellowship  |  March 20, 2019

Black and white photo of a family of three.

Joseph and Marie Andries

When the Nazis began the Holocaust with the Kristallnacht attacks of November 1938, many German Jews decided to leave the country. The Gershonowitz family was among them, sending their daughter Anni and son Benno to the Netherlands. Eventually, the entire family reunited in Belgium. But the horrors of the Holocaust were not over for the Gershonowitzes.

The Nazis began deporting Jews from Belgium in 1942, and the Gershonowitzes decided to save their children. Seven-year-old Anni and five-year-old Benno were left at the home of Joseph and Marie Andries. The children were safe, but their parents were not — Ludwig and Pepi were deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.

The Andries family moved and were separated, but Marie kept the two Jewish children, loving them as if they were the children she’d never been able to have. The three led a simple life, receiving help from Marie’s relatives. After the war, Marie was able to find a relative of the children in the U.S., and in 1947 Anni and Benno sailed to New York where they found their family.

Marie Andries passed away in 1983, but shortly before her death, Benno visited his rescuer in Belgium. Benno recalled how the loving woman had twice saved his sister’s life, had made sure the two siblings received an education while in hiding, and said, “The risk she took to protect us are beyond my understanding…I’ve had a wonderful life because of Marie and Joseph Andries. They gave me the gift of life.”

While Marie never told anyone of her courageous actions, she and Joseph were at last honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Gentiles in 2015. At the ceremony, a relative said, “The medal and certificate are proof that brave people with a conscience did exist during those dark times. They attest to the fact that friendship can triumph under even the most dangerous circumstances…they represent symbols of hope for the future.”

These weekly Righteous Gentiles we tell you about, Advocates and Allies for the Jewish people, represent the hope that we all have for today and for the future.