‘To Her We Owe Our Lives’
The Fellowship | February 14, 2018
A Christian wife and mother in the small southern French town of Calvisson, Jeanne Albouy had already been affected by World War II before her encounter with the Wulwek family. Jeanne’s husband was being held as a prisoner of war by the Nazis. And so, when Jeanne had a chance encounter with a Jewish family, she had the chance to help save others from the evil German regime.
Wilhelm Wulwek was a Polish Jew who moved to Vienna to work as a chemist. There, he met another Jew from Poland, Melanie Heller. The two were married and had two children, Victor and Claire. But in 1938, the Nazis annexed Austria and began to persecute any Jews there.
The Wulweks fled to Paris, but two years later, the Nazis overran France. Wilhelm was arrested, and held for a long time. When he was released, the Wulwek family fled again, this time to the town of Calvisson. It was in Calvisson that a chance meeting would change the lives of Gentile and Jew forever.
Jeanne was raising her 14-year-old daughter Lucette alone, but after meeting the Wulweks, she decided to shelter the Jewish family despite the danger such an action would pose to her own. Wilhelm, Melanie, Victor, Claire, and Melanie’s brother Julius soon moved into the Albouy home. Wilhelm worked as a farmer, while his children attended a nearby school. But once again, the Nazi incursion would pose a danger to all involved.
The Germans overtook southern France in late 1942. This placed the Wulweks in constant danger. When Nazis would round up Jews in the area, Wilhelm and Melanie would hide in the forest, while their children hid in Jeanne’s home. Jeanne lied and said she was merely hosting relatives. Because of Jeanne’s shelter, the entire Wulwek family was able to survive until France was liberated more than two years later.
After World War II ended, the Wulweks returned to Paris, but stayed in touch with the woman who saved them, visiting her each summer vacation. This contact continued even after Claire made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) in 1960. Even in the Holy Land, Claire kept a treasured photo of herself and Victor with Lucette, the daughter of the woman who had saved them. On the back of the photograph, Wilhelm had written, “Der wir das Leben verdanken (To her we owe our lives).”
In 2013, Jeanne’s grandson brought his own family to Israel to celebrate his grandmother being named Righteous Among the Nations. Claire, the little girl saved by Jeanne and now the mother of seven, grandmother of 30, and great-grandmother of five, also attended, emotionally remembering, “Jeanne did not know us; she had no obligation whatsoever towards us; she most vertainly had no obligation to risk herself…to save a Jewish family from death.” But, like so many other Righteous Gentiles, Jeanne Albouy risked her own life to save the lives of others.