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Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 7.1 (2004) 134-146

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Madeleine Dreyfus, Jewish Activity, Righteous Jews

Patrick Henry

BORN MADELEINE KAHN IN 1909, Madeleine Dreyfus received her baccalaureate degree in Paris in 1927. 1 Ominously, she married Raymond Dreyfus in March 1933 on the very day that Hitler came to power. Her sons, Michel and Jacques, were born in 1934 and 1937, respectively, at the same time that she began studying psychology intensely with Sophie Lazarfeld, a student and disciple of Alfred Adler. In October 1941, when her husband lost his job in Paris because of the recently invoked Vichy anti-Semitic laws, the family passed into the unoccupied zone and settled in Lyon.

Madeleine began working for the Jewish charitable organization, Oeuvre de secours aux enfants (O.S.E.), as a psychologist in late 1941. 2 As of August 1942, however, when Jewish children were being rounded up in the still unoccupied south of France, she began a new and very dangerous role. Under the constant menace of the Gestapo, she assumed responsibility for the Lyon/Le Chambon-sur-Lignon area link in the Garel network and sought places of refuge in this mostly Protestant countryside for her Jewish children. [End Page 134]

Several times a month, accompanied by a very small group of children (aged anywhere from eighteen months to sixteen years), Madeleine would take the train from Lyon to Saint-Etienne where she would transfer to the local steam engine to Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. Sometimes, these children had been given to her by their parents. Just as often, they had managed to escape at the time of their parents' arrest. These were extremely dangerous ventures in which Madeleine continuously risked her life. Although in almost all cases the children had false Aryan identity papers, she did not. In addition, she had to take control of these mostly foreign children to get them through police inspections in the train stations and on the trains. She had to keep them from speaking Polish, German, or Yiddish, and make sure that they called their friends by their French names.

For a little more than a year, from September or October 1942 to November 1943, Madeleine made these trips, and found shelter for well over one hundred Jewish children. She would return often to visit the children she had placed to bring them clothing, medicine, food tickets, and, whenever possible, letters from their parents who, for safety reasons, never knew where their children were hidden.

As of November 1942, Madeleine was already pregnant with her third child, Annette. Being pregnant may have slowed her down, but it didn't stop her: "I was pregnant," she has written, "and continued my work as well as I could." Annette was born in Lyon on August 29, 1943. "Very shortly thereafter," writes Raymond, "my wife resumed her trips back and forth between Lyon and Le Chambon." At the same time, in September 1943, Raymond's sister-in-law and two of her children were arrested and deported. Very soon thereafter, Raymond begged Madeleine to stop her illegal work: "I begged my wife to stop this dangerous activity now that she was responsible for three small children, two months, six, and nine years of age, all without false papers." For her part, Madeleine asked Raymond to wait a bit longer because there was no one to replace her. [End Page 135]

On November 23, Madeleine received a phone call from the father of a child she had hidden at the School for Deaf-Mutes at Villeurbanne, which served as a holdover spot where children were sometimes hidden before being dispersed into homes, religious institutions, or into Switzerland. The caller, M. Kadous, was distraught because he had heard that there was going to be a Gestapo raid at the Institute. Madeleine called there and the woman on the other end of the line encouraged her to come to the school right away. It was impossible for Madeleine to know that her respondent was being held at gunpoint and had...


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