Georges Loinger, Who Saved 350 Jewish Children During WW2
Georges Loinger used all his talent and abilities – and a large dash of chutzpah – in the Second World War to save Jewish children from the deportation and death.
The Hero of the French Resistance, who died at 108, would organize children’s ball games along the Swiss border in France. He’d throw the ball over the border and tell them to chase after it and then keep running.
During an interview Loinger said that during the earlier part of the war he had used the light-guarded border as a way to save lives.
“I threw the ball 100 metres towards the Swiss border and told the children to run and get the ball. They ran after the ball and this is how they crossed,” he told Tablet Magazine. “After that, the Italians left France and the German came in. It became too dangerous to play ball with children like this. With the Germans, we didn’t play these games.”
Using this method, and a variety of other ruses, Loinger personally saved at least 350 children, for which he was awarded the Resistance Medal, the Military Cross and the Legion of Honour.
The chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Karen Pollock, said on Sunday that Loinger was an “amazing” man. “Georges Loinger was a French Jewish Resistance fighter who saved hundreds of Jewish children during WWII. It described him as an “exceptional man” and said his efforts would live on in their memories.
Born in Strasbourg to a Jewish family in 1910, Loingner was a talented athlete and a cousin of the famous mime artist and fellow Resistance member Marcel Marceau.
While serving with the French army, he was taken prisoner by German forces in 1940 and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Germany. But as a result of his blond hair and blue eyes, his captors did not realise he was Jewish.
He managed to escape, return to France and join the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE), a Jewish children’s aid society founded in St Petersburg in 1912.
Between April 1943 and June 1944, OSE workers and other rescuers helped hundreds of children escape to Switzerland across the border. Following negotiations with the Swiss authorities for the arrival of unaccompanied children, those who made it over the border were sent to new homes.
Another ruse involved dressing children up as mourners and taking them to a cemetery whose wall abutted the French side of the border. With the help of a gravedigger’s ladder, the “mourners” clambered over the wall and headed for the border just feet away.
The OSE ran children’s homes in France, often housing children whose parents were in Nazi concentration camps or who had been killed.
According to the OSE, Loinger trained a team of monitors, organised intra-house sporting competitions and then inter-house competitions to prepare children for the future and prevent them from developing disorders caused by confinement.
Loinger told the Tribune Juive that he was successful in his endeavours to save children “because I did not look Jewish”.
“Sport made me the opposite of an anguished Jew,” he said. “I walked with great naturalness. Besides, I was rather pretty and therefore well dressed.”
Some 75,000 Jews, including many children, were deported from German-occupied France during the second world war, in most cases with the active co-operation of the French authorities. Nearly all died in extermination camps at Auschwitz and elsewhere.