April 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Schanzer Brothers Honor Their Righteous Saviors on Yom HaShoah

On April 27, YINR Ruach hosted Bernard and Henry Schanzer, presenting “A Story of Courage, Compassion and Rescue.”

The twin New Jersey residents were born in Belgium in 1935. When the Nazis invaded in 1940, the family escaped to Saint Etienne in the south of France, which shortly fell under Vichy rule. After living openly as Jews for two years, they went into hiding on a farm, assisted by several righteous Catholics including a local dressmaker and Marquis Xavier and Marquise Marie-Françoise de Virieu, who were part of the French Resistance.

The Schanzers began, “We’ve told our story to our children and grandchildren. Our story is of terror and survival from a child’s perspective. We were seven when we were first impacted by the Holocaust. We testify to crimes committed against our family and humanity, primarily against the Jews. The intent of the Final Solution was to kill every Jew, irrespective of age, gender, social position or religious affiliation.”

Etched in their memory was the day their father took them to the bus station. “We remember trying to help him hold our suitcases. Waiting for the bus, our father told us to be on our best behavior and behave like big boys. Our father was shaking. We were shaking. Our father was crying. Our father never showed much emotion in public.” When the bus arrived, “he quickly composed himself. We got on the bus. We looked out the window. Our father was 39. We were seven. We never saw him again. And he never saw us again.” On August 26, 1942, their father, Bruno Schanzer, was caught in a round-up and eventually sent to Auschwitz, where he was killed.

Among five places of refuge, the most secure and longest placement was arranged by Jeanne Bonhomme, whom they called Tatan Jeanot, living with her mother, Adolphine Dorel, known as La Meme, on her farm in Saint-Pal-de-Mons. While there, the twins attended school and developed a loving relationship with La Meme. Tatan Jeanot procured a false identity card and birth certificate for their mother Bella to work at the Chateau de Virieu.

Every night on Le Meme’s farm, they would say Shema. One night, she asked, “What are you boys doing at night? I hear mumbling.” They said, “We’re saying a prayer.” She asked, what does it mean? Looking at each other; they said they didn’t know. She said, “Teach it to me; we will say it together.”

After the war, reunited with their mother and sister, they arrived in New York in 1946. Henry earned an engineering degree, then became a lawyer. Bernie became a neurologist. During the Vietnam War, Bernie served as a captain in the US Air Force Medical Corps.

In 1980, their sister Hannah petitioned Yad Vashem to award “Righteous Among the Nations” status to Madam Bonhomme and posthumously to Adolphine Dorel. The medal quotes the Talmud, “He who saves one life, saves a whole world.” A tree was planted in the Avenue of the Righteous in Jerusalem. Many Jewish newspapers, including The Jewish Floridian, covered the event. After reading that article, Siegfried Gutter, an 86-year-old survivor living in North Miami Beach, suspected these were his sister Charlotte Schanzer’s grandchildren. She died in the Holocaust. With Israeli Consulate verification, Gutter discovered he was not his family’s lone survivor.

In 2015, the Schanzers approached the Marquis’ son about the possibility of being recognized as righteous. “It was a time of a lot of antisemitism in France. We didn’t know whether they were interested in being recognized as having done anything for Jews.” With his consent, they petitioned Yad Vashem. On July 17, 2016, there was a ceremony at the castle.

Saint-Pal-de-Mons’ mayor then escorted them to the farm, where they were surprised with an unveiling of a plaque in French, “Here was sheltered by Adolphine Dorel, the children Bernard and Henry Schanzer during the Second World War.” At the town cemetery, there were additional speeches, including one government official who said, “We beg forgiveness for what the Nazis and the French collaborators did to the Jews during the war.”

Bernie concluded, quoting Rabbi Akiva, “Precious is man because he was created in God’s image. Every individual has a Divine presence and right. We also have to emulate the righteous of the nations. Unfortunately, we’ve been engulfed with a pandemic, which has limited us, but eighty-three years ago, there was a horrible pandemic of viral, rabid antisemitism. Antisemitism remains endemic. We have to be aware, forceful, recognize and fight it, and stand up to evil. We also have to work even harder for our spiritual homeland, and make sure that it maintains its integrity. You are our allies in going forward. The Shoah happened; it can happen again. You have the responsibility to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

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