Ixelles lost one of its most noble citizens of honor on Wednesday. Resistance fighter Andrée Geulen-Herscovici died at the age of 100. Who was the woman who housed hundreds of Jewish children during World War II? A portrait of ‘Mademoiselle Andrée’.
Andrée Geulen was born on September 6, 1921 in Brussels as the daughter of booksellers. Andrée showed a strong character from an early age. “She was a driven child, fearless even. My mother has always been strong in her shoes,” says Catherine Herscovici, Andrée Geulen’s daughter. Her enthusiasm as a child proved to be a foretaste of what Mademoiselle Andrée would achieve in her later life. .
Geulen started his career as a temporary teacher at the Gatti de Gamond Institute in Brussels City, when Belgium was already occupied by the Nazis. “She had a big heart for children, no wonder she became a teacher,” adds her daughter. She was only 17 years old when the war broke out in 1939.
The young teacher, now 20 years old, notices that something strange is going on with the Jewish children in her class. Some of her students walked in with a yellow star, some did not even show up after a while and turn out to have been arrested by the Gestapo (the secret state police, ed.). “I hated to see the smart, brave kids suddenly walking around with a star. They were trying to hide it behind their book bag, awful!” Geulen himself told VRT in 1998.
The attacks during the 1943 Pentecost weekend in Brussels will be a turning point in her life. Unable to bear the cruelty of the Nazis, Geulen decides to warn the Jewish families at the boarding school and help them seek refuge. Deporting children was the most horrible act for her, protecting these young people became her new life goal.
She met Ida Sterno, a Jewish social worker and member of the Jewish Defense Committee (JVC). The JVC was a top secret resistance organization that provided aid to oppressed Jews during World War II. The hard core consisted of twelve women, including Sterno and later Geulen himself.
Sterno was looking for an ‘Aryan’ type of staff. ‘They were looking for a non-Jew and I was a small, inconspicuous, blond young woman. Not something you would expect from a JVC member, ”said Geulen.
The most dangerous task
Geulen joins JVC, the ‘children’ department. The Maroll, in the heart of Brussels, will be its area of focus. Its task is to place children of Jewish families safely in Catholic nursing homes, boarding schools, or homes. “She was a small part of a chain of eight women, but as a non-Jew she was used for the most visible and therefore most dangerous task. She had to take children away from their parents to bring them into shelter, ”said her daughter.
Mademoiselle Andrée and the other women were in a constant race with time to get ahead of the Gestapo.
The five scriptures
Over the years as a resistance fighter, her way of working remained unchanged. She was initially notified by the parents who wanted to bring their child to safety. Geulen then came to the parents’ home to escort the child. “The kids had to prepare their suitcases and I came to pick them up as soon as possible.”
JVC kept track of the place where the children were placed via an ingenious system. JVC worked on five notebooks. The children’s names were noted in it. They were also each assigned a code. Parental addresses, pseudonyms, hiding places, and the place where each child had gone into hiding were scattered across the five notebooks. The scriptures themselves were never kept together all five. If the Nazis ever found a booklet, they were nothing with that information, because only by putting the five books together could the code be cracked.
To protect them, Deedee give all children with a typical Hebrew name a new identity. “On the way to the shelter, Andrée told me that I wanted a new name and that I no longer had to say I was Jewish. I did not understand why I was suddenly someone else? From then on, I went through life as Annie. , a Catholic girl, ”says Suzanne Didkewicz, one of the hidden children.
After she had already brought hundreds of children to safety, Geulen decided in 1943 to move to the boarding school where she taught. Twelve Jewish children were hiding in this building at the time. One night in May, the Germans invade the school and arrest everyone present. Andrée can escape, but the rest are deported to the various concentration camps.
This event will not bring her down. Together with Ida Sterno, she decides to rent a house in Ixelles under a false name. In this house, the two women will continue their rescue efforts. But in May 1944, their cohabitation ends brutally. Ida Sterno is arrested by the Gestapo and deported to the Dossin barracks in Mechelen. Geulen is not present in the house at that time.
In a daring heroic deed, Geulen will later infiltrate their (former) home in Ixelles through the back door to find the five notebooks that the two women had hidden under the carpet.
Andrée traveled regularly to the various nursing homes to see how the children were doing. She spent time with them, telling about their parents and handing over letters. “It was important for her to know how the children were doing, for two years she traveled all over Belgium to make sure they were safe,” Catherine said.
When Belgium is liberated by the Allies in September 1944, Andrée brings all the children back into hiding with the family, sometimes it takes years for the reunion to take place. During the war, she will personally help house more than three hundred Jewish children. In all, the JVC rescued more than 2,104 children from the hands of the Gestapo.
In 2022, Ixelles Mayor Christos Doulkeridis (Ecolo) will nominate Andrée Geulen as an honorary citizen of Ixelles, in recognition of the unique courage she displayed during World War II. “Throughout her life, Andrée Geulen-Herscovici, now a hundred years old, has continued to testify again and again to prevent it from happening again for other children, for other religions, to fight today’s racism, as she fought racism in the past, she stated. the mayor.
Andrée Geulen died on June 1, at the age of 100 years. She will forever be remembered as one of the noblest and bravest in Brussels. She was the last living Brussels ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, the most unknown heroes of World War II, who were recently thanked in the Brussels Parliament with a memorial plaque. “For many, she is still Mademoiselle Andrée, the mother of so many Jewish children,” her daughter concludes.
A farewell ceremony will take place on Wednesday at 2.30pm at the Uccle Crematorium.