Stories of Courage & Hope

Dr. ADELAIDE HAUTVAL

For International Holocaust Memorial Day 2022 Russell Bowles invited us to find out more about Dr. Adélaïde Hautval from France who persistently defied the Nazis to help Jews

Dr. Adélaïde Hautval was a psychiatrist who lived in a Vichy-controlled area of southern France. In April 1942, Hautval was told of the death of her mother, who had lived in occupied Paris. Wishing to attend her mother’s burial, Hautval asked the German authorities for permission to enter the occupied zone. They refused and Hautval decided to risk crossing the demarcation line. The attempt failed, and Dr. Hautval was captured by German police and transferred to the prison in Bourges.

In June 1942, Jewish prisoners wearing the yellow patch began to arrive at the prison. Hautval protested vigorously against the way they were treated, telling the guards, “The Jews are people like everybody else.” Their answer was that from now on she would share their fate. Undeterred, Hautval pinned a piece of yellow paper to her clothes, saying, “Friend of the Jews.”

In January 1943, after detention in camps in Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande and in prisons in Romainville, Orléans, and Compiègne, Dr. Hautval was sent to the Birkenau death camp with another two hundred French women prisoners. Hautval, a devout Protestant, was housed with five hundred Jewish women prisoners, and was nicknamed “the saint.” She applied her medical knowledge to treat Jewish prisoners who had contracted typhus, secluding them in a separate part of the block, in order to prevent contagion. Hautval, employed as a physician by the camp commander, refrained from reporting the prisoners’ illness and thereby spared them immediate death. She treated Jewish patients with boundless dedication, and her gentle hands and warm words were of inestimable value to Jews in the hell of Auschwitz. “Here,” she said, in words engraved on the prisoners’ memory, “we are all under sentence of death. Let us behave like human beings as long as we are alive.” 

Eventually, Dr. Hautval was transferred to Block 10 of the Auschwitz I camp, where medical experiments were performed. Dr. Eduard Wirths had her involved in identifying the early manifestations of cancer in women. Dr. Hautval quickly discovered that the project entailed inhuman experiments, performed without anaesthesia, on Jewish women prisoners. She told Dr. Wirth that she would not participate in his experiments and added that no person was entitled to claim the life or determine the fate of another. When forced to assist in the surgical sterilization of a young woman from Greece, Dr. Hautval told Dr. Wirth that she would never again attend such a procedure. When Wirth asked Dr. Hautval: “Don’t you see that these people are different from you?” she replied, “In this camp, many people are different from me. You, for example.” When she refused to take part in Mengele’s experiments on twins, she was sent back to Birkenau. She was later sent to Ravensbrück, where she managed to survive until the liberation. When she returned to France, her health had been permanently impaired. 

In 1962, she was one of the major witnesses for Jewish American author Leon Uris in London. In his famous book, Exodus, Uris described the cruel experiments perpetrated by Polish doctor Wladislas Dering on prisoners in Auschwitz. Dering, who had moved to London after the war, sued Uris for libel. On Uris’ request, Dr. Hautval came to London to testify. The English judge referred to her as one of the most impressive and courageous women ever to testify before a court in Great Britain, a woman of strong character and an extraordinary personality. 

On May 18, 1965, Yad Vashem recognized Dr. Adélaïde Hautval as Righteous Among the Nations.


CHIUNE SUGIHARA – THE JAPANESE SCHINDLER

A Japanese diplomat in WW2 defied his government and issued visas to Jews to save them from the Holocaust

Linda Royal is Australian, the daughter of Jewish immigrants that arrived in the country during the Second World War. Her father had been a child at the time and it was only when he was 80 that he explained what had happened and who the Japanese man was that facilitated his escape and saved his life from certain death in the Holocaust.

Most people have heard of Oskar Schindler but how many have heard of Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania during the Second World War? Against direct orders, he issued thousands of visas to desperate Jews so they could flee from the invading Nazis and travel across Russia to Japan. From there many went to other parts of the world, their lives saved by the efforts of this one brave Japanese man and his wife who risked their livelihood, career and their lives to assist desperate people.

Chiune Sugihara was a determined young man with an interest in languages and cultures who dreamed of a career in the diplomatic service of his country. His first post, which lasted 15 years, was in Manchuria, a part of China, where he studied Russian and German. He ended up resigning his position because he was offended at the treatment of the ordinary Chinese by his government. He was a very moral person and had converted to Christianity. The stand he took over the treatment of the Chinese, revealed his strength of character; he was willing to take risks for the sake of his beliefs.

In 1939, the Germans and Russians signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by which they divided Poland between each other. This left thousands of Polish Jews in fear for their lives and many of them crossed over into Lithuania. However, the following year the Soviets took over Lithuania, creating further problems for the Jews that had fled there. They wanted to leave but could not go west for fear of running into the Nazis. The only choice was to cross the vast Soviet territory and make for Japan.

It was during this period and following his resignation from Manchuria, that Sugihara was sent by his government to Lithuania to open a Japanese consulate in the city of Kaunas. Here Sugihara found himself faced with yet another humanitarian issue, when countless numbers of desperate Jews queued at the Japanese consulate, seeking travel visas to Japan. Sugihara consulted his superiors in Tokyo, explaining the situation, but his government said that any refugees travelling to Japan should have visas for a further destination, such as America or Canada. In addition, they should have enough money for the journey. Sugihara’s heart sank. He knew that most of the Jews had neither of these things and he also knew that if the Jews didn’t leave Lithuania soon, they would be murdered when the Nazis arrived. The issue of ignoring instructions from his government didn’t sit well with him and he realised he would face dismissal and disgrace for his family. However, outside the Japanese Consulate the line of desperate Jewish families, clamouring for visas grew longer and longer and their plight touched his heart. He discussed the situation with his wife Yukiko. “I may have to disobey our government,” he told her, “but if I don’t I will be disobeying God.” It was a difficult decision but they both agreed the only humanitarian thing to do was to ignore Tokyo’s instructions and issue the visas. Some encouragement for this decision came from an unexpected source. Jan Zwartendijk, the Dutch Acting Consul, also tried to help the Jews by handing out visas for Dutch Surinam in South America.

Working for more than 16 hours a day between 31st July and 28th August 1940, Sugihara and his wife, issued some 300 or so visas each day, more than he would normally do in a month. Eventually they had to stop and close the consulate because of the encroaching German army, but even as they boarded the train to leave Kaunas, Sugihara and his wife were handing out visas.

Since each visa holder could be accompanied by their family it is difficult to know how many Jewish people Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara may have saved but it is well into the thousands.

On his returned to Japan, Sugihara was retired from the Foreign Ministry with a small pension. He finally found a position in a Japanese export company where he worked for 15 years.

The Sugihara’s, like many that saved Jews during the war, never spoke about what they did, and it was only in 1969 that their story emerged. An Israeli diplomat, serving in Tokyo, whose family had been saved by the Sugiharas, launched a search for him, leading to more survivors coming forward. In 1985, the Sugiharas were awarded the title ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Yad Vashem, the Centre for Research and Commemoration of the Holocaust. Chiune was too ill to travel but his wife Yukiko and one of his sons went to Jerusalem to receive the award. Chiune Sugihara died the following year.

In Sugihara’s home town of Yaotsu, a memorial park was created called ‘Hill of Humanities’ and in Kaunas, Lithuania the government created a museum in the old Japanese consulate building to honour Sugihara, the Dutch Consul Jan Zwartendijk and others who had helped save Jews. The museum is named Sugihara House and 2020 was named ‘The Year of Chiune Sugihara’ in Lithuania.