Thursday, June 10, 2010

Yad Vashem honors Belgian Baroness as Righteous Among the Nations

Holocaust survivor Joseph Fruhauf, joined by his family and friends, and the family of Baroness Gisele Van der Staten Waillet from Belgium gathered together at Yad Vashem today, Thursday June 10, 2010, for an emotional ceremony where the Baroness was posthumously recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. The Righteous’ daughter Baroness Gaëtane van der Stegen of Belgium, daughter-in-law of the Righteous Baroness Eliane van der Straten, and several of their children came to Israel especially for the event were they received a medal and certificate of honor on her behalf and unveiled her name on a wall in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. Belgian Ambassador to Israel H.E. Bénédicte Frankinet participated in the event.

"Even though you did not have the privilege to know your grandmother, you have every reason in the world to be proud of her." -- Nadine Hollander Fruhauf and Frederick Fruhauf speaking on behalf of their father Holocaust survivor Jospeh Fruhauf.

The Fruhauf family, Feiwel, Lily (née Rapaport), and their children, 25-year-old Lea and 21-year-old Joseph, lived in Antwerp, Belgium. On September 26, 1942, Feiwel was arrested by the Nazis and deported to Auschwitz and, soon after, Lea’s husband of only six weeks was deported to Auschwitz as well. Lily, Lea and Joseph succeeding in escaping and found various hiding places in Brussels. With the aid of a Catholic organization that helped women find employment, the Fruhaufs were put in touch with Baroness Gisele Van der Staten Waillet, a devout Catholic widow with nine children of her own - eight daughters and a son. Although the pious Baroness initially did not want men to stay in her home, in light of the desperate plight of the Fruhaufs, she permitted Lily to hide with both her son and daughter on her estate in Southern Belgium. There the Fruhaufs posed as household staff: Lily worked in the kitchen as a cook, Lea as a chambermaid and Joseph as a servant – serving meals and taking care of the chapel on the estate. In order to further disguise their identity, the Fruhaufs attended weekly mass and the other servants were strictly forbidden to speak of the Fruhaufs before strangers.

Despite the isolation of the estate, the family was often in danger of discovery. Several times throughout the war, the Nazis searched the estate, looking for members of the underground. On these occasions the Baroness quickly hid Joseph in the cellar or under a bed, and the Germans failed to discover the family hiding on the grounds.

Lily, Lea and Joseph remained at the Baroness’ home from the end of 1942 until September 1944. After liberation, the family returned to Antwerp where they learned that both Fiewel and Lea’s husband had been murdered. Baroness Gisele Van der Staten Waillet passed away in April 1950. The Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations decided to award Gisele Van der Staten Waillet the title of Righteous Among the Nations on November 30, 2009 .

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