by Sue Ann Rybak
Ed. note: In a recent issue, an article about Ruth Kapp Hartz, 80, a retired teacher (for 21 years) at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, discussed her childhood during World War II in Nazi-occupied France, constantly hiding and moving from one location to another to avoid capture by the Gestapo and being sent to a concentration camp. Hartz’ story is told in her memoir, “My Name is Renee.”
In the book, she recalls, “She (Mother Superior) left us in the cellar, lighting only one candle on her way out, so we could see. We heard her returning up the steps, opening the wooden door above and then shutting it and locking it behind her.
“Mother Superior was very agitated,” the former Chestnut Hill College teacher said. “We could hear the conversation above our heads, when we were under the trap door. We could hear them say, ‘We understand you are hiding Jewish children.’ There was a man speaking in German.
“At the time, it was a very large, prestigious institution. One section of the institution was occupied by the Gestapo. Of course, Mother Superior did not speak German, so another soldier was with him translating for her, but we could understand. He said, ‘You are hiding Jewish children!’
“And she said, ‘Me? Hide Jewish children? Why would I do such a dangerous thing?’ (Anyone caught hiding a Jew would be arrested and immediately taken to a concentration camp.) That I remember. That I will never forget! We were huddled down there maybe for a total of 48 hours. And she came back and said, ‘Go back to your dorms.’ I really don’t remember that much about her. Of course, it was wartime. It was extremely dangerous, and we were regimented and rightly so. I was told I was an orphan.”
While Hartz and her parents survived the Holocaust, she never used her real name again until after she moved to the U.S. The mother of two children returned to the convent in France several times but was never able to go inside the prestigious school and convent (which is now a hotel) until several years ago. She recalled entering the chapel and seeing the trap door still there.
“That’s when I realized that nobody knows that the Mother Superior saved Jewish children during the war under tremendous risk, so I decided to have a plaque made in her honor.”
Last October, Hartz and her two children and Lucette Cormary (Fedou) and her descendants all participated in a formal ceremony to honor the Mother Superior at the convent. The ceremony included veteran flag bearers, including Laurent Colombera, Cormary’s grandson, who served several tours of duty in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.
Hartz read the plaque written in French: “Here, the Mother Superior Rosalie, at the peril of her life, hid Jewish children in 1943-1944, who were innocent victims of the barbaric Nazi and Vichy France regimes. We honor her extraordinary courage with this plaque. ‘One who saves a life, saves all humanity.’
“This plaque was placed on Oct. 4, 2017, by Ruth Kapp Hartz, one of the children whom she saved, the town of Soreze and the joint association of Abbaye-ecole de Soreze.”
Hartz said the history of the Holocaust and other acts of genocide cannot be ignored. She fears that history will repeat itself. She added that anti-Semitic acts have gone up 70 percent in Pennsylvania since Trump became president. “Every day there is something new,” she said. “And what happened in Charlottesville, (Virginia), my God, I never thought I would see that again in my lifetime,” referring to the white nationalist/Ku Klux Klan rally and counter-protest in August, 2017, that left three people dead and at least 19 injured after a car deliberately plowed into a group of anti-racist demonstrators.
“Frankly as a hidden child, I didn’t fear during the war. I never saw a demonstration like that,” she said. “I just heard about it and saw it on film. The only weapon we have is education. I try to talk to schools, colleges and institutions.
“I hope that the many thousands of students I have addressed and will continue to address will grow into tolerant and worldly citizens who will do everything in their power to prevent future atrocities. This generation of students will be the last one to hear from a live witness.
“We have an obligation to pass on to future generations two legacies: one on the horrors of the Holocaust and their perpetrators, and the second on the goodness of the Righteous Gentiles, ordinary people who, for reasons they still find hard to explain, were transformed into rescuers.”
For more information about Ruth Kapp Hartz or to purchase her book, go to www.yournameisrenee.com.