Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshau 1:9)
Georges Loinger, a Jewish man with Aryan features who managed to save hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust, died on Friday at the age of 108.
Loinger became a member of the French Resistance during World War II, but was released after a stint in a German prisoner of war camp. Because of his blond hair and blue eyes, in addition to his athletic abilities, he passed for a German and escaped the camp, returning to France and joining the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE), a Jewish children’s aid society.
Between April 1943 and June 1944, he and other members of the group helped at least 350 Jewish children escape from France to Switzerland via a weakly guarded part of the border.
According to an interview earlier this year with Tablet magazine, Loinger and his group gathered the children, many of whose parents had been murdered or sent to concentration camps, under the guise of a summer camp and played sports with them, teaching them to run and retrieve a ball. “I threw a ball 100 meters towards the Swiss border and told the children to run and get the ball,” explained Loinger. “They ran after the ball and this is how they crossed the border.”
On another occasion, he dressed children as mourners and accompanied them to a cemetery near the border, over which they quickly absconded to safety.
Loinger also worked in coordination with the mayor of a French border town to take in the children until it was time for them to escape and even paid professional guides to help his young charges across the border.
“Sport made me the opposite of an anguished Jews,” Loinger told the Tribune Juive, adding that he “did not look Jewish” and “walked with great naturalness.”
“Besides, I was rather pretty and therefore well-dressed.”
Approximately 75,000 Jews were deported from France to the Holocaust, in most cases in coordination with French authorities.
Loinger was awarded the Resistance Medal, the Military Cross and the Legion d’Honneur, among other awards, for his heroism.