Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Quiet Woman

"Comfort, Comfort My people."
says your God
Isaiah 40:1

Mary Elizabeth Elmes

Born in Cork, Ireland in 1909, Mary Elizabeth Elmes was a
young woman when the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936.
Mary went to Spain where she worked with the American
Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization providing
humanitarian relief for war refugees.

Mary later joined refugees from Spain in 
France where she eventually became director 
of all Quaker humanitarian relief efforts.
After the fall of France to the Nazis in 1940, Mary worked 
extensively with Jewish refugees interned in camps in
the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France.

Because of her Irish citizenship, she was able
to remain in France after her British and French
colleagues, now considered enemies
by the occupying Germans and the
collaborating French puppet government at Vichy,
had to leave the country for their own safety.

Her work there later became a rescue mission centering 
around the rescue of Jewish children whose parents 
had been deported from France by the Nazis
and who now faced certain imprisonment and
death in concentration camps located
in Poland and Germany.

Often using the trunk of her car,
Mary smuggled the children out of the camp
and to safe hiding places. 

These missions of mercy became increasingly
 dangerous and Mary was eventually detained
and arrested by the Gestapo.
After being interrogated,
she was first sent to prison in Toulouse,
and later to the notorious Gestapo- run Fresnes
prison on the outskirts of Paris.

However, because Mary was a citizen of Ireland,
which maintained a neutral status during the war,
and due to the efforts of her colleagues
at the American Friends Service Committee,
who appealed her case to Robert Brennan,
the minister of the Irish Legation in Washington DC, 
the Germans eventually agreed to release Mary from prison. 
However, instead of leaving France,
Mary remained defiant in the face of the Gestapo 
and their French collaborators, and continued helping
desperate refugees until the war ended in 1945. 

After the war, Mary stayed in France
and later married a man named Roger Danjou.
She became the mother of two children,
daughter, Caroline, and son, Patrick. 
In 1947, the government of France awarded Mary
its highest honor, the Legion d' Honneur, but she
refused to accept it.

Instead, this brave woman chose to
to forget her war-time activities, living in
relative obscurity in France for the rest of her life.
She died there in 2003 at the age of ninety-four.
In 2013, Mary's name was added to the
roll of the Righteous Among The Nations
at Yad Vashem in Israel. 

Mary (left) at age 94 receives a painting of the Rivesaltes
 refugee camp by her colleague Friedel Bohny-Reiter of the Swiss Red Cross

The uncompromisingly righteous 
shall be glad in the Lord
and shall trust and take refuge in Him;
 and all the upright in heart
shall glory and offer praise."
Psalm 64:1,10

No comments:

Post a Comment