Frida Wattenberg, French Jewish WW2 Children’s Rescue Hero, Dies From Coronavirus
A French Jewish woman who risked her own life to save Jewish children from the clutches of the Nazis has died from the coronavirus at her home in Paris.
Frida Wattenberg passed away on Sunday, just a few days before her 96th birthday.
Born in Paris in 1924 to a Jewish family who came originally from Lodz, Poland, Wattenberg was recruited into the French resistance at the age of 16 — just a few months after the Nazi occupation of France began in June 1940.
In July 1942, she secured the release of her mother from the Vel D’hiv cycling stadium — where more than 13,000 French Jews were detained in harrowing conditions en route to the Auschwitz extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Wittenberg had obtained documents for her mother that listed her as an essential worker for the German war effort.
In 1943, Wattenberg traveled to the southern city of Grenoble, which was then located in the Italian occupation zone. After making contact with local Jewish resistance fighters, she began organizing safe passage for groups of Jewish children into neighboring Switzerland.
After the war, Wattenberg continued her career with OPEJ, a Jewish community group tasked with looking after war orphans. She received several decorations from the French government, including the Legion of Honor and the National Order of Merit, and was described by the Memorial for the Shoah as “a courageous woman and an indefatigable fighter.”
In a 2014 interview, reflecting on her wartime efforts, Wattenberg observed, “We couldn’t save the adults always. But we tried to do what we could for the children.”