Memorial service in the Hall of Remembrance, 1 November 2012. Left to right - rescuers's grandchildren, survivor and ambassadors of Belgium and Spain
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01 November 2012
On Thursday November 1, 2012, Yad Vashem held a ceremony posthumously honoring Joseph and Louise Materne of Belgium, as Righteous Among the Nations. Patricia Materne, granddaughter of Joseph and Louise, accepted the medal and certificate of honor on their behalf. The event took place in the presence of Ambassador of Belgium to Israel H.E. Ms. Benedicte Frankinet, Survivor Dr. Zalman Shiffer, grandchildren of the Righteous Patricia and Daniel Materne, family and friends.
A memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance was followed by the awarding of the medal and certificate in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.
The Rescue Story
Zenon Fajertag was just two years old when the persecution of Belgian Jewry began in the summer of 1942. His father Morris had died from cancer several months earlier, and his mother, Chaya Sara, made the painful decision to part from her young son in order to rescue him.
Joseph and Louise Materne were a childless couple who lived in the outskirts of Brussels together with Juanito, a young Spanish Civil War orphan who they had taken under their wing. Joseph, Louise and Juanito warmly welcomed Zenon into their home, taking care of all his needs, and sharing their meager belongings with him. Joseph himself was part of the Belgian underground and having a Jewish child in his home placed him in even greater peril.
While Zenon was being cared for by the Maternes, Chaya Sara was in hiding in elsewhere in Brussels. The separation from Zenon was exceedingly difficult for her, and despite the grave danger, Chaya Sara would occasionally visit her son. Towards the end of the war, the Maternes decided that they must flee Brussels which was being bombarded by air raids, and escaped to Louise's hometown, Folx-les-Caves. Chaya Sara fled with them, and they hid together with the Libert family until liberation.
After the war, Zenon and his mother returned to Brussels. They remained in contact with the Maternes until Zenon and Chaya Sara made Aliya to Israel in 1949. Chaya Sara remarried and Zenon, now Zalman, was adopted by his stepfather Joseph Shiffer. Chaya Sara and Zalman lost contact with Joseph and Louise, and when Zalman visited Belgium in 1965 he was unable to find them. Many years later, after the Maternes and Juanito had all passed away, a connection was made with Juanito's sister Paquita, who remembered the young boy Zenon who had been in hiding with Juanito's adopted parents.
Louise passed away in 1979 and Joseph in 1981. On December 29, 2010, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem decided to award the title of Righteous Among the Nations to the late Joseph and Louise Materne.