10 October 2007
Elisabeth Hedwig Leja Gessler, a Righteous Among the Nations from Germany, will be posthumously honored at Yad Vashem on Thursday, October 11, 2007. A memorial ceremony will be held in the Hall of Remembrance at 11:00, followed by the recognition ceremony and the unveiling of the name of the righteous in the Garden of the Righteous. The ceremony will take place in English, in the presence of Holocaust survivors Elisabeth (Lili) Winn of Virigina, USA and Roman Gessler of Israel, siblings rescued by the Elisabeth Gessler.
Elisabeth Hedwig Leja Gessler
Edward and Dora Gessler, a Jewish couple, lived with their children, a cook and a housekeeper in the city of Beilsko Biala in Southern Poland. In 1938, Elisabeth Hedwig Leja, a Polish Catholic woman of ethnic German origin (Folksdeutsche) joined the family as a nanny and caretaker of the family’s three young children, Elek, 11, Lili, 4, and Roman, 1.
At the outbreak of the war, rather than join her family in safety, Elisabeth chose to remain with the Gesslers and help them as they fled from Beilsko Biala to Lvov. In Lvov, Dora, unable to bear the strain, committed suicide. Elisabeth remained to assist Edward, now a widower with three young children. Towards the end of 1941, Edward and his son Elek escaped to Hungary. Lili and Roman remained in the care of Elisabeth. Several months later, in March 1942, fearing for their lives, Elisabeth, Lili and Roman fled Lvov, and journeyed to Hungary via the Carpathian Mountains to join Edward and Elek. Elisabeth sewed her meager valuables into the lining of young Roman’s coat, and hired a rickety cart and two guides to take them through the mountains. As darkness approached, the group was stopped by the Gestapo. Elisabeth, with her native German, successfully convinced the officers that she was hurrying to find a doctor for her sick children. Eventually the group was reunited with Edward and Elek in Budapest.
Edward and Elisabeth, in possession of forged passports, were arrested in 1944 and sent to a concentration camp. The younger two children remained in the care of their older brother after Elisabeth persuaded the Germans not to arrest them as well. After using her connections with the Catholic Church in Budapest to secure their release from the camp, the family fled to Romania where they remained until the end of the war.
During the entire period of the war, Elisabeth protected the Gessler children with the utmost devotion and love, at real risk to her own welfare. She taught them Christian customs, dyed Lili’s hair lighter, taught them to speak German and presented them as her own children whenever questioned.
Elisabeth remained with Edward and the children and they married in 1965. Edward passed away in 1978 and Elisabeth in 1983.
The events are open to the press in coordination with the Media Relations Department: 02 6443410.
More information about the Righteous Among the Nations program is available here.