21 October 2021
Yad Vashem has posthumously recognized two members of the clergy Cardinal Eugène Tisserant and Rector Msgr. André Bouquin and a French diplomat Francois De Vial as Righteous Among the Nations. A ceremony honoring these individuals will be held at a later date.
Since its establishment, Yad Vashem has recognized some 28,000 individuals from over 50 countries as Righteous Among the Nations, and each year that number continues to grow significantly.
The Rescue Stories
Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, the first Righteous Among the Nations honoree in this file, began his allegiance with the Jewish people on the eve of World War II. In 1939, due to the Racial Laws enacted in Italy, Guido Mendes was fired from his post as the head of a Jewish hospital in Rome. Tisserant awarded Mendes a Medal of Honor by the Congregation of Eastern Churches, in clear defiance of the government. He then worked to obtain immigration certifications for the Mendes family.
Tisserant also corresponded with Cardinal Maglione, the Vatican Secretary of State, to try to obtain a Brazilian visa for Rabbi Dr. Nathan Cassuto. In addition, he assisted Giorgio Levi Della Vida to move to the US, where he became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania; and Prof. Aron Friedman to find a job in the US in 1938. In 1939, Tisserant expressed to Dr. Jacob Hess his solidarity against the “unjust persecution” of the Jews.
Cesare Verona, a Remington typewriter salesman in Northern Italy, met Cardinal Tisserant on a business trip in the US in the 1930s. Verona was married to Eugénie Crémieux. The couple had three sons, Giorgio, Rino and Luciano, and a daughter, Elena. Elena was married to Mr. Bernstein, and they had a daughter, Vera Egnuss. During WWII, Verona sought the assistance of Tisserant, who hid him in his private residence along with another Jewish family by the name of Letzt. According to Vera’s testimony, her grandmother Eugénie was hidden in a monastery in the Vatican on the initiative of Tisserant. In a postwar letter, Cesare Verona thanked the cardinal, noting that his assistance "came from heaven."
Cardinal Tisserant also helped rescue Miron Lerner. Born in 1927 in Paris to Jewish immigrants from Odessa, Lerner and his older sister Rivka were orphaned in 1937. In 1941, Rivka tried to move him from his orphanage in Paris to one in Moissac in the southern Free Zone. On the way, they found themselves on a train from St. Gervais into Italy with other Jewish refugees. Eventually, the Lerners made it to Rome, where Miron connected with Father Pierre-Marie Benoît and other activists from Delasem, a Jewish rescue organization, working in the Capuchin monastery at 159 Via Sicilia. Benoît assisted Lerner until the former was discovered and escaped from Rome. Lerner relocated to the Capuchin monastery, where Father Didier wrote to Tisserant about the teenager's plight. Tisserant and Lerner met in the cardinal's office outside the Vatican. When Lerner mentioned to Tisserant that he was Jewish, Tisserant replied: “That is irrelevant. What can I do for you?” He then placed Lerner in the hands of Abbé Guékiére, who first took Lerner to the St. Louis de Français church outside the Vatican, but they were unable to assist him. Guékiére then brought the refugee to François De Vial. De Vial was the secretary of the French representative to the Vatican and was permitted to travel freely around Rome. De Vial sheltered Lerner in his home for two or three days until Guékiére retrieved him and returned to Tisserant.
Cardinal Tisserant then smuggled Lerner in his car, with Lerner hiding on the floor at Tisserant’s feet, to a small monastery in the Vatican. A month later, in early 1944, the cardinal and the Jewish refugee travelled to a convent near the St. Louis de Français church. Rector Msgr. André Bouquin, who was in charge of the monastery, took Lerner in. Lerner remained there – most probably at an inn for pilgrims adjoining the church – until after the liberation of Rome in the summer of 1944. Lerner later recalled that the male clergy did not pester him to convert, but “the nuns were unbearable.”
Following liberation, Miron Lerner remained in Rome for a while and then returned to Paris, where he reunited with Rivka. In 1998, Lerner wrote of the heroic acts of Eugène Tisserant, and how he saved the lives of many Jews, including himself, during the Shoah."