Permit me to say a few words in honor of a modest, hones woman, who was of strong character, sometimes even a bit rigid and authoritarian. A widow, a peasant woman with a farm which held a chicken pen, a cow, a couple of goats, a vegetable patch, not far from the vineyard owned by her family. She lead a simple and modest life. There was no electricity or running water. It was in the fall of 1943 when I was brought to her; I stayed until the area was liberated from the Germans in August 1944. I shared her life of work and poverty. At the age of ten I helped with the chores. My favorite task was to tend to the cow and goats.
Madame Louise Roger may have been lonely and introvert, she demanded a great deal from herself and from others, but she was a woman with a generous heat. I do not remember every receiving a hug or a kiss from her, but I loved her and knew that she loved me. I had become her grandchild.
In these difficult and dangerous months I was happy. It was a fragile and passing happiness. I lived in an illusion that I was like the other children. I went to school, to religion classes, and became an altar boy. I knew children at school, but my real friends were the animals on the farm and above all, I had a grandmother. My grandmother.
At her home I could forget for several months that I am no longer that Herbert Odenheimer, the small uprooted Jewish boy, a boy born in 1934 and deported to the camp of Gurs, a boy that was put under the charge of the OSE, A Jewish oganization for the welfare of children that hid and cared for thousands of children in occupied France, a boy that was brought from Gurs to a children home. From the beginning of September 1942 I was hidden in the homes of French families. Thus I was brought in November 1942 to the home of Jules Roger, the son of Louise Roger, and his wife Jeanne in the town of Buizancais in the Region of Indre. I did not know at that moment that I had already become an orphan. The very same months of September 1942 my parents were deported from the camp of Gurs and Rivesaletes to their death in Auschwitz. Jules and Jeanne Roger protected me, cared for me, fed me and gave me clothes. They did their utmost to indulge me and to be a substitute family to me. After the long and painful separation from my parents, I wanted to call them mother and father, exactly like Popol, the small Jewish boy whom they had also taken into their home. Popol was three years old and did not understand that the Rogers were not his real parents. Uncle Jules and Aunt Jeanne, as they had me call them, were recognized as Righteous Among the Nation by Yad Vashem in 1989 for having saved two Jewish boys, Popol and I.
Towards the end of 1943 the situation in Buzancais deteriorated. Jules Roger was a member of the resistance, and the Roger couple hid wounded persons, arms and maps in their home. The transferred me to the home of Louise Roger, the mother of Jules Roger, in Argy, a small village in the vicinity of Buzancais. This was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Adopting a new identity and with false papers I became Hubert Odet. Only Louise Roger and the priest knew my true identity. I had meanwhile mastered the French language and I began to talk in the local dialect. I was a good student, became an altar boy who helped the priest during the celebration of mass. I did this to perfection; I had learned to say the prayers in Latin. I lived a life of falsehood in order to survive.
My life with the grandmother was a tranquil, but hard country life. Working with the animals that I loved, and they loved me in return. I had found shelter with this simple woman of serious character, a woman that kept her distance, but who had a golden heart. I felt safe and protected from arrest and denunciation. She protected me from deportation and from the fate of my parents, my family, my Jewish brothers and sisters. Louise Roger saved my life when the German occupation forces and French Militia people where around.
In those dark days of the Holocaust, of the murder of six million Jews, among them one and a half children, it was often simple people who dared to say: No. No to the negation of the humanity of the other; no to barbarism. These people where real combatants. Their weapons were not a machine gun or a hand grenade, their invincible weapons were conscience and compassion. These people save numerous persecuted. They defied those who wanted to introduce a satanic ideology of hatred and to lead people with no moral fiber to perpetrate unimaginable crimes. In those days of darkness there were brave men and women with conscience. They may have been few, but they existed. We are grateful to them. Following the ceremony in 1989 honoring Jules and Jeanne Roger in the municipality of Paris a young woman approached Jeanne Roger: Permit me to shake the hand of a Righteous Among the Nations, of a heroine, she asked. She went on to say: Madame, what made you act so courageously and take such great risks? Aunt Jeanne did not hesitate and responded: I just did my human duty.
Grandmother Louise Roger would have probably given the same response: She too was one of the simple, courageous heroic Righteous Among the Nations.
After I left France in 1946 I remained in close contact with Uncle Jules and Aunt Jeanne until their death. Unfortunately I never again met the grandmother. She died on 24 June 1947. With my wife and children I visited the Roger family often: The contact is maintained with their son and daughter until this very day. On our trips to Buzancais we never failed to visit Argy: I wanted to see the farm again, the fields where I went with the cow and the goats, the church, the school. These places, where the grandmother hid and saved me, are engraved in my memory and in my heart. Only thanks to the OSE organization and the rescuers, many of whom remain unidentified, especially to Jules and Jeanne Roger and to grandmother Louise Roger, who is being honored here today, at Yad Vashem, I can hug my wife, our four children and ten grandchildren.
The grandson of Louise Roger, Mr. Robert Roger and his wife Monique, as well as his sister Madame Marie-Therese (who was born after the war) came from France to be with us today. Robert is my big brother. Both of us are the grandchildren of Louise Roger.