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Flickers of Light

Dr. Adelaide Hautval

Dr. Adelaide Hautval Dr. Hautval with naval cadets and high school students from Jerusalem, 1966. Yad Vashem Archives Tag with the inscription, “Friend of the Jews”. Dr. Hautval was forced to wear such a tag when she was deported to Auschwitz

Dr. Adélaïde Hautval was a psychiatrist who lived in a Vichy-controlled area of southern France. In April 1942, Hautval was told of the death of her mother, who had lived in occupied Paris. Wishing to attend her mother’s burial, Hautval asked the German authorities for permission to enter the occupied zone. They refused and Hautval decided to risk crossing the demarcation line. The attempt failed, and Dr. Hautval was captured by German police and transferred to the prison in Bourges. In June 1942, Jewish prisoners wearing the yellow patch began to arrive at the prison. Hautval protested vigorously against the way they were treated, telling the guards, “The Jews are people like everybody else.” Their answer was that from now on she would share their fate. Undeterred, Hautval pinned a piece of yellow paper to her clothes, saying, “Friend of the Jews.”

In January 1943, after detention in camps in Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande and in prisons in Romainville, Orléans, and Compiègne, Dr. Hautval was sent to the Birkenau death camp with another two hundred French women prisoners. Hautval, a devout Protestant, was housed with five hundred Jewish women prisoners, and was nicknamed “the saint.” She applied her medical knowledge to treat Jewish prisoners who had contracted typhus, secluding them in a separate part of the block, in order to prevent contagion. Hautval, employed as a physician by the camp commander, refrained from reporting the prisoners’ illness and thereby spared them immediate death. She treated Jewish patients with boundless dedication, and her gentle hands and warm words were of inestimable value to Jews in the hell of Auschwitz. “Here,” she said, in words engraved on the prisoners’ memory, “we are all under sentence of death. Let us behave like human beings as long as we are alive.”

Eventually, Dr. Hautval was transferred to Block 10 of the Auschwitz I camp, where medical experiments were performed. Dr. Eduard Wirths had her involved in identifying the early manifestations of cancer in women. Dr. Hautval quickly discovered that the project entailed inhuman experiments, performed without anesthesia, on Jewish women prisoners. She told Dr. Wirth that she would not participate in his experiments and added that no person was entitled to claim the life or determine the fate of another. When forced to assist in the surgical sterilization of a young woman from Greece, Dr. Hautval told Dr. Wirth that she would never again attend such a procedure. When Wirth asked Dr. Hautval: “Don’t you see that these people are different from you?” she replied, “In this camp, many people are different from me. You, for example.” When she refused to take part in Mengele’s experiments on twins, she was sent back to Birkenau. She was later sent to Ravensbrück, where she managed to survive until the liberation. When she returned to France, her health had been permanently impaired.

In 1962, she was one of the major witnesses for Jewish American author Leon Uris in London. In his famous book, Exodus, Uris described the cruel experiments perpetrated by Polish doctor Wladislas Dering on prisoners in Auschwitz. Dering, who had moved to London after the war, sued Uris for libel. On Uris’ request, Dr. Hautval came to London to testify. The English judge referred to her as one of the most impressive and courageous women ever to testify before a court in Great Britain, a woman of strong character and an extraordinary personality.

On May 18, 1965, Yad Vashem recognized Dr. Adélaïde Hautval as a Righteous Among the Nations.