A moving event was held yesterday to recognize the late Jeanne Albouy as a Righteous Among the Nations. Her grandson, Serge Marignan, came especially from France with his wife and daughter for the event. Claire Kohlman, who was a little girl during the Holocaust when Jeanne Albouy hid her in a small town in southern France, spoke movingly about the bravery and courage of Jeanne, as her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren listened. It was especially touching to see this large family who is alive today thanks to the heroism of Jeanne Albouy.
After WWI, Wilhelm Wulwek left Poland and settled in Vienna where he married Mélanie Heller, also originally from Poland. In 1934 they had a son, Victor, and in 1938 a daughter, Claire. After Claire was born, the family moved to Paris.
In 1940, Wilhelm, who was a foreign national, was arrested. After his release, the family decided to move to Calvisson in the Gard district in southern France. There, Wilhelm met Jeanne Albouy. Jeanne's husband was a prisoner of war in Germany, and she lived in the town together with her daughter Lucette. Jeanne searched for a safe hiding place for the Wulwek family, and suggested that they hide in her cousin's empty home in the small village of Sinsans. Wilhelm, Mélanie, Victor and Claire, moved to the house in Sinsans. Later Mélanie's brother, Julius Heller joined them in the hideout. Wilhelm worked in agriculture and the children registered in the local school. Southern France was occupied in 1942, and the Wulwek family was in constant danger. When arrests occurred in the adjacent village, Wilhelm and Mélanie would hide in the nearby forest and Victor and Claire would hide at Jeanne's home, where they pretended to be her relatives.
The Wulweks lived in fear and hiding for two years, until liberation. At the end of the war, the family returned to Paris, but remained in close contact with the Albouys, returning to visit Sinsans during summer vacations. When Claire immigrated to Israel in 1960, she remained in touch with Lucette.
A small child during the war, Claire did not remember all the details of her family's survival during those horrific years, but during all the following years, she kept a small photograph of herself together with Victor and Lucette. On the back of the picture, Wilhelm had written "To her we owe our lives."
Speaking a mixture of French and Hebrew the extended Kohlman family introduced all the children to Serge, and took pictures together in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem where Jeanne’s name is inscribed on the Wall of Honor.
An emotional Ambassador Christoph Bigot, French Ambassador to Israel spoke of the “heavy crime on our history and on our conscience” of the collaboration by French officials and others in the deportation of the Jews. But, he noted, that people like Jeanne “should be celebrated.”
Jeanne passed away in 1979. On February 14, 2012, 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 Jeanne Albouy.
As the group was saying good bye, Claire’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, young children of 5, 6, 7, and 8, gathered together to say “merci” to Serge.