Suzanne Spaak was a wealthy member of the Parisian elite who sacrificed everything to save Jewish children during the Holocaust.
Born in Brussels to a wealthy banking family in 1905, Suzanne married playwright Claude Spaak and moved to Paris with her husband and two children.
Charming and glamorous, Suzanne became a prominent socialite and art collector who was seen at all the best parties. Her portrait was painted by famed Belgian artist Rene Magritte. Suzanne traveled in Paris high society, living a life of luxury and hobnobbing with the French political and cultural elite.
Suzanne’s life was turned upside down by the German occupation of Paris in 1941. Disgusted by Nazi violence and persecution of Jews, Suzanne put aside her party dresses and dedicated her life to ridding Europe of the despised Nazi oppressors.
She joined the underground National Movement Against Racism, which led to her involvement in the so-called Red Orchestra. Despite the name, the Red Orchestra had nothing to do with music but was an active group of anti-Nazi resistance fighters. They printed illegal leaflets documenting Nazi atrocities and urging civil disobedience against the occupiers. They also helped Jews escape from Paris to neutral locations where they would be safe. The organization was so successful that the Gestapo created a “Red Orchestra Special Department” to hunt down these brave members of the resistance.
As a devoted mother, Suzanne was horrified by the knowledge that thousands of French Jewish children were being sent to death camps. At great risk to herself, she started taking Jewish children into her home, providing them with clothing and ration cards, and then arranging for permanent shelter with sympathetic families all over France.
In 1942, the Germans managed to access Red Orchestra radio transmitters and started arresting agents. Those captured were brutally tortured, and some of them revealed secrets that led to the arrests of over 600 people, including Suzanne Spaak.
Suzanne was sent to the prison in Fresnes, south of Paris, where she was kept in gruesome conditions, and tortured regularly. After the Allies landed at Normandy in June 1944, the Gestapo prepared to flee Paris, but first they executed as many prisoners as they could. On August 12, 1944, just thirteen days before the liberation of Paris, Suzanne was executed. She was 39 years old.
In 1985, Suzanne was recognized by Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
For saving Jewish children and making the ultimate sacrifice in the fight for human freedom, we honor Suzanne Spaak as this week’s Thursday Hero.
Get the best of Accidental Talmudist in your inbox: sign up for our monthly newsletter.