Brave Belgian Schoolteacher: Andree Geulen

She protected Jewish students

Andree Geulen was a young schoolteacher in Brussels who saved hundreds of Jewish children during the German occupation of Belgium.

In 1942, Andree was 20 years old and working at a Brussels elementary school. One day, she came to school and found her Jewish students marked with yellow stars sewn onto their clothing. She was horrified. Andree wasn’t political and hadn’t paid attention to the growing anti-Jewish persecution around her. When faced with the humiliation of her own students, however, Andree took action.

Andree instructed all her students to wear smocks over their clothing every day for the rest of the school year, thus covering the Jewish students’ stars. The Comite de Defence des Juifs (Jewish Defense Committee) was a clandestine organization dedicated to finding hiding places for Jewish children in Belgium. Ida Sterno, a Jewish member of the Comite, needed a non-Jewish partner to take the children to their hiding places. She met Andree, and Andree immediately volunteered to help.

She left her parents’ home and began teaching at the Gaty de Gamont boarding school. The school’s headmistress, Odile Ovart, hid twelve Jewish students there. In 1943, the school was raided in the middle of the night by the Germans. Every student’s identity was checked, and the Jewish students were taken away. Andree did not hide her outrage and a German soldier asked if she wasn’t ashamed to teach Jews. Andree responded, “Aren’t you ashamed to make war on Jewish children?” Headmistress Odile Ovart and her husband were arrested that night and sent to concentration camps in Germany, where they both perished.

Andree was determined to continue the fight on behalf of Jewish children. She moved in with Ida Sterno, living under an assumed name. Communication with rescue agencies was conducted through notes left in an antique shop. For more than two years, Andree collected Jewish children and moved them to Christian families and monasteries. She continued to visit the children regularly to check up on them. Andree said, “I still weep when I think of the times when I had to take children from their parents, especially children aged 2-3, without being able to tell the parents where I was taking their children.” Andree kept detailed records of the original names and false identities of hundreds of Jewish children. Most of them never saw their parents again.

Ida Sterno was arrested in 1944. Andree went into hiding, while still continuing her work rescuing children. After liberation, Andree worked to reunite families. She found out who survived the war, and connected them with their hidden children. Andree kept in touch with “her” children for decades, never forgetting the details of each child’s story.

In 1989, Andree Geulen was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem.

She is an honorary citizen of Israel. Andree still lives in Brussels, and is 100 years old.

For her immense and inspiring courage in saving children’s lives during the Holocaust, we honor Andree Geulen as this week’s Thursday Hero at Accidental Talmudist.

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