Big Heart from a Small Country: Victor Bodson

Smuggled them to safety

Victor Bodson was a Luxembourger politician who created an escape route for German Jews fleeing Hitler and saved over 100 lives, at great risk to his own.

Born in 1902 in one of the smallest countries in Europe, Victor was equally comfortable on the athletic field and in the halls of power. An avid swimmer, boxer and motorcycle racer in his youth, Victor became a successful lawyer and political activist. He became a member of his small country’s Board of Deputies in 1934, and the next year was elected to a council seat in Luxembourg City. 

Victor lived on the Sauer River, which forms the border between Luxembourg and Germany. As Hitler and the Nazis rose to power in the 1930’s, it became increasingly difficult for Jews to leave Germany. Desperate  Jews began crossing the treacherous Sauer River, hoping to find safety in the small kingdom. Fortunately for them, Victor Bodson was waiting on the other side to ferry them to safety. An expert driver and mechanic, Victor equipped his vehicle with a specially-designed apparatus to completely hide the passengers. When the Jewish refugees exited the river, they followed secret directions to Victor’s house, where he provided them with dry clothing and other basic needs. Then he ferried them to safe houses that he’d arranged and prepared beforehand.

Victor continued his heroic lifesaving efforts for seven years, from 1933 to 1940. He did this despite knowing that if the Nazis found out, he could be executed without trial. He took many risks during those seven years, never knowing whom he could trust when looking for people to hide Jews, never knowing if the Nazis were on his trail, and traveling through treacherous forests during bitter winter months. The exact numbers are unknown, and Victor did not talk about his brave actions, but historians estimate that he saved approximately 100 people – not to mention all those peoples’ descendants.

In May 1940, Germany invaded Luxembourg and Victor was unable to continue helping Jewish refugees. Most of the Luxembourg government fled in a motorcade, but Victor stayed behind to provide help amid the chaos. Later, using knowledge of backroads gained during his time as a motorcyclist, he escaped to France, then Portugal, and finally to Montreal, Canada where he became part of the Luxembourg government in exile. For the remainder of the war, Victor continued to help Jews and other refugees by providing them with entry visas to Canada and the United States. In 1942 the Gestapo put him on their most wanted list, but they were unable to do anything to him because he was so far away.

After the war, Victor returned to his homeland and served as a high level government commissioner, first in the justice department and later as the transportation minister. In 1971, Victor was deeply touched to be recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem. He wrote a beautiful letter of gratitude for the honor, humbly downplaying his own actions and saying that he was simply fulfilling his human duty to help others.

Victor Bodson died in 1984. He remains a source of pride to his countrymen who named the beautiful Victor Bodson Bridge after him. 

For saving one hundred lives over seven years, we honor Victor Bodson as this week’s Thursday Hero.

Meet other inspiring heroes!

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