Dr. Adelaide Hautval was a French psychiatrist and devout Christian who was imprisoned in Auschwitz for defying the Nazis. While there, she refused to participate in cruel medical experiments on Jewish inmates and instead secretly provided them with medical care.
Born in Alsace, France in 1906, Adelaide was the youngest of seven children. Her father was a Protestant minister, and Adelaide’s upbringing imbued her with a deep faith in God and desire to be of service to others. She attended medical school at the University of Strasbourg and became a psychiatrist. Adelaide worked with special-needs children and lived a quiet life in southwestern France.
Nazi Germany invaded France in 1940 and for the next two years occupied most of the country, including the coasts and areas with the most economic activity. Adelaide’s out-of-the-way town was spared, and she was mostly unaffected by the German occupation until April 1942, when her mother passed away in Paris. Adelaide needed permission from German authorities to travel to the occupied zone, but they refused to allow it. Determined to attend her beloved mother’s burial, Adelaide decided to go anyway. While crossing the demarcation line, she was captured by German police and sent to prison in Bourges.
Soon after Adelaide’s arrival, Jewish prisoners wearing the yellow star started arriving at the prison. The Jews were treated brutally by the French prison guards, and Adelaide berated the guards: “The Jews are people like everybody else!” They responded that she would henceforth be treated like a Jew. Proudly, Adelaide pinned a scrap of yellow paper to her clothes which said “Friend to the Jews.”
Adelaide was transferred between multiple labor camps before arriving at Birkenau in 1943, where she was housed with five hundred Jewish women prisoners. The camp commander appointed Adelaide physician of her prison block. She used her medical skills to help many of the women. During a typhoid outbreak, she managed to sequester and treat inmates who showed symptoms of typhus, without the guards learning of their condition.
The Protestant psychiatrist was legendary for the sweetness of her bedside manner, and her Jewish patients called her “the Saint.” Decades later, those few who survived remembered Adelaide’s words, “Here, we are all under sentence of death. Let us behave like human beings as long as we are alive.”
As word spread of Adelaide’s medical prowess, she was sent to Auschwitz to work for notorious Nazi Dr. Eduard Wirths. in performing medical experiments. He wanted her to help him perform sterilization operations and medical experiments, without anesthesia, on Jewish women inmates. She absolutely refused to assist Dr. Wirths. He tried to reason with her, “Don’t you see that these people are different from you?” She replied, “In this camp, many people are different than me. You, for example.”
For refusing to assist Dr. Wirths, Adelaide was treated harshly. She survived until liberation, but was in very poor health. Adelaide returned to France, and later advised Jewish-American author Leon Uris while he was writing his famous book, Exodus. Uris interviewed Adelaide extensively about cruel experiments perpetrated by another Nazi doctor, Wladislas Dering, in Auschwitz. After the book was published, Dr. Dering sued Leon Uris for libel. Dr. Adelaide Hautval traveled to London to testify on Uris’ behalf, and described the horrors of Nazi medical experimentation to a packed courtroom. The English judge said that Adelaide was “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.”
In 1965, Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem honored Dr. Adelaide Hautval as Righteous Among the Nations. She visited Israel to receive the award and expressed her love for the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Dr. Adelaide Hautval died in France in 1988.
For caring for the sick and dying, and standing up to evil, we honor Dr. Adelaide Hautval as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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