By: Gabriel E. Miller
On December 29, 2018, France’s Holocaust Memorial Foundation released information via Twitter regarding the death of 108-year-old Georges Loinger. He was a French resistance fighter during WWII who was credited with saving hundreds of Jewish children.
In 1940 Loinger served in the French army, he was captured and sent to a German prisoner of war camp in Munich, Germany. Prior to that, Loinger was an engineer who then became a physical education teacher.
During his time as a prisoner, Loinger recieved a letter from his wife. He told The Jerusalem Post, “She was in charge of 123 Jewish children at a chateau owned by the Rothschilds, and she was having great difficulty with caring for them. He then added, “So I decided to escape, together with my cousin, who was with me at the POW camp, and we made our way back to France to help her.”
Once Loinger escaped, he joined the OSE, the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants, which is a Jewish relief organization. The OSE had been credited with smuggling approximately 2,000 children according to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He is thought to have at least saved 350 of those children by smuggling them into Switzerland. These children were all orphans, their parents were all killed or sent to the Nazi concentration camps.
Being that Loinger had blonde hair and blue eyes, it was easy for him to travel across Axis occupied France, as people didn’t think he was Jewish. He would visit secret refugee centers where he would train Jewish children with his physical education experience. The point was to keep these children in top physical condition to smoothly smuggle them cross the ill-defended Swiss border, or in a more extreme, but all too real case, prepare them in the event that they might be caught and sent to a concentration camp.
Loinger would take these children to the French/Swiss border where he would host soccer games. Loinger said, “And while the games were in progress, some of the kids would cross the barbed wire – there were always fewer kids in our returning group, but no one noticed.”
There were other times where, when Loinger and his would play near the border and he would throw a ball at least 100 meters. When the children would be sent to go retrieve the ball on the other side of the border, they would just run into Switzerland. Loinger told Tablet magazine, “I threw the ball a hundred meters toward the Swiss border and told the children to run and get the ball. They ran after the ball and this is how they crossed the border. He then added, “After that, the Italians left France and the German came in. It became too dangerous to play ball with the children like this. With the Germans, we didn’t play these games.
Another smuggling technique used by Loinger was to dress up the children as mourners and head to a cemetery near the border. That’s where, with a ladder, they would climb over into Switzerland.
There was one incident where Loinger had luck on his side. While escorting 50 children to Annemasse, he ran into German soldiers on a train. Loinger already prepared a cover story, he told the soldiers that the children were refugees from a bombed out city nearby and was taking them to a health center. When they arrived, a German officer offered to escort the group and said, “Listen these kids are tired. Let us hasten our exit procedure. I’ll tell the police you’re with us.” Loinger said, “Then followed an extraordinary sight. 50 German soldiers, singing, en route through the city of Annemasse, with 50 Jewish children and me marching in step behind! Once we reached the reception center, the convoy came to a halt. The German saluted me, and the children and I went in – seen to the door under official German protection.”
The Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah, a French Holocaust remembrance group, said that Loinger not only saved those children, but he also found homes for another 125 German Jewish children in central France.
Georges Loinger was awarded the Resistance Medal, the Military Cross, and the Legion of Honour.