The Holocaust was one of the most despicable and heartbreaking times in human history, but out of the darkness of hate, there were some who chose to shine a light, even if it put their own lives in danger.
French Resistance hero Georges Loinger was one such individual. Using his ingenuity and athletic prowess, he personally saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish children during World War II.
The cousin of famous mime artist and fellow Resistance member Marcel Marceau, Loinger was also Jewish, but he didn’t hide in fear. Instead, the talented athlete used creative ways to smuggle children across the Franco-Swiss border in small groups.
Loinger served with the French army and, in 1940, was taken prisoner by German forces and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Germany, but because he had blonde hair and blue eyes, the Germans did not suspect his Jewish heritage.
Eventually, he managed to escape the camp. He returned to France and joined the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE), a Jewish children’s aid society founded in St Petersburg in 1912.
One way he got children across the border was by dressing them up as mourners and taking them to a cemetery which had a wall right on the French side of the border. Using a gravedigger’s ladder, the children would climb over the wall and run to the border, which was just a few feet away.
In a recent interview, Loinger also recalled training the children to run and telling them they were going to play ball near the border.
“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 explained.
“After that, the Italians left France and the German came in,” he continued. “It became too dangerous to play ball with the children like this. With the Germans we didn’t play these games.”
Loinger worked with other rescuers to help hundreds of children escape the Germans, but is credited with personally saving at least 350. He was awarded the Resistance Medal, the Military Cross and the Legion of Honour.
Despite the risks he took, Loinger managed to survive the war and live a long, full life. On Friday, he passed away at the age of 108.
His heroism and sacrifice will not be forgotten.