Now living in Paris at the age of one hundred and seven, Georges Loinger was an accomplished runner whose blond hair and blue eyes disguised his Jewish origins. In 1941 he began teaching physical education at a home for Jewish refugee children in southern France, then ruled by the pro-Germany Vichy regime. After it became clear that it would be only a matter of time before the children were deported to the death camps in Poland, Loinger was given the task of getting them to Switzerland. Robert Rockaway and Maya Guez tell his story:
From his home in the 16th arrondissement, Loinger, related one of the methods he used to rescue children and get them over the Swiss border. “I used to play with the children in the residences where they lived in France and trained them to run. One day, . . . I took the children to the border of France with Switzerland, next to Geneva, and told them we are going to play with a ball like we used to do. 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. This is how their lives were saved. . . . .
Until 1943, when Italy withdrew from France, the border with Switzerland was guarded “lightly” by Italian troops, who turned a blind eye to the . . . smuggling operation. Loinger also knew the mayor of the [nearby] town of Annemasse on the border with Switzerland, five miles from Geneva. The mayor, Jean Deffaugt, owned a men’s clothing store. Loinger met with him and told him . . . of his plan to save Jewish children. The mayor told Loinger that what he planned to do was extremely dangerous, but he agreed to help him. He allowed Loinger to bring the children to his village and housed them there until it was time for them to go. . . . Loinger alone save more than 400 children. . . .
Once Loinger had secured his own family’s safety in Switzerland, he continued his rescue work until the liberation. After the war, he opened an accommodation center for war prisoners and deportees. In 1947, he worked for Aliyah Bet (illegal immigration) to help Holocaust survivors immigrate to Palestine. He also played a major role in preparing the ship Exodus for sailing when it stopped in France. In 1949, he became the French director of ZIM, the Israeli national shipping company.
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