Georges Loinger, who died on Friday at the age of one-hundred-eight, had distinguished himself as a runner in France before World War II; after his country fell to Nazi Germany, he naturally began to teach physical education at a home for Jewish refugees. Once the fate of these children became clear, Loigner began devising a number of schemes to sneak them into Switzerland, and set to work carrying them out. The Times of Israel reports:
A talented athlete and cousin of the famous mime and fellow Resistance member Marcel Marceau, the Jewish Loinger would smuggle the children in small groups across the Franco-Swiss border. One ruse involved dressing children up as mourners and taking them to a cemetery whose wall abutted the French side of the border. With the help of a gravedigger’s ladder the “mourners” would clamber over the wall and head for the border just feet away. . . .
The children he saved, whose parents had been killed or sent to Nazi concentration camps, were under the responsibility of the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE), a Jewish children’s aid society founded in St. Petersburg in 1912. . . .
In 1940, while serving with the French army, Loinger was taken prisoner by German forces and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. Due to his blond hair and blue eyes, his captors did not suspect that he was Jewish and he managed to escape and return to France and join the OSE. Between April 1943 and June 1944, OSE workers and other rescuers helped hundreds of children escape to Switzerland across the lightly-guarded border. Loinger alone is credited with saving at least 350 children.
Some 75,000 Jews, including many children, were deported from German-occupied France in World War II, in most cases with the active cooperation of the French authorities. Nearly all died in extermination camps.