By Flora Singer
In May 1995, my husband Jack and I traveled to Brussels, Belgium, on a mission to attend a ceremony to be held at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. I was very excited. At the ceremony during that month, Yad Vashem, the memorial in Jerusalem for the Jews and others murdered during the frightful years of World War II and the Holocaust, was going to honor several “Just of the Nations,” the term for those who dared to risk their lives to save others condemned to death by the Nazis.
We arrived in Brussels, checked into our hotel, unpacked our luggage, and made a few telephone calls to tell those of my rescuers invited to the ceremony that we had arrived and were looking forward to seeing them at the Université Libre de Bruxelles the next day.
I was happy because I would see some of the nuns who cared for my sisters and me during the time we had to hide from the Gestapo for the crime of having been born Jewish. But I was also sad, because some were being honored posthumously. Three of those wonderful people, to whom my sisters Charlotte and Betty and I owed our lives, had already died. They were Sister Odonia, a Franciscan nun; the Reverend Mother M. Chrysostome, of the convent of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows; and George Ranson, a member of the Belgian Resistance, who had sheltered me and had made false documents for my mother.
Two nuns, Sister Marie Consolata and Sister Jeanne-Marie, would accept the certificate and medal offered to the Reverend Mother. Sister Roberta of the Franciscan Order could not attend to receive the award, either for Sister Odonia or for herself, due to her age, 93 at the time. The daughter of George Ranson could not attend the ceremony either, but my husband and I, having received the certificate and medal for him, made arrangements to meet his daughter, Georgette Pierseaux-Ranson, for breakfast the following day to offer these gifts to her.
As for Sister Roberta of the Franciscan Order, the Secretary of the Embassy of Israel, Zvi Tal, agreed to accompany my husband Jack and me the following morning to the Franciscan convent for elderly nuns in Vinderhoute. Immediately after our breakfast with George Ranson’s daughter, at precisely 10 a.m., we met the car from the embassy and Zvi Tal in front of the hotel for the trek to Vinderhoute.
When we arrived at the convent, we rang the bell. A nun opened the door, led us into a parlor where guests were received, and went to fetch Sister Roberta. Within minutes, Sister Roberta entered the parlor bearing a wide smile, which illuminated her wrinkled face. We embraced each other, our eyes filled with tears of joy at seeing each other again. I then introduced her to my husband as well as to Zvi Tal and his assistant. The room was decorated, and tables set with lace tablecloths and vases filled with flowers had been prepared for a festive luncheon. Several important local guests, the mayor and priest of the town, and several other luminaries and guests had been invited to the convent for the anticipated ceremony.
Everyone, after greeting each other, sat down in anticipation of the ceremony. Zvi Tal said a few words about the reason we were there on that particular day. He spoke about Yad Vashem and about the reasons for which we had come to Vinderhoute. He described the award to be offered to Sister Roberta and also talked about Sister Odonia, whose award was presented posthumously. Then I spoke, describing how these wonderful nuns had sheltered us to keep us from being found and slaughtered by the Nazis. I was very emotional.
After the presentation of the certificate and medal to Sister Roberta, luncheon was served. I sat between Sister Roberta and a journalist from the local newspaper Het Volk (The People). The journalist interviewed me while we were eating. Suddenly, as we were talking, Sister Roberta turned to me, wagged her forefinger at me, and said: “Just like when you were a little girl; talk, talk, talk.... You have not changed at all. You still talk, talk, talk....” At that, I replied, “But Sister Roberta, I am telling him about you and Sister Odonia. I’m telling him how wonderful you were, how you hid us...”
“He can wait. First you eat, and then you’ll talk.... Eat!” So, I obeyed—I forgot for a moment that I was an adult, a married grandmother, and a professional—and ate, first looking at the journalist while making a face and thus quietly indicating that I would speak with him again after we were finished eating.
The time came for us to part. While the others were waiting for me in the car in front of the convent, I said goodbye and hugged Sister Roberta, who held me tightly against her. Even when I was already in the car, she and I were still waving to each other. I kept looking out the window to see her standing at the gate, waving until we were out of each other’s sight. I never saw Sister Roberta again. She died shortly after this visit. I am at peace because while she was still alive, she was recognized and honored for her heroism.
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