FRANCE: Salève Adventist University
Honors “Righteous” Alumni
Weidner, others who assisted Nazi victims are remembered.
MEMORIAL PLAQUE: Featuring emblems of both the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, this plaque commemorating Adventists who helped hundreds of Jews and others escape Nazi persecution now stands at the entrance to the main school building at Salève Adventist University in Collonges-sous-Salève, France.ore than six decades after many Seventh-day Adventists risked, and even lost, their lives to preserve Jews and others targeted by the Nazis for death, a ceremony took place at Salève Adventist University in Collonges-sous-Salève, France, about five miles from the Swiss border and the city of Geneva. Approximately 500 students participated in the event.
The school wanted to recognize its alumni who played a decisive part in the rescue of several hundred persecuted people during World War II. These Adventists helped smuggle Jews and others who resisted the Nazis across the border.
Sylvain Ballais, president of the school, officially welcomed the many guests and others present. Richard Lehmann, academic vice president, remembered Jean Weidner, who was awarded honors by several countries—the Croix de Guerre, Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, Righteous Among the Nations, and a tree planted with his name in the Alley of the Righteous in Jerusalem. Weidner rescued more than 800 Jews and 300 members of the resistance (among them approximately 100 Allied aviators) through his underground network called Dutch-Paris. This network smuggled Jews and opponents of the Nazi regime from the Netherlands and France to Switzerland and Spain via Brussels and Paris.
Weidner, a former student of the school and a committed Adventist, used his friendship with the personnel and students of the school as a key element of his network.
Participants also listened to the testimony of Anna Zurcher, widow of the late Jean Zurcher, about the risks her husband took to smuggle Jews under the barbed wire at the border of Switzerland and deliver confidential mail.
Roger Fasnacht, administrator of the school during World War II, highlighted the actions of other personnel and students, such as Jean Lavanchy, Raymond Meyer, Frederic Charpiot, and Dr. Pierre Toureille. More than 150 refugees passed through the school or homes of the personnel. Some rooms in the building, termed Sources, were reserved for these heroes. Last year, Emile Bernard, the former manager of the school farm (part of the campus at that time), and his wife, Yvonne, received the Righteous Among the Nations award for their contribution in saving the lives of those persecuted during the Nazi occupation of France.
More than 30 members of this underground network paid the ultimate price for their courage. Among those caught and executed were Gabrielle Weidner, sister of Jean; Paul Meyer, a pastor; as well as the consul from the Netherlands in Paris.
Weidner himself was captured, tortured, and sentenced to death; but he succeeded in escaping from prison the night before his planned execution. In 1958 he immigrated to the United States. In California Weidner met author Herbert Ford, who portrayed Weidner’s life story in the book Flee the Captor.
PASS IT ON: Roger Fasnacht and Anna Zurcher, two surviving witnesses of the Adventist rescue effort, symbolically transmit the flame of courage and service to two university students at Salève Adventist University during the commemoration ceremony.Roberto Badenas, representing the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Euro-Africa region, encouraged the young people present at the ceremony to carry on the values of courage and devotion embodied by former employees and students of the Salève Adventist University.
Ulrich Frikart, president of the church in the Euro-Africa region, stressed the importance of preserving memories by quoting from Milan Kundera’s work The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: “You begin to liquidate a people by taking away their memory.” As Frikart pointed out, we need to remember the past, study it, and draw lessons for both the present and the future.
Concluding his letter to the organizers of the ceremony, Itzhak Levanon, ambassador of Israel to the United Nations in Geneva, wrote: “May the courage and deeds of Emile Bernard, Yvonne Bernard, Jean Weidner, Frederic Charpiot, Jean Lavanchy, Raymond Meyer, Jean Zurcher, Doctor Pierre Toureille—as well as those of all the students of the campus and all the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’—remain forever engraved in our memories and serve as an inspiration and model of goodness and solidarity for the future of humankind.”
In a moving portion of the ceremony, two surviving witnesses, Anna Zurcher and Roger Fasnacht, symbolically transmitted the flame of courage and service to two university students, who then transmitted the flame to two secondary schoolboys, who then passed the flame to two primary school students. The whole assembly then sang the refrain from “Love One Another” by Enrico Macias.
The highlight of the day’s events was the unveiling of a commemorative plaque, mounted on a stone at the entrance of the main school building on the Salève campus.
—Reported by the Euro-Africa Division/AW Staff