Marie-Rose Gineste was born in 1911 in a small village near Montauban, France. Her parents were Catholics. Later Gineste became much more religious. Her parents were peasants and Gineste helped them with their work until she was twenty years old, when there was a flood and they moved to Montauban. There she learned to sew and got a job as a seamstress. Gineste recalled that there was a Polish Jew working there. While on a bus in Israel forty years later, she met that Jew’s best friend who told her that his friend had died.
By 1942 Gineste knew that Jews were being arrested and taken to Germany. On August 27, Marie-Rose Gineste volunteered to deliver a letter from Monsignor Theas to all the priests within 100 kilometers of Montauban. The letter stated clearly that they found actions against Jews detestable and that they did not approve of anti-Semitism. The priests were to read the letter out loud during Sunday services. Gineste rode her bicycle for four days straight to get the letter delivered to all the priests, except one who was known to have denounced an Allied airman and was pro-Nazi.
Later, Theas asked Gineste to become the head of the Maquis. (The Maquis was the name of the French Resistance.) She became responsible for hiding every Jew.
“I was in the secret order, the Resistance, and I was saving Jews. I did many, many things. One thing led to another. I never refused anything that was asked of me. I didn’t know they were exterminating people, not until after the war. But I did see children torn from their parents.”
While in the Resistance, Gineste persuaded convents to take in families. She delivered food and supplies stolen by the Resistance to those convents hiding Jews. She also acquired false documents and gave them out. After October, 1943, she was forced to make the false documents herself and some of the Jews helped her. Gineste found extra ration cards to give to the Jews.
“I don’t know why I was never arrested. They searched my house only once and one time I was followed all over town for eight days. I stopped going to work because I didn’t want my mother to be taken on account of me, but nothing ever happened. You know de Gaulle gave us hope that we would be able to overcome, but even so, there were many days I wondered how we could get through the day.”Gineste’s mother had lived with her ever since the death of her father in 1937. She didn’t realize what Gineste had been doing until the Gestapo came to search their house. All sorts of people came through their house. British, Belgian and American airmen took refuge there. Because Gineste’s mother stayed home all of the time, she cooked them their meals.
Marie-Rose Gineste lived fifty meters away from the Gestapo headquarters.
“Every night when I heard cars leaving I was in agony, because I knew they were either going to round up Jews or I thought, maybe they’re after me. I lived in constant fear. And today whenever I talk about it, I relive it. I can never watch a film about the war, but I did see Au Revoir les Enfants, which reminded me so much of that time. It was so true.”
“In Toulouse, I was made member of the jury for war criminals and I judged those who denounced Jews. Some were condemned to death but none were actually executed. Being a woman, they expected me to be more lenient, but I wasn’t. They deserved punishment. There was one criminal who was being paid by Jews to take them to the Spanish border, and paid by Germans to hand them over to them. Despicable! And he had his sentence revoked!"
“I think that the reason people collaborated was that they lacked courage; it was easier to go with the stronger side, and the Germans looked strong. But for some it was also anti-Semitism. A priest came out with a book about what the Christians did in this area, but I don’t like it; it tries to say that everyone helped, and that was not the way it was. If I could do it again, I’d do everything I did before.”
Marie-Rose Gineste received the National Order of Merit, the Legion of Honor, the Croix de Guerre, the Military Medal of the Resistance, and a medal from Yad Vashem, which she received in 1985.
Marie-Rose Gineste intellectually demonstrated reason, courage, fair-mindedness, civility, empathy, and creativity by helping to save Jews during the Nazi occupation of France. She ethically demonstrated justice (by saving innocents), respect (for the Jews’ right to live), beneficence and non-maleficence (by being kind), autonomy (by not letting herself be controlled by the Germans, and also respect for the Jews’ autonomy), and caring (by getting supplies for those in hiding.
After learning about Marie-Rose Gineste, I felt that although during the years of World War II the days seemed dark and endless, there were people who cared about others. Marie-Rose Gineste saved Jews and in a way saved the whole world. Although the world may look very dismal today, there is still good too. “The war years were important and good for me. The camaraderie in the Resistance was very dear to me. I have some strong relationships from that time.”
Gil from Washington
Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
Last changed using MY HERO by Gil from Washington on: 5/24/2010