LYON, France (Oct. 9)
Prof. Isaye Schwartz, Grand Rabbi of France, described today with gusto and many chuckles how he had compelled six French militia men who had arrested him last January to help him escape instead of delivering him to the waiting Gestapo.
The 69-year-old spiritual leader of French Jewry, vigorous despite his frail appearance, told the correspondent of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency there had been several attempts to arrest him last winter. The last came on the night of January 9. As he was mounting the stairs to the small room where he had been living, two men jumped out with pointed revolvers and told him they were French agents of the German police and that he was under arrest. They forced him to return downstairs where other French militia men were posted. There, the Rabbi said, a two-hour discussion ensued.
“I did not plead with them for my liberty and did not implore them. I spoke with firmness, authority and indignation,” he related, almost reenacting the scene. “They argued they had to arrest me, that the Gestapo chiefs were waiting for me at their headquarters and that they would be shot if they failed to bring me back, but I refused to accept the situation. I told them they had to help me, and somehow I completely dominated them spiritually.
They yielded. Their leader told me first that I would have to cut off my beard to help disguise myself.” Here Prof. Schwartz ruefully stroked his chin, now covered by a sparse white growth, “Another of them made a bundle of my clothes and a third went out to find a car in which I could escape.”
The Rabbi did not want to describe in detail the methods by which his escape was effected, but said that since January he had lived the life of a simple peasant on a farm in the Ardeche Department not far from a tiny village. He lived under an assumed name, with false papers, and only the Protestant pastor there knew his real identity. “I cut wood every day and did farmyard chores,” he reminisced. “I shovelled paths through mountains of snow in winter.”
Rabbi Schwartz, who came to Lyon on Sept. 15, plans to go to Paris within a few days.