LONDON (Jun. 3)
Unlike the legendary Oskar Schindler, Albert Gustave Bedane’s acts of courage were not enacted in the horror-filled world of wartime Poland.
His heroism was played out on British soil — on the Nazi-occupied Channel Island of Jersey, which now glories in a reputation as a tax haven and home to the super-rich.
Now, after a result of the efforts of a amateur historian in Jersey, the London-based Holocaust Educational Trust has launched a campaign to convince the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem to make Bedane a Righteous Among the Nations.
Most of Jersey’s prewar Jewish population had left before the Nazi invasion in June 1940.
A total of 12 islanders who were registered as Jews were deported. The Jewish community of Jersey now numbers about 150.
When the Nazis invaded the tranquil island, Bedane, a French-born veteran of World War I, was a successful physiotherapist with a thriving practice in Jersey’s capital, St. Helier.
During the occupation, which ended in 1945, German officers frequently sought out Bedane in his rambling five-story home — now a hotel — to soothe their aching limbs.
What the Germans did not know was that while Bedane was treating them in his clinic, much of the rest of the building was hiding escaped prisoners of war, escaped slave laborers — and a small, middle-aged, Dutch-born Jewish woman, Mary Erica Richardson.
While Richardson is the only Jew definitively known to have been saved by Bedane, it is assumed that he also harbored others during the war.
If any of the people he kept secretly at his home had been discovered by the Nazi occupiers, Bedane knew he would have been shot.
Among those “guests” was Richardson, the Jewish wife of a retired, non-Jewish British sea captain, who hid in an ancient stone cellar barely 4-and-a half- feet high.
She had escaped from the backdoor of her apartment while her husband, pretending to be senile, had kept the Germans who had come to arrest her waiting at the front door.
Despite efforts to find her, in which Nazi officials were aided by Jersey’s attorney general and local police, Richardson remained safe in Bedane’s home until the Nazi retreat at the end of the war.
The only surviving guest that Bedane sheltered is 87-year-old Francis Le Sueur, an islander who was wanted by the Germans for his activities in the Jersey underground.
Now living near the town of Dinard in northern France, Le Sueur vividly recalls playing cards with Richardson before he decided to take his chances and escape to France.
He also remembers his first encounter with Bedane.
“When I arrived, he showed me into a windowless room, little bigger than a cubicle which had perhaps once been used for patients. Bedane said to me: ‘You’re going to stay in this room and I don’t want you to come out.’
“But I was just one of many, many.”
Last week, Le Sueur described how Bedane had confided in him that Richardson was hiding because she was Jewish.
“I remember we discussed this matter quite fully, as the question of race and religion was, and still is to me, a matter of small importance.”
Bedane’s wife, Clara, died during the war and his daughter, Valerie May, was last heard of living in Australia in the 1950s.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the anxiety of the period took its toll on Bedane.
He collapsed soon after the war and was admitted to a hospital, where he was diagnosed as suffering from the delayed effects of chronic stress.
When he died in 1970 at the age of 76, his acts of selfless heroism were neither recognized nor rewarded by the West.
His sole memento was an inscribed gold watch, a gift from the Soviet government in appreciation for the Russian slave laborers he had saved.
Richardson and her husband left the island immediately after the war.
The last trace of her is a letter she wrote to Bedane from a clinic in Austria thanking him for having saved her life.
The Holocaust Educational Trust, headed by Lord Janner, has only recently learnt of Bedane’s wartime heroism through the efforts of a 42-year-old Jersey property dealer and amateur local historian, Frederick Cohen.
“As president of the Jewish community in Jersey, I felt I had an obligation to record the story,” Cohen said in an interview.
“And once I started, I carried on until I had completed the record.”
Janner says his organization is submitting Bedane’s name to Yad Vashem because it is satisfied, having seen the documentation and having heard the evidence, that “he was a hero and should be honored.”
The request to Yad Vashem has also been endorsed by Britain’s former chief rabbi, Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, and David Cesarani, director of the Wiener Library, a London-based Holocaust documentation center.
“Little was known until now, but he saved many lives, including that of Mrs Richardson, for whom he risked everything,” says Janner.
According to Janner, Bedane “fulfils every criteria for recognition” by Yad Vashem. “There was never any suggestion that he sought or received payment or reward for his courageous acts,” he adds.