by Max Liebmann, Senior Vice President, American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants

GENEVA–On January 28, 2008, Cicad Coordination Intercommunautaire Contre l’Antisemitisme et la Diffamation), the Swiss counterpart to the ADL, for the first time ever organized an evening to honor the Swiss Nationals’ “ Righteous Among the Nations.” The reception twas held in Geneva and was attended by 500 invited guests, including the President of Switzerland, Pascal Couchepin, whose presence gave the event special significance. Also present were a number of Swiss dignitaries, including the President’s immediate predecessor, Mme. Ruth Dreyfus.

The president of the Cicad, Mr. Grumbach, opened the proceedings and introduced President Couchepin, who celebrated more than 60 Swiss nationals ecognized by Yad Vashem for their saving Jewish lives during World War II, while facing the strong disapproval of their own government.

He also acknowledged that it was Switzerland who asked Germany to add a “J” to all German Jewish passports which led to tragic consequences, when Switzerland refused them entry.

There are only a few Righteous Swiss still alive. Present that evening was August Bohny who was responsible for running three group homes for the Swiss Red Cross Children’s Aid in the famous Huguenot village, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in France. He is directly responsible for saving approximately ten Jewish teenagers who lived in one of these homes, including Hanne Hirsch Liebmann, whose story appears below.

One day at the end of August 1942, French police suddenly appeared in the town in the middle of the night to arrest a group of teenagers. Each one was interrogated individually in the presence of Mr Bohny, who kept his composure. He explained to the police–eloquently, diplomatically and persuasively–that they arrests could not be made since the teens were under the protection of the Swiss Red Cross, a statement Mr. Bohny was not authorized to make.

The police seemed to accept his logic, and went to confirm his statement with their higher-ups. Before they left, they warned him that the teens must stay at the home and they would return if his statement was false. Early the following morning, after a hasty breakfast, the teens were sent into the woods and ordered to stay there until help would arrive. Indeed, help did arrive that evening. The group was split up by singles or by twos, and dispersed to local farms, where they were hidden. Thanks to Mr. Bohny, they all survived. Some escaped to Switzerland, while others remained hidden in the village and surrounding area.

One of these teenagers was Hanne Hirsch Liebmann, who spoke at the event in January. Pierre Sauvage, the documentary filmmaker who produced and directed “Weapons of the Spirit”, translated her remarks from English, as Mrs. Liebmann is no longer fluent in French. Mr. Sauvage, whose parents were in hiding in Le Chambon, was born there during the Holocaust.

The ceremony was tastefully arranged, with a non-alcoholic cocktail hour. A wonderfully rehearsed children’s choir sang, and Mr. Bohny accompanied them on the accordion he had in Le Chambon. Later on in the ceremony, a Klezmer band performed and group sang The Partisan Hymn.