Monday, September 14, 2015

Madeleine Kahn-Dreyfus (1909-1987)

Madeleine Kahn was born in Paris in 1909 to an assimilated family. After graduating from high school, she cultivated contacts with the Surrealists (André Breton and Jean Cocteau) and, in 1933, married Raymond Dreyfus with whom she had three children: Michel, Jacques and Annette.

In 1941 her family fled to Lyon, where the director of the Lyon branch of the Jewish children’s aid society OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants, Böszi Hirsch, invited Madeleine to work with her. She took upon herself the task of searching for families and institutions willing to take in Jewish children and young people. Neighbors referred her to the mountain village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. There she became acquainted with the spiritual leader, the Protestant minister André Trocmé, his wife Magda and the village residents, all of whom actively supported her mission. For two years, Madeleine often made the round trip between Lyon and Chambon, accompanied by children with whom she remained in contact.

From August 1942, with the first wave of arrests in the south, her acts became illegal and the danger to her increased with the German occupation of southern France in November 1942. Yet these underground conditions did not deter Dreyfus from her indefatigable work.

Sometimes it was necessary for a child to stay for a few days at the institution for deaf people in Villeurbanne, near Lyon. On 23 November 1943, Dreyfus learned that the Gestapo were planning to raid the institution. She hurried to rescue a Jewish child staying there, but the Germans had preceded her and she was arrested. At this time she was nursing her two-month-old daughter Annette. Keeping her wits about her, she employed a ruse to warn her family to flee their apartment and go into hiding immediately.

Madeleine Dreyfus was deported to Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated in May 1945. In 1947 she was awarded the Médaille de la Resistance. A psychologist at OSE and in private practice, she was among the founders of the Institut de formation et d’études psychosociologiques et pédagogiques (IFEPP) in 1963.

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