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World War II : Unsung heroes of the French Resistance : Mother Elisabeth.

Updated on November 28, 2012
Commemorative stamp isssued in 1961 by the French Postal Service
Commemorative stamp isssued in 1961 by the French Postal Service

Elise Rivet, the daughter of a French Navy officer and an Alsacian mother, was born in Draria, near Algiers (Algeria), then a French colony, on January 19, 1890. She received a good education. In 1910,she moved to Lyon (France) with her mother, upon the passing of her father. There, she worked for some time in a hairdresser's salon. In 1912, now aged 22, she made the decision to become a nun and joined the ranks of Notre-Dame de la Compassion (Our Lady of Compassion) as a novice. The congregation helps underprivileged, semi-vagrant and petty criminal girls and provides them with some professional training so they can find work. She is herself trained to become a nun as well as a nurse by the charitable and religious school. In 1913, she takes her vows and choses the name of Sister Elisabeth de l'Eucharistie. She remains in this same convent until 1933, when she is promoted to Mother Superior as Mother Marie-Elisabeth de l'Euchariatie.


Mother Marie-Elisabeth de l'Eucharistie, 1890-1945
Mother Marie-Elisabeth de l'Eucharistie, 1890-1945

In 1937, she adds two new sections to the convent : one to shelter minor delinquent girls and the other for orphan and vagrant girls starting at age 3. That same year, Roman ruins and artifacts are discovered on the grouds of the convent, and in order to allow for more search, the whole operation is moved to a nearby old castle. However, a smaller branch remains open in Lyon to provide shelter and rehabilitation to petty criminal and vagrant girls, as well as a sewing and embroidery shop.

In June of 1940, France is invaded, then occupied by the German Military Forces of the 3rd Reich. As early as September, Mother Elisabeth becomes involved with underground networks of civilian resistance to the occupant. She becomes an intelligence agent, while hiding weapons, ammunition, equipment and documents for the Resistance movements in the convent. She is mostly associated with two networks of the Resistance known as l'Armee Secrete (Secret Army) and Ajax. In liaison with Cardinal Pierre-Marie Gerlier, Archbishop of Lyon, she hides on the grounds of the convent Jewish mothers (disguised as nuns) and their children on their way to safer hiding places, as well as orphan babies and children.She finds them outside hiding places and provides them with fake identity documents. At the end of 1942, she hides two Jewish sisters who will remain in the convent until the end of hostilities in 1944..

Nearby the convent lives a couple, Damien and Rose Tronel, whose home is a safe house facilitating the escape of children to safety. Their young daughter Marie-Josephe, riding her bicycle, serves as a liaison agent between the convent and different locations. The Tronel family contributed to saving the lives of a large number of children.

On March 25, 1944, following denunciation, Mother Elisabeth and her assistant Mother Marie Jesus are arrested. They are taken to the Gestapo headquarters in Lyon for interrogation. Mother Elisabeth is jailed for three months. In jail, where about 40 women are incarcerated, Mother Elisabeth rapidly takes charge of the refectory. Then on July 1st 1944, she is transferred to the transit camp of Romainville, near Paris. As a "Great criminal of war", she then transported by train to Sarrebruck (Germany) on the 14th before being finally interned in the concentration camp of Ravensbruck, North of Berlin (Germany) where she arrived after four days of travel inside a cattle railway car. When she finally arrives there, she is too weak to be sent to forced labor but she keeps busy doing some housekeeping work , and more importantly living an exemplary life of devotion to others. She is stripped of her religious clothing and that takes a toll on her. On Sundays, she recites mass prayers with other inmates. With the help of a German nurse, she obtains regular news of the different fronts of the war which she shares with other women, and also some food that she gives to others.

Andrée Rivière, a woman who survived deportation at Ravensbruck, remembers : " Sister Elisabeth was the soul ot the camp. In this universe of killing madness, she was a monument of serenity and hope and love for other women".

French Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 avec Etoile
French Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 avec Etoile

On March 26, 1945, an extremely weakened Mother Elisabeth joins a group of deported women selected to be executed in the camp gas chamber. On March 30th, she volunteeers to be killed in place of another woman who has children and is taken to the gas chamber.

. On April 30th, just a month after her death, the women concentration camp of Ravensbruck will be liberated by the Russian Red Army, leading to the world learning about all the atrocities that took place there.

On November 10, 1945, Mother Elisabeth was awarded the French Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 avec Etoile (War cross with star). Posthumoulsy.

She is only one example of numerous members of the French Catholic Clergy, who took insane risks in order to save the life of adults and children regardless of their faith.

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    • profile image

      Frank Donahue 

      5 months ago

      Austin as one of many brethren who served in Vietnam I am on this site daily and find these true stories to be fascinating reading. Thank you

    • profile image

      Jill 

      24 months ago

      Wow! This amazing story just floated into my life and the pictures you shared look exactly like close family members. My great-grandmother is from Alsace and I was wondering if you had the names of Mother Elisabeth's parents. I'm curious to see if there's a genealogical connection.

    • profile image

      Nicole Evelina 

      3 years ago

      Hi Austin,

      I'm a historical fiction writer doing research into the life of Mother Elizabeth. I'm wondering if you would be so kind as to share your sources? The only things i have found so far are a dissertation and article (both in French) that i don't know how to get a copy of. Hoping you can help someone who would like to bring her story to life.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 

      3 years ago

      It's hard the understand the evil of man that can come from war....

      What a wonderful story of Mother Elisabeth shared Love and Sacrifice!

      Very well written...thanks for sharing!

      I'm still reading your consecutive stories on WWII in Paris...

    • profile image

      kevin 

      4 years ago

      Sidney Carlton revisited a very unselfish act of true heroism almost unthinkable in the non combat theatre. truly amazing.

    • Kaili Bisson profile image

      Kaili Bisson 

      5 years ago from Canada

      What a beautifully written story of great courage and sacrifice. Voted up and more and sharing.

    • austinhealy profile imageAUTHOR

      Bernard J. Toulgoat 

      5 years ago from Treasure Coast, Florida

      Thank you Midget. I found this story so very sad and unfair, I had to write about it so more people would become aware of the selflessness of some as opposed to the cruelty of others.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      A true example of sacrifice. Thanks for sharing, Austin. I share too.

    • austinhealy profile imageAUTHOR

      Bernard J. Toulgoat 

      5 years ago from Treasure Coast, Florida

      @UnnamedHarald : worth, not worse !

    • austinhealy profile imageAUTHOR

      Bernard J. Toulgoat 

      5 years ago from Treasure Coast, Florida

      Yourglobalgirl : Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment on this hub

    • austinhealy profile imageAUTHOR

      Bernard J. Toulgoat 

      5 years ago from Treasure Coast, Florida

      Hi again Graham ! So many stories to tell, so little time. Thank you for your encouraging words which mean a lot to me. Keep on writing!

    • austinhealy profile imageAUTHOR

      Bernard J. Toulgoat 

      5 years ago from Treasure Coast, Florida

      Hi UnamedHarald. War bring the worst in a large number of people and the best in a few. Mother Elisabeth was definitely in the second category. I discovered this story only recently and thought it was worse sharing. Thank you for voicing your interest.

    • austinhealy profile imageAUTHOR

      Bernard J. Toulgoat 

      5 years ago from Treasure Coast, Florida

      Hello again Pavlo. I'm glad you found this story interesting. Mother Elisabeth is one of the examples I know of selflessness during wartime. Thank you for reading this hub and commenting on it

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      5 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Austin. An excellent read. Well researched and presented. There were thousands of heroes and heroines we will never know about. Well done.

      Voted up and all.

      Graham.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Nothing is sacred during war. Voted up and interesting.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      People like Mother Elisabeth did a lot to win the invaders. She did what she could and her work inspired others. Great Hub!

    • Yourglobalgirl profile image

      Yourglobalgirl 

      5 years ago from UK

      Very interesting to read

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