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