Elisabeth Abegg-Teachers Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust
Elisabeth Abegg, born in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace (today in France), was a history teacher. She was deeply influenced by the Christian-universalist teachings of Albert Schweitzer, the great Alsatian theologian, humanist and medical doctor.
Abegg moved to Berlin and began teaching at the Luisen Mädchenschule, a fashionable Berlin girls’ school. She endeavored to impress her humanistic beliefs, centering on the sanctity of human life, on her students, many of whom came from Jewish homes. When the Nazis rose to power, Abegg soon came into conflict with the newly Nazi-appointed director of the school. She had to change schools, and in 1940 was forced to retire prematurely following a denunciation. Despite her being marked by the authorities as politically unreliable, Abegg would not be deterred from maintaining contact with her Jewish friends and former students. With the deportation to the East of her close friend of 40 years, Anna Hirschberg, Abegg understood the true import of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and resolved to do everything in her power to save other Jews. She turned the three-and-a-half-room apartment that she shared with her 86-year-old mother and her invalid sister Julie into a temporary shelter and assembly point for Jews who had gone underground.
Working with her friends in the Quaker movement, she skimped on her own food and that of her sister in order to supply her protégés with food-ration cards; she offered her own jewelry for sale in order to organize the smuggling of Jizchak Schwersenz into Switzerland, and procured forged papers for others; she went to Liselotte Pereles, the director of the day-care center in Berlin, to convince her to go into hiding with her nine-year-old niece, Susi. Most of those who knocked on her door asking for help were complete strangers, but she never hesitated and took more and more risks, even though some of her neighbors were active Nazis. In 1957, on the occasion of her 75th birthday, some of the survivors who had been saved by Elisabeth Abegg dedicated a mimeographed collection of memoirs to her, entitled “When One Light Pierced the Darkness”.
On May 23, 1967, Yad Vashem recognized Elisabeth Abegg as Righteous Among the Nations.