Bienfaite on 1900 Photos
The provincial dialect
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september, 19th 2006
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Photos : private collection
PIERRE AND GEORGETTE
A MOMENT OF HAPPINESS
by family and friends, for Georgette and Pierre November 19th, 1938 was
a great day: it was their wedding day.
Life looked good and the future promised endless happy times.
The young couple went first to live in Notre-Dame-de-Courson, where
their first child, a daughter they named Pierrette, was born in 1939.
In the autumn of 1942 they moved to Saint-Martin-de-Bienfaite,
Normandy, in order to be near their relatives René and
Pierre was recruited into the army at the end of 1939 or the beginning
of 1940. Though imprisoned during the rout, he managed to escape and
make his way back to Normandy disguised as a vagrant. Since June 1940
Bienfaite had been occupied by a German garrison, with the local
château serving as their Kommandantur.
Pierre refused to accept the humiliation of defeat and occupation and
he secretly joined the Resistance movement.
It was in 1942 that the couple reached a momentous decision.
It was also 1942 when the Eder family of Antwerp in Belgium decided
they must escape to Switzerland. Very aware of the many dangers they
would surely face on their perilous journey, the parents chose to
travel alone, leaving behind their only son, a boy aged four and a half
years old, so as to safeguard his survival. With the help of ferrymen
and railway workers, Mrs. Eder reached Switzerland hidden in one of the
water tankers of a steam locomotive. Her husband meanwhile made the
journey on foot. Once safely in Switzerland, they took refuge there
until the end of the war.
Their son Ariel Eder recalls:
"To protect me from danger, my mother and father left me with
the Mortelmans, neighbours upstairs who were musicians."
For two months the neighbours took care of the little boy, before
sending him away, also headed for Switzerland via Marseille under the
false name of Henri Reder.
"A ferryman took charge of me when I left Antwerp, and I found
myself in a bar at 58 Avenue de Wagram in Paris. 'Look after this kid
for a few days,' the ferryman said casually to the bar owner, Lucien
Sigust, who in turn took me to a Parisian lady friend of his, Emilienne
Lefrançois. The ferryman never returned."
Life in Paris was too difficult for a child to remain hidden in the
home of strangers. Little "Henri" had entered France illegally and
hence was not registered anywhere. Consequently he was not entitled to
food or clothing ration cards. During the war it was easier to get by
in the country than in a big city, so Emilienne Lefrançois
decided to send Henri to her brothers in Normandy.
"Like thousands of Jewish children, I was sent to the country.
I arrived in Normandy in the autumn of 1942 to take up residence with
the Lefrançois family."
Pierre Lefrançois in
THE NEW BIENFAITE RESIDENT
Georgette and Pierre did not hesitate for long. Yes,
they would take in this little boy, protect him, love him as though he
were their own child, at risk and danger to themselves during those
dark days of German occupation.
All the Lefrançois siblings, in fact the entire numerous
Lefrançois family, contributed to saving little Henri.
"With Georgette I can honestly say that I was in heaven on
earth. We lived well and Pierrette, their daughter, became my little
When he arrived at the Lefrançois home, Henri neither spoke
nor understood French and had no identification papers at all. It was
crucial to conceal his Jewish origins at all costs. One of Pierre's
brothers, the priest Father Paul Lefrançois, had been in the
Resistance from the beginning. Always ready to defend a just cause, he
had written many articles for the Patriote de l'Eure, a clandestine
journal published by the local National Front for Liberty in the Eure
region. Father Paul came up with a temporary solution to the problem of
the boy's identity. He forged a false certificate which claimed that
Pierre Lefrançois, on marrying Georgette Suzanne, had agreed
also to adopt her son Henri, who had been born out of wedlock.
Georgette and Pierre must have known that should a situation arise
where the police sought to verify the authenticity of this certificate,
the whole family would be in grave danger and would have to seek refuge
And then there was the question of what to do with a small boy of
Jewish origin at Sunday Mass. Georgette and Pierre decided to teach him
the rudiments of the most necessary prayers and a few religious customs
so that he would not stand out from other children of his age.
- - - - - - - - -
Meanwhile, with the help of the Swiss Red Cross, Henri's parents tried
to find out what had become of their son. They suggested pursuing their
research under the fictitious name of Henri Reder as well as his real
name, Ariel Clément Eder. For their part, Georgette and
Pierre Lefrançois also tried to trace the boy's parents
through the French Red Cross. The only name known to them, however, was
Henri Reder. Some time in late 1943 or early 1944 the Red Cross was
able to inform the parents that their only son was alive and well and
had been taken in by the Lefrançois family in the small
village of Saint-Martin-de-Bienfaite in Normandy. The Red Cross
delivered a photograph (see below) of Georgette and Ariel to his
parents. On the reverse side of the photograph someone wrote:
of Ariel Eder, to be delivered, if possible, to his parents.
Someone else added:
Eder at the home of Pierre Lefrançois, St. Martin de
And yet a third person, probably Ariel's father, noted: Received
Georgette and Ariel, 1943 (photograph taken on the Livarot road at
Notre-Dame-de Courson, Normandy).
1944 THE TRAGEDY
In May 1944 Georgette gave birth to a son of her own, but the baby died
within a week. Pierre was a member of the underground network led by
Jean-Marie [Buckmaster] of Normandy, a network which was very active
from the time of the Allied landing. On June 13th, in the course of a
Resistance operation, Pierre Lefrançois was wounded by a
large-bore bullet, although the exact circumstances of the event were
Pierre was taken to hospital at Lisieux on a horse-drawn cart. Sadly,
Lisieux had been devastated by bombing one week previously, on the
evening of June 6th, leaving hundreds victimes. Chaos reigned. So
Pierre was moved to Bienfaite where, in the absence of adequate means
of care, a nurse of La Chappelle Yvon gave him a single injection of
morphine. He died on June 16th in terrible suffering.
Within less than a month, Georgette had lost both her
baby and her husband. Thus, a few days before her 26th
birthday, she found herself widowed with two children to take care of:
her daughter Pierrette, now aged four, and Henri-Ariel, now six years
The Liberation made it possible to resume correspondence with Henri's
family, who were still in Switzerland. In February 1945, Eli Sternbuch
of St. Galles in Switzerland arrived in Bienfaite with a proxy signed
by Henri's parents and entitling him to deliver the child to them.
Amid many tears, Henri, who must now revert once again to being Ariel
Eder, left his adoptive mother and his home in Normandy to return to
his real parents.
In 1961 Ariel immigrated to Israel.
Above: Georgette Lefrançois receiving the Croix de Guerre
posthumously awarded to Pierre Lefrançois.
The name Pierre Lefrançois is engraved on the monument
erected at Bienfaite to those who fell in the war: They died so that
France might live.
Georgette died in 1998.
Saint-Martin-de-Bienfaite may be proud to have been the home of two
such beautiful and exemplary people, two genuinely simple and discreet
YB, August 2006 with the help of
Pierrette Lefrançois and Ariel Eder. Translation by Ariel
Eder. May they be eternally thanked.
- - - - - - - - - -
Eder's speech on the presentation of the medal of
Righteous among the Nations to Georgette and Pierre
Lefrançois at a ceremony at the Memorial in Caen, February