Happy is he that considereth the poor; the LORD will deliver him in the day of evil. (Psalms 41:2)
There is none so poor as one whose life is in danger, nor none so generous as one who risks his life to save another. Lois Gunden, a Mennonite from Goshen, Indiana, was one such generous person. She has been recognized as a Righteous Gentile by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem for her work saving Jewish children in France during the Holocaust.
In 1941, at the age of 26, Gunden accepted a call to serve with the Mennonite Central Committee in France. She joined the Mennonite organization Secours Mennonite aux Enfants in Lyon, and was asked to establish a children’s home in a town on the Mediterranean seaside. The home would become a safe haven for the children of Spanish refugees, as well as for many Jewish children, especially those smuggled out of the nearby Rivesaltes internment camp.
Gunden kept a journal of her time in France, in which she recorded her experiences rescuing Jewish children. She reported one incident in which a policeman arrived at the center to arrest three children while they were out on a walk. She turned him away, telling him they were not present. When he returned, she insisted she could not yet pack their bags, as the laundry had just been done and it would not be dry for some time. All the while, she wrote in her journal, she prayed for guidance, wisdom and the safety of her young charges. The policeman eventually stopped coming for the three children.
Ginette (Drucker) Kalish is one of the children Gunden rescued. She was born in 1930 in Paris, and in 1942 her father was deported to Auschwitz. Gunden approached her mother and begged the woman to allow her to take young Ginette to safety. Ginette’s mother finally agreed. Ginette remembers Gunden as a “quite kind and passionately determined to take me and these other Jewish children out of Rivesaltes to protect them from harm…I remember Lois Gunden being kind and generous and she made a special effort to blend us in with the other children. None of the other children were told that we were Jewish.”
Although Gunden, as an American, was considered an enemy alien, she was permitted to continue running the children’s center after America entered the war. She was detained by the Nazis in January 1943 and held until 1944, when she was released in a prisoner exchange. Later she returned home to Indiana and in 1958, she married a widower, Ernest Clemens. She taught French at both Goshen and Temple Colleges and served as a Mennonite minister. She passed away in 2005.
Gunden was first recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in February. She will be formally honored in a posthumous ceremony in the United States, during which her niece, Mary Jean Gunden, will accept a medal and certificate of honor on her behalf.
Gunden joins Varian Fry and Waitstill and Martha Sharp to become the fourth American recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.