NEWS - News of the Lodges

Report by Ernest Simon, based on an article in “Tachles”

The German language Jewish weekly journal “Tachles” reported the death last week, at the age of 93, of Sebastian Steiger, a man who, during World War II, saved the lives of some 100 Jewish children in occupied France.


Steiger

The son of a Swiss Protestant priest, Steiger was one of five siblings growing up in Oltingen, then later in Binningen where he went to the secondary school. He qualified as a teacher in 1940. During this period he came into contact with a number of Jewish refugees seeking help from his father and generally finding it. In an interview with “Tachles” on the occasion of his 90th birthday he explained how he disliked the Swiss policy on refugees: “I had the feeling that I was living on an enormous safe ship and had the impression of being surrounded by numerous small vessels in trouble, calling in vain for help. I could not live with the message that the boat is full.”

The young teacher heard that there were homes in occupied France where Swiss people were caring for children suffering from the effects of war. In 1943 he joined the Swiss Red Cross and travelled to Chateau La Hille in the Pyrenees where some 100 Jewish orphan children were hidden.  Together with the other carers, Steiger worked tirelessly for two years looking after these children. “I tried to bring some joy back into their lives” he said in his book Saving the children of La Hille, published in 1992 in which he also described the fear and hunger which they suffered, and the daily threat from the Nazi occupiers.

Steiger returned to his life as a teacher in Switzerland after the war. In 1985 he took part in an emotional reunion in Israel of the children of Chateau La Hille, as well as the commemoration in 2000 of a memorial and the opening in 2007 of a special museum to the memory of these children – these were major moments in his life, he admitted.

Sebastian Steiger was honoured by Yad Vashem, receiving the medal “The Righteous among the Nations”. He was also granted a citation by the Simon-Wiesenthal-Centre.