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Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Daughter of a hero (USA)

Daughter of a hero

By Brandon Santiago on the Hanford Sentinel website

The painful images coming out of Haiti depicting the earthquake devastation add to the lineage of horrific events that have occurred in mankind's history.
The events in Haiti may have been caused by a natural disaster, but all tragic moments in time share a common trait: Human suffering.
Anne-Marie Kessler of Riverdale says she knows this all too well. She grew up in France during the Nazi occupation in World War"I can tell you that war is hell," Kessler said. "My father was gone most of the time; we resented him for it, it was difficult for our mother. We always felt he cared more for strangers than us. It was later we realized the strangers needed him more than we did. Many more would have died if he hadn't helped them."

Kessler, 79, sits in the dining room of her home, sifting through old photographs of her family. Next to the affidavit issued to her mother and father by the Gestapo for their arrest, lies a book with her father's face on the cover.
The book is "A Rescuer's Story: Pastor Pierre-Charles Toureille in Vichy France" by Tela Zasloff. It's the story of Kessler's father, a French Protestant pastor whose efforts resulted in the rescue of hundreds of refugees, most of them Jewish.
Inspired by his Huguenot heritage, Toureille participated in international Protestant church efforts to combat Nazism during the 1930s and headed a major refugee aid organization in Vichy France during World War II. After the war, he was honored by the Jewish organization Yad Vashem as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations."
Kessler said her father was one of many heading a large network of people striving to stop the rise of the Nazi regime. The network established a specialized school and home in Czechoslovakia called The Home for Christian Children.
"The Christian element of it was a front, to ward off Nazis," Kessler said. "In actuality most children who lived there were freed or escaped Jewish children from concentration camps."
Kessler is the fourth of five children in the Toureille family. The author of "A Rescuer's Story," Zasloff, got in touch with Kessler and her brother, Marc Toureille, to get their personal perspectives of their father's work.
Along with interviews with other members of the underground network, the book was compiled and published in 2003.
Marc Toureille details his memory of when the Nazis invaded France in the book.
"We turned off the lights and rushed to the windows, half hiding behind slotted blinds," Toureille said. "They had come, boots hitting the pavement, the shame, the anger, the hate ... I wanted to see them all killed."
Kessler herself remembers living with the Jewish children at the home when she was 10 years old. One day she and the children went on a field trip to a nearby river with a male teacher and chaperone who worked with her father. When they reached the river, the chaperone threw Kessler into the river with all her clothes on and told her to get out on her own.
"That was my first survival lesson; he wanted me to be tough like the Jewish children, [to] learn to endure," she said, looking at the chaperone's photo. "He had me walk barefoot through rocks to toughen my feet, because we never knew when the Germans would come; I loved that man, he was my favorite teacher."
Kessler said that in 1943, her father called her into his office one day and said he had some bad news for her.
The Germans had gunned her favorite teacher down. He was on the run in Czechslovakia, then went to Belgium, and ended up at this house in France.
"He had a little boy he never knew and he was trying to get home to him, and the Nazis found him and killed him," she said through tears.
Meanwhile her older brother, Simon, was in college, but it had been awhile since they had heard from him. Then, one day a stranger stopped her mother in the street and said "I know where your son is."
"She told my mother, 'Come to my home, tonight after dark, and make sure you're alone and I will tell you where he is," Kessler said.
The woman provided her address and her mother ventured out that night, making sure no one knew or saw when she left. She discovered her brother was fighting for the French in the underground against the Germans. The woman told her mother "My son is with your son; they're friends in underground, fighting together," Kessler said.
"I don't like when people say the French never did anything or cared, or were not thankful [for American help during the war]," Kessler said. "... because I know, I was there, and I'll be thankful until the day I die."