The Finaly Affair

In “Uncovered Documents Continue to Build a Case Against Holocaust-Era Pope Pius,” (Hamodia, News Feature, September 2, 2020), Rafael Hoffman mentions newly found documents on the Finaly Affair.

Following the Anschluss, the Austrian Jewish physician, Fred Finaly, and his wife, Annie Finaly, took refuge in France, near Grenoble.

Two sons were born: Robert (Reuven) Finaly, on April 14, 1941, and Gérald (Gedalia) Finaly on July 3, 1942.

Both parents were arrested by the Gestapo and deported, by Convoy No. 69, on March 7, 1944, to Auschwitz, where they died.

The two brothers were hidden by a French Catholic woman, Antoinette Brun, who refused to return them to their aunt, Margarete Fischl, their father’s sister. Starting in February 1945, the latter moved heaven and earth to retrace them.

The Catholic Church transferred the children from place to place, to make them untraceable.

In the early 1950s, the Finaly Affair exploded in France.

The Vatican Archives related to Pope Pius XII, on the order of Pope Francis, was opened to historians on March 2, 2020.

The historian David I. Kertzer, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, immediately went to work. He found documents concerning the Finaly Affair showing that the Vatican ordered the French Catholic clergy not to return the Finaly bothers to their family.

In the end, a Catholic woman, Germaine Ribière, trusted by the Church while friendly with the Jewish community, went to Spain in 1953 to bring back the brothers, who then moved to Israel.

During WWII, Germaine Ribière helped save Jews. My mother, Rebbetzin Feuerwerker, a”h, the only Rebbetzin in France officially a member of the Resistance, worked with her. My mother was awarded the “Medal of France Liberated.” On July 18, 1967, Germaine Ribière was awarded, the title of “Righteous Amongst the Nations” by Yad Vashem.

A few years ago, I met Gerda Bikales, who was born Gerda (Gitel) Bierzonski, on May 14, 1931, in Breslau (Germany) (today’s Wroclaw in Poland). In February 1943, in Lyon, France, she went with her mother, both illegals in France, to the headquarters of UGIF, the WWII French Jewish social organization, to get food tickets.

They saw a woman cleaning the stairs, who signaled to them to leave the premises. She wasn’t really a cleaning lady but Germaine Ribière trying to alert and save Jews. At that very moment the Gestapo was in the building laying in waiting for Jews to come up.

The story doesn’t end here.

Years after WWII, Gerda Bikales returned to Lyon and went back to 12 rue Sainte-Catherine, where she was almost arrested in 1943. At the entrance of the building, there is a commemorative plaque.

At a later date, she attended a lecture by Germaine Ribière on the Finaly Affair, without yet making the link that she was facing her savior.

When she read, in a newspaper, about Germaine Ribière’s death, she finally understood (see Gerda Bikales. Getting To Know Germaine In: Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal. Small Miracles of the Holocaust. Extraordinary Coincidences of Faith, Hope, and Survival, and Gerda Bikales, Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. A Holocaust Childhood).

Germaine Ribière has not only been honored in Israel but in her native land as well. Marking the 100th year of her birth, a postal stamp was issued in France on March 13, 2017.

The Finaly brothers thrived in Israel.

Dr. ELIE FEUERWERKER, HIGHLAND PARK, N.J.