This page gives some information about the courageous acts that Elsie Tilney undertook at Vittel Internment Camp, and for which she was given the award 'Righteous among the Nations'...

Elsie Tilney was born in Norwich, England, in 1893. She began to serve as a missionary in the 1920s—first in North Africa and then in France and Austria. In Vienna, in 1939, she first became a witness to the persecution of the Jews, and when she was about to return to Paris, she took with her a 1-year-old Jewish infant, Ruth Buchholz. Since the first to be targeted by Nazi terror were men, Ruth’s father had managed to flee to England and was desperately trying to get his wife and child out of Austria. Elsie Tilney took Ruth and brought her to a children’s home in Meudon, near Paris, where she stayed for the rest of the war and where her parents finally found her after the liberation of Paris. All their relatives who had remained in Vienna were murdered during the Holocaust, and Ruth Buchholz told Yad Vashem that she is deeply indebted to Miss Tilney for having saved her life. Following the occupation of France by Germany in 1940, Elsie Tilney was defined as a citizen of an enemy country and was interned with other British citizens in the camp in Vittel. Vittel was established by the Germans in 1940 to house citizens of neutral or enemy countries whom they wanted to exchange for German prisoners. Although the camp was made of several hotels situated inside a park, it was surrounded by three rows of barbed wire and guarded by German patrols. In 1943, Polish Jews who held Latin American passports or visas—many forged or obtained without permission of the respective governments—were brought to Vittel from Warsaw.

In January 1944 the validity of the Latin American passports was checked by the Germans, and they were declared invalid. The bearers of those documents were then in mortal danger, and 250 were deported to Auschwitz. Tilney and two other British women, Sofka Skipwith (recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations in 1998) and Madeleine White-Steinberg (recognized as Righteous in 2013) helped save Jewish inmates who were in danger of being deported to the death camps. Sasza Krawec Heyman (b. 1914) was hidden by Elsie Tilney in her bathroom from May 1944 until the camp’s liberation in September of that year. Shulamit Troman, who was interned in Vittel, told Yad Vashem that Sasza (Sasha) had disappeared from view and everybody was certain he had been deported with the others: “In the spring of 1944 I witnessed her take direct actions to save at least one Jewish prisoner, a man in his early 30s called Sasha Krawec,” wrote Troman. “Sasha arrived at the Vittel camp in April 1943, among a group of 400 Jews. . . . Some of these people resisted. Several of the Warsaw Jews committed suicide, jumping from the upper floors of a hotel or taking poison. Others tried to escape, including Sasha Krawec and another individual whose name I do not recall, who was offered help by his English teacher, who was Miss Tilney, so he could get to America. Sasha disappeared, but later I learned that Sasha and the other person were hidden by Miss Tilney in her wardrobe in her room, for five months, until September 18, 1944, when the French troops of General Leclerc and the US troops arrived. Only then did I learn that Sasha had spent those months in Miss Tilney's room, and of her great courage in saving him. I remember well that day. We were in the yard of the camp, free, amazed, in a sort of no-man’s-land under English control. My friend Rabbit (Madeleine Steinberg) knew Sasha quite well, and was distraught when he and others were moved to another place, then came the transports to Auschwitz. We thought Sasha was taken. And then, all of a sudden, five months later, there he was in the yard, white-skinned, exhausted, half-crazy, at his wits’ end. He was like a drugged crazy person, but he was alive, saved by Miss Tilney. And then we learned how she saved him, told him if there was another transport he should give her a sign, which he did, and she summoned him to her, and that he escaped and went to Miss Tilney dressed as a woman.” On September 29, 2013, Yad Vashem recognized Elsie Tilney as Righteous Among the Nations.

This information is kindly reproduced from: the Collection of the Righteous Among the Nations Department, YAD VASHEM.

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