Lois Mary Gunden Clemens was named “Righteous Among the Nations” for saving the lives of Jewish children in France during the Holocaust. Gunden is only the fourth American to be recognized with this prestigious honor from Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
During World War II, in a French Mediterranean town far from her home in Goshen, Ind., Lois Mary Gunden Clemens risked her own safety to save the lives of Jewish children. In 1941 Gunden Clemens joined Mennonite Central Committee and the Secours Mennonite aux Enfants to establish a children’s home in southern France near the Mediterranean. The children’s home became a safe haven for Spanish refugees as well as for Jewish children, many of whom were smuggled out of the nearby internment camp of Rivesaltes.
One morning while the children were out for a walk, a policeman arrived at the center in order to arrest three of the Jewish children, Louis, Armand and Monique Landesmann. Gunden Clemens told the police that the children were out and would not return until noon. At noon the policeman appeared again and ordered her to pack the children’s belongings and prepare them for travel. This time Gunden Clemens told him that their clothing was still being laundered and would not be dry until the late afternoon. Gunden Clemens testified that throughout that day and evening she prayed for wisdom, guidance, and the safety of the children. The officer never returned and the children were spared. Finally, in January 1943, the Germans detained Gunden Clemens in a camp for more than a year before releasing her to the United States as part of a prisoner exchange.
After her release, Gunden Clemens returned to Goshen College to teach, and later earned her doctorate in French from Indiana University. She married widower Ernest Rittenhouse Clemens and after moving to Pennsylvania, she taught at Temple University from 1965 to 1975 and at North Penn High School in Lansdale. She editor of The Voice, the national publication of the Women’s Missionary Society of Mennonite Board of Missions and authored the widely read book Women Liberated.
In a 1989 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Gunden Clemens said, “It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female, but what matters is the person you are and what you can give to the life of the church and the community.”
Three of the Jewish children who were under Gunden Clemens’ care are still living, and were able to give testimonies to Yad Vashem about her.
Surely the Lord would say of Lois Gunden Clemens, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
Source: Redacted from Goshen College Communication and Marketing News Release, July 17, 2013 and used with permission.
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