Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Great Loss In 2007-Andree de Jongh/1916-2007

We have seen the loss of many incredible people in 2007 including Norman Mailer, David Halberstam, Ike Turner,etc.

One woman's passing attracted little attention around the world. Only the New York Times chose to honor her. She was born in a suburb of Brussels. She started her life as a commercial artist. She was a petite woman who weighed barely 100 lbs.When war broke out in 1940, she quit her job and joined the Belgian Red Cross. She began by nursing wounded allied soldiers. When her country surrendered to the Nazis in May, 1940, and British troops were evacuated, she turned her attention to helping allied airmen shot down over Belgium. She would find downed airmen places to stay,clothes,food,money,and new ID documents.

She went on to set up what I would describe as an "underground railway" to evacuate the airmen and sometimes soldiers from Belgium to Spain where they could be repatriated back to Britain. She would escort groups of allied airmen on a perilous 600 mile journey across the smuggler's route in the Pyreneese Mountains into Spain. Allied intelligence officers gaver her the nickname of "The Postman." She helped downed airmen,soldiers, and even civilians to make this 600-mile journey.

She was responsible for guiding 118 people to freedom in Spain. Hundreds more escaped using the network of safe houses she had established.

Many of her helpers were arrested including her sister who was sent to a concentration camp and her father who was shot by the Germans.

De Jongh herself was captured with three airmen in a farm house at the foot of the French Pyreneese mountains in 1943. She endured twenty interrogations before finally confessing to being involved in "The Comet Line" and even admitting she was the mastermind. The Germans laughed at her and refused to believe her. She was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. The Gestapo decided to question her further. They could not find her among the female inmates. They could not recognize her from pictures they had.

She miraculously survived the concentration camp. After the war, she was decorated by King George VI and honored by the American and French governments. She was named a countess in Belgium.

She went to the Belgium Congo and spent 28 years as a nurse in a leper colony. She also served in a hospital in Ethiopia.

When her health started to fail, she returned to Belgium. She lived out her life in the countryside near the fields and safe houses where she had helped so many.