Judith Hemmendinger

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Judith Hemmendinger
Hemmendinger (center) with Buchenwald children in France, circa 1945–1947
Hemmendinger (center) with Buchenwald children in France, circa 1945–1947
Born Judith Feist
(1923-10-02) October 2, 1923 (age 94)
Bad Homburg vor der Höhe, Germany
Occupation Researcher, author
Language French
Education PhD, University of Strasbourg, 1981
Subject Child survivors of the Holocaust
Notable works Les enfants de Buchenwald: que sont devenus les 1000 enfants juifs sauvés en 1945? (1984)
The Children of Buchenwald: Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Their Post-war Lives (2000)
Notable awards French Legion of Honor (2003)
Spouse Claude Hemmendinger
Children 3

Judith Hemmendinger (born October 2, 1923)[1][2] is a German-born Israeli researcher and author specializing in child survivors of the Holocaust. During World War II she was a social worker and refugee counselor for the Œuvre de secours aux enfants (OSE), a French Jewish children's aid organization based in Geneva, and from 1945 to 1947 directed a home for child survivors of Buchenwald in France. She has authored books and papers on the Holocaust experiences and later lives of child survivors. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 2003.

Early life[edit]

She was born Judith Feist in Bad Homburg vor der Höhe, Germany, to Phillip Feist, a native of Frankfurt who worked as a mining engineer, and his wife Hannah.[1][3] Her family was Orthodox Jewish and well-off.[1] She was the second of five children.[2] When she was five years old, her father found employment in the Parisian suburb of Eaubonne and moved the family to France. As the only Jews in their locale, the Feist children attended public school, where they spoke French and learned secular subjects, while at home they spoke German and were tutored in Hebrew and Bible.[1][2] When her older sister began high school, Judith's family moved to Paris.[1]

World War II[edit]

The outbreak of war in September 1939 found the Feists on their annual summer vacation in Megève, southern France. Phillip Feist was arrested as an enemy alien and deported to a detention camp in Normandy. The rest of the family was assigned to a house in Megève.[1] Upon Phillip's release in June 1940, the family traveled to Roanne in the French Free Zone. However, German officials advised Phillip to return to Paris, while his wife and children stayed in Roanne.[1] Later Phillip traveled to Nice to open a school at the behest of Rabbi Schneour Zalman Schneersohn.[1][3] He was arrested at the Nice train station and interned in the Gurs internment camp. He was afterwards deported to the Drancy internment camp and on to Auschwitz in September 1943, where he was killed on the same day he arrived.[1]

In summer 1942 Judith began working at a youth hostel for hidden children operated by the Œuvre de secours aux enfants (OSE), a French Jewish children's aid organization based in Geneva.[1][4] On January 1, 1943, she traveled under the alias of Jacqueline Fournier to Taluyers and joined a covert hakhshara (Zionist agricultural training institute) operated by the Eclaireuses et Eclaireurs israélites de France under the guise of an agricultural school. The student body of 22 young Jewish men and women all carried false papers.[1] She developed a relationship with one of the students, Claude Hemmendinger, but in September 1943 her mother called her to accompany her and her younger siblings on an escape to Switzerland following her father's arrest. The family trekked over the Alps with a guide but was arrested after crossing the border and was detained in Geneva.[1]

After their release, they were sent to a refugee camp, where Judith worked as a teacher. She applied for a six-month course being offered by the OSE to train social workers "to deal with the post-war situation", and was accepted.[1] As part of her job, she interviewed child refugees traveling under false papers to find out their true identities, with the goal of reuniting them with their families after the war.[1]

Jewish youth liberated from Buchenwald en route to the OSE children's home in Ecouis, France.

In May 1945 she responded to the OSE's call for volunteers to care for child survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp. She traveled to the Chateau d'Ambloy in Loir-et-Cher, France, where a home had been set up for 90 to 100 teenage boys from Orthodox homes who had requested kosher facilities and a higher level of religious observance than that being provided to the larger group of Buchenwald child survivors in France.[1][5] Though only 22 years of age,[6] Judith replaced the director, who found it difficult to relate to the youth.[1] She stayed with the home on its move to the Chateau de Vaucelles in Taverny in October 1945 and remained as its director until September 1947, when the last child had found a permanent placement.[1][5][6] Among the boys under her care were Yisrael Meir Lau, the future Chief Rabbi of Israel; his brother Naphtali Lau-Lavie; Menashe Klein, the future Ungvarer Rav; and Elie Wiesel.[5][7] Explaining her success with the boys, who had displayed extreme trauma and anti-social behavior upon their arrival in France,[8] she said: "I loved them, I never judged them, I became attached to them and I felt that it was reciprocal".[9]

After the home closed, Judith went to London to stay with her aunt and uncle. There she received a letter from Claude Hemmendinger, her fellow student at the hakhshara, who wished to see her again. They met in Paris and were married in September 1948. At first they settled on a kibbutz in Beit She'an, Israel, but returned to Claude's mother's home in Strasbourg after the death of his father. They resided in Strasbourg for 20 years.[10] They had two sons and one daughter.[10]

Education and research[edit]

In Strasbourg, Judith Hemmendinger began seeing a psychotherapist to work through her wartime experiences.[10] Upon the family's return to Israel in 1969, she undertook a formal education, earning her bachelor's degree in Jerusalem, her master's degree at Bar-Ilan University, and her PhD at the University of Strasbourg in 1981.[10] Her doctoral thesis was titled "Rehabilitation of Young Camp Survivors after the Death Camps".[11]

In 1982 she published the paper "Psychosocial adjustment 30 years later of people who were in Nazi concentration camps as children".[12] In 1984 she co-authored, with Elie Wiesel, Les enfants de Buchenwald: que sont devenus les 1000 enfants juifs sauvés en 1945? (The children of Buchenwald: What became of the 1,000 Jewish children rescued in 1945?) (Favre, 1984), and in 1986, Survivors: Children of the Holocaust (National Press, 1986). Dr. Robert Krell, a Holocaust survivor, saw the Dutch translation of the 1984 book, and in 2000 he translated it into English with supplementary material under the title The Children of Buchenwald: Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Their Post-war Lives (Gefen, 2000).[13]

Hemmendinger remained in contact with the Buchenwald children and their offspring for years.[10] In 1970 she was invited by the child survivors to a dinner commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald.[14]

In 2003 she was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her work to rehabilitate the child survivors of Buchenwald.[15]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Photo Archives: Judith Hemmendinger poses with a group of Jewish DP youth who numbered among the Buchenwald children, at an OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants) children's home in France". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 20 November 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Hemmendinger & Krell 2000, p. 17.
  3. ^ a b "Photo Archives: Studio portrait of Dr. Phillip Feist, director of a religious children's home in France". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  4. ^ Hemmendinger & Krell 2000, p. 18.
  5. ^ a b c Schmidt, Shira, and Mantaka, Bracha. "A Prince in a Castle". Ami, September 21, 2014, pp. 136–143.
  6. ^ a b Heberer 2011, pp. 406–407.
  7. ^ Niven 2007, p. 49.
  8. ^ Hemmendinger & Krell 2000, pp. 27–29.
  9. ^ "REVENUS DU NEANT: La genèse du livre" ['Revenge of the Nothing': Genesis of the book] (in French). Le judaïsme d'Alsace et de Lorraine. Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Hemmendinger & Krell 2000, p. 19.
  11. ^ Krell, Robert (February 2014). "The Buchenwald Children and Other Child Survivors" (PDF). The 1939 Society. Retrieved 20 November 2016. 
  12. ^ Robinson, Shalom; Hemmendinger, Judith (1982). "Psychosocial adjustment 30 years later of people who were in Nazi concentration camps as children". Series in Clinical & Community Psychology: Stress & Anxiety. 8: 397–399. 
  13. ^ Hemmendinger & Krell 2000, p. 16.
  14. ^ Goldberger & Breznitz 2010, p. 1237.
  15. ^ "Discours de l'Amiral René Bloch en l'honneur de Judith Hemmendinger" [Speech by Admiral René Bloch in honor of Judith Hemmendinger] (in French). Le judaïsme d'Alsace et de Lorraine. 9 December 2003. Retrieved 21 November 2016. 


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