Holocaust accounts of two Irish women and an English nun with an Irish passport

Mary Elmes (centre) in Spain, 1938, with Alice Resch and colleague Juan
Mary Elmes (centre) in Spain, 1938, with Alice Resch and colleague Juan

During the past week more and more events have been held across Northern Ireland, the UK and elsewhere, in the run up to this coming Sunday’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day.

The indescribably tragic commemoration has already been the focus of several recent Roamer pages as the dark shadow of Hitler’s genocide again chills the collective soul of mankind.

Righteous Among the Nations Medal, front and back

Righteous Among the Nations Medal, front and back

Subsequent and more recent genocides are being commemorated as well, like Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur, just some of the countries devastated by conflict, torture and murder since the Second World War.

The only Irish citizen known to have died in the Holocaust was Ettie Gluck (nee Steinberg) who died in Auschwitz in 1942 with her Belgian husband Vogtjeck and their little son Leon.

Ettie and her six siblings were brought up by their Jewish-Czechoslovakian parents near Dublin’s South Circular Road. Ettie was born on January 11 1914, probably in Czechoslovakia before her family relocated to London, and then to Ireland in 1926.

In July 1937 Ettie married her Belgian boyfriend Vogtjeck Gluck in Dublin’s Greenville Hall Synagogue.

Yad Vashem Hall of Names, Jerusalem

Yad Vashem Hall of Names, Jerusalem

They moved to Belgium where Vogtjeck’s family business was located and when war broke out they fled to France, where son Leon was born on March 28 1939.

Three visas were sent from the British Home Office in Belfast to Toulouse, where Ettie’s little family was hiding, in fear of their lives

The visas permitted them to come to Northern Ireland, but the documents arrived a day too late.

They were caught in the round-up of Jews on 2 September 1942 and put on a train to Auschwitz, arriving there on September 4 1942.

Mary Elizabeth Elmes

Mary Elizabeth Elmes

Ettie, Vogtjeck and little Leon were hustled along the platform with hundreds of other Jews to the awaiting gas chambers.

But many Jews were saved from Hitler’s genocide by heroic, selfless, often rarely-hailed rescuers.

People like Germany’s Oskar Schindler and Britain’s Sir Nicholas Winton are well-marked by history, but some 25,000 lesser-known rescuers from over 40 countries are remembered and honoured by Israel as The Righteous Among the Nations, a title bestowed on non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust saving Jews from Hitler’s extermination camps.

The names of The Righteous are recorded on the Wall of Honour, or commemorated by a tree, in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where two names have strong Irish links.

Sister Agnés Walsh

Sister Agnés Walsh

Commemorating the Holocaust on this page four years ago was a gripping account taken from File Number 12543, which at the time was thought to contain details of the only Irish person named in the 25,000 files held at Yad Vashem.

She was Cork-born Mary Elizabeth Elmes, whose Righteous Among Nations medal was awarded on 23 January 2013 for her Second World War rescue missions at Pyrenees-Orientales.

But in 2017 Clare (Sister Agnés) Walsh, who sheltered Jews from the Nazis in her convent in southern France, was honoured with a plaque in her home town of Hull.

Sister Agnés, who died in 1993, received a Righteous Among the Nations medal in 1990, but her heroism wasn’t widely known about in Britain until 2017.

Her fearlessness and daring is recorded in File Number 4590 in Yad Vashem, and it was under the cover of her Irish passport that she undertook her heroic Second World War rescue mission in France!

Sister Agnés was assistant to the mother superior, Sister Granier, in the St Vincent de Paul convent in Cadouin, in the Dordogne region on France.

Ettie Steinberg

Ettie Steinberg

Born Ada Vallinda Walsh in Hull, Sister Agnés joined the Daughters of Charity, serving in Ireland, Jerusalem and then in France, at the convent in Cadouin.

In December 1943, during manhunts for Jews in the area, the Jewish Cremieux family was given refuge in the convent.

(During the occupation of France it is thought that around 76,000 French Jews were deported to German death camps. Only about 2,500 survived.)

Pierre Crémieux with his wife, two nine-month-old babies and their six-year-old son Alain, had tried unsuccessfully to get out of France.

Sister Agnés was profoundly moved by their plight and disregarding the extreme danger persuaded Sister Granier to shelter them.

The family remained in the convent until liberation, treated warmly and devotedly by the nuns.

Sister Agnés taught Alain English though she was pretending to be Irish and had an Irish passport from her time spent as a nun in Ireland.

As an Englishwoman - an ‘enemy alien’ - her presence was a further threat to the nuns’ community.

She was much safer coming from neutral Ireland, but even so she was risking death on a daily basis.

After the war the Crémieux family remained in touch with their rescuers and on 1 March 1990 Yad Vashem recognised Sister Agnés and Sister Granier as Righteous Among the Nations.

The only other Irish passport-holder honoured by Yad Vasham was Cork-born Mary Elizabeth Elmes whose Righteous Among Nations medal was awarded on January 23rd 2013 for her Second World War rescue missions at Pyrenees-Orientales.

In File Number 12543 Mary’s religion is recorded as Catholic; her job-title in France is specified as Head of Emergency, Quakers; her married name was Danjou; date of birth was May 5 1908, in Cork, Ireland, and date of death was March 9 2002 in Perpignan, southern France.

As an aid worker in France she was credited with saving the lives of hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust, often by hiding them in the boot of her car.

Ettie Steinberg on her wedding day in Dublin

Ettie Steinberg on her wedding day in Dublin