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An unknown French wash woman.

It was a cold February morning in 1943. Little Gerda and her mother were German Jews living quietly on the fringes of society in Lyon, France. Gerda had stopped going to school because of the constant threat of arrest and so was at her mother’s side that morning when they entered 12 rue Ste. Catherine. Here were the offices of the UGIF, the “Jewish Council,” where Jews were required to report to receive ration coupons. This morning, however, was different from all the others.

On this morning there was a French wash woman scrubbing the stairs and as Gerta and her mother ascended, she discreetly signaled them to leave quickly. They heard later that day that the Gestapo had taken over the UGIF office that very morning and had arrested 90 people as they came for their coupons. An unknown French wash woman had been their salvation! How she wished she could meet this hero!

Many years passed and Gerda was now living in Paris with her husband. She attended a lecture and book signing with Germaine Ribiere, a scientist who had been involved in a famous case involving hidden Jewish children and the Church after the war. Her book signed by the elderly author, she left the lecture and thought of it only in passing now and then.

Again, years passed, and one day her husband excitedly ran into the room saying, “You must read this!” He handed her the obituary of this same Germaine Ribiere. It seems the famous advocate and author had done many amazing things in her life… including disguising herself once as a French wash woman to turn Jews away from a Gestapo snare at 12 rue Ste. Catherine in Lyon! In so doing, she had saved countless Jewish lives, including that of a little girl who one day, unknowingly, would meet her greatest hero.


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