In 1942, Belgium was experiencing its second year of brutal occupation by the Nazis. Jeanne Daman was a teacher in Brussels and a Catholic, who had never met a Jewish person in her young life.
She was surrounded, however, by the example of nuns in convents across Belgium who were actively hiding as many Jewish children as possible. When Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend public kindergartens, Jeanne accepted a position as head mistress of Nos Petits, a private school for Jewish students, numbering about 325 children. Every school day, however, two dramatic changes were note: some children simply disappeared as their families were rounded up for deportation, while others were instantly orphaned when their parents were arrested during school hours. Imagine how unbelievable and terrifying this must have seemed to their young teacher!
It became clear that desperate efforts were needed to save the children. Jeanne became part of a network which placed Jewish mothers in Belgian homes as maids and also placed orphaned children in private homes. As the children were so young, they could not be sent alone, and Jeanne traveled all over Belgium accompanying them to new homes. Eventually, she assumed a false identity and became a social worker for a German welfare organization, Secours d’Hiver. In this role she was able to carry out illegal operations and even to transport arms. By the end of the war, she had worked clandestinely with two underground organizations, the Mouvement Royal Belge and the Armee Belge des Partisans. When the war ended, she helped young Jewish children to be reunited with their families before moving to the US in 1946. In 1971, Jeanne was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations and in 1980 was awarded the Entr’aide Medal under the patronage of the King of Belgium. Where did Jeanne find the bravery for her intrepid deeds? She simply said she had been taught the difference between “right and wrong”.