Luck And The Kindness Of Others: How Jericho's Henry Weinstock Escaped The Nazis

Jul 16, 2018

Jericho's Henry Weinstock survived the Nazi occupation of Belgium during World War II before coming to the U.S. with his father in 1946. The son of a secular Jewish family, he credits his survival during the war as much to the compassion of Belgian nuns as to sheer luck.

A school photo of Henry Weinstock.
Credit Ric Cengeri / VPR

Weinstock's story is the latest conversation with interesting Vermonters produced by Vermont Edition producer Ric Cengeri, capturing their wise voices and incredible stories. 

1940s school report cards for Henry Weinstock, née Henri Gerard.
Credit Ric Cengeri / VPR

Weinstock was born in Antwerp, Belgium. As he and his father tried to escape the Nazi occupation of the country, they were denied entry to France because of his father's Hungarian ancestry.

At one point, cousins Henry was visiting with just a few hours earlier were arrested and eventually sent to Auschwitz. As Weinstock relates, they were never heard from again.

Henry's father met a Catholic priest, Edouard Froidure. "He was very sympathetic to the plight of families that were trying to escape the racist laws," Weinstock explains. "He said, 'Look, I will baptize your child and he will no longer be considered a pariah. He will be a good Catholic.'"

After being baptized, he was taken to the southern part of France (the "Battle of the Bulge region"), where, along with 82 other Jewish children, he was taught and protected by local Catholic nuns for the next two-and-a-half years.

The children were given French names; his was Henri Albert Gerard - and had no communication with their parents. "That, to a child, in the scale of human feeling, is more terrible than anything else."

Regarding what he learned from the experience during World War II, Weinstock says, "When you espouse too much fanaticism in any kind of thinking, you almost become dispassionate to your fellow human beings in the name of that thinking. This is the consequence."

Several years ago, the 83 Jewish children who were saved from the Nazis by the Belgian nuns held a reunion in New York City, an event Weinstock calls "a beautiful moment."

"We were family, we were the surrogate family. There were moments where we just looked at each other, touched each other, but we just couldn't talk ... There are certain experiences in human existence that is beyond description, beyond articulation." - Henry Weinstock

After coming to the United States, Weinstock served as a professor of French Literature. He says he lives his life "manifesting for peace on earth." As Henry says, "We need more compassion in our behavior."

Broadcast on Monday, July 16, 2018 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.