A British woman is to be honoured by the Israeli Ambassador at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office next week, after she was recognised as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Yad Vashem in 2013.
Elsie Tilney’s acts of courage during World War II will be remembered on 21 January at a Commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, where guests will also hear from Professor Sergio Della Pergola, a Holocaust survivor.
Born in Norwich in 1893, Tilney became a missionary and went to North Africa, France and Austria. In 1939 she saw the persecution of Jews and smuggled Jewish toddler Ruth Buchholz out of Vienna to Paris, where her parents later found her.
In 1940 Tilney found herself an “enemy citizen” in the French capital, and was interred in a camp called Vittel, where she worked as an English teacher and helped save 250 Polish Jews, many of whom had fake passports and visas. When the Nazis realised that the documents were not authentic, Tilney and two colleagues – Sofka Skipwith and Madeleine White-Steinberg – worked to save the Jews from deportation. All three women have since been honoured by Yad Vashem.
Among the other extraordinary steps Tilney took was to hide 26-year old Sasha Krawee in her wardrobe for five months. Together with others from the Warsaw Ghetto, he had tried unsuccessfully to escape. But hidden until the camp was liberated, he escaped the transports to Auschwitz, unlike many of his friends.
“She took direct action to save him,” recalled Shulamit Troman, who was interned at the camp. “Only when the French and US troops arrived did I learn that Sasha had spent all those months in Miss Tilney’s room, and of her great courage in saving him.”