Lois Gunden, an American Mennonite who helped save Jewish children in France during the Holocaust, was recognized by Yad Vashem Monday as the fourth American to be named a Righteous Among the Nations.
Gunden will be honored posthumously at a ceremony to take place in the United States, where her niece Mary Jean Gunden will accept the medal and certificate of honor on her behalf.
Gunden, a French teacher from Goshen, Ind., went to southern France in 1941 to serve with the Mennonite Central Committee. She joined the Secours Mennonite aux Enfants in Lyon and was sent to establish a children’s home in Canet Plage, located on the Mediterranean Sea. The children’s center became a safe haven for the children of Spanish refugees as well as for Jewish children, many of whom were smuggled out of the nearby internment camp of Rivesaltes.
Gunden personally interceded to save Jewish children, including reassuring parents that she would take care of them and shield them from the Nazis.
In November 1942, the Germans occupied southern France. Although Gunden was considered an enemy alien after the United States entered the war, she continued to run the children’s center.
Two months later, Gunden was detained by the Germans until she was released in 1944 in a prisoner exchange, later returning to her home in Indiana.
Gunden joins Varian Fry and Waitstill and Martha Sharp as Americans to be named Righteous Gentiles.