Three French Catholics have been posthumously awarded the title of "Righteous Among the Nations" for saving a Jewish teenager from Nazi persecution in Rome.
Between 1943 and 1944, three men united to save a life. Three French Catholics—Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, one of the leading prelates of the Roman Curia; Msgr. André Bouquin, rector of St. Louis of the French in Rome; and French diplomat François de Vial—have been posthumously awarded the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” for saving a Jewish teenager, Miron Lerner, from Nazi persecution in Rome.
Miron Lerner was born in 1927 in Paris to Jewish parents from Odessa. He and his older sister Rivka were orphaned in 1937.
In search of safety, in 1941 Rivka sought to move Miron from an orphanage in Paris to one in Moissac, which was in the Free Zone. However, they found it had been invaded in the meantime, and they decided to leave for St. Gervais with the idea of going to Switzerland. As it turned out, by 1943 they ended up in Rome instead.
A rescue in several stages
There, they lived alternately in convents, hotels, and private homes. It was there that Miron Lerner met Fr. Pierre-Marie Benoît, a Capuchin friar, and activists from Delasem, a Jewish rescue organization housed in a Capuchin monastery. Fr. Pierre-Marie helped Lerner as much as he could until he was discovered and fled Rome, narrowly escaping arrest.
Cardinal Tisserant was informed of the young man’s situation and decided to meet him immediately. When the young man told the cardinal he was Jewish, he replied: “That is irrelevant. What can I do for you?”
Cardinal Tisserant then smuggled him into the Vatican, with Lerner lying on the floor at the cardinal’s feet. The young man was then entrusted to François de Vial, secretary of the French representative in the Vatican. The latter hid him for a few days in his house and then he was sheltered in another small convent in the Vatican.
Sheltered in a convent
As the situation deteriorated, Bishop Tisserant decided to transfer him in May 1944 to the convent near the church of St. Louis of the French, which was under the direction of Msgr. André Bouquin. Miron Lerner remained there until June 1945.
After the end of the war, Miron Lerner stayed in Rome for a while. He later returned to Paris, where he was able to be reunited with his sister. Lerner would eventually write about the Cardinal Eugene Tisserant’s heroic deeds in saving the lives of many Jews during the Holocaust, including Lerner himself.