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August 8, 2003/Av 10 5763, Vol. 55, No. 50

A Jewish 'Schindler's list'

Fred Loewy
Fred Loewy, Elias' son, who fought in the French resistance, holds a picture of himself from World War II.
Photo by Barry Cohen
Well documented is how righteous Gentiles, such as Oskar Schindler, helped save Jews from certain death at the hands of Nazis and their sympathizers.

Less known is how Jews acted to save themselves.

One example is Elias Loewy, who, with his immediate family, freed hundreds of Jews from a French concentration camp. He survived World War II, moved to Phoenix with his family and helped found the Jewish Free Loan Association and Beth Hebree Congregation.

Soon after the French surrendered to the Germans at the start of World War II, policemen arrested the Loewy family one morning at 6 a.m. and told them they were being taken to a camp, says Glendale resident Fred Loewy, Elias' son. "There was no warning at all. We couldn't take anything with us," he recalls.

According to a French law, foreigners who arrived in France after 1936 were to be placed in concentration camps. The Loewys moved to France in 1926 but were imprisoned because they were Jewish, says Loewy.

After only a few days Elias told his family that they were not going to stay in the camp any longer, says Loewy.

Elias convinced the camp com-mander to use his family as hostages and allow him to visit the governor's office in Montpellier to argue for their release, says Loewy. In the hallway of the office, he saw Gamille Ernst, second in charge to the governor - and Elias' ex-business partner.

When Elias told Ernst about his family's internment in the Agde concentration camp, Ernst re-sponded, "You are free."

Elias also supplied a list of 36 others - all who arrived in France before 1936 - to be freed. According to the law, those who arrived before this date but lacked enough money to be self-sufficient for a year had to remain imprisoned, says Loewy.

Elias devised a plan to free those lacking financial resources. He lent a sufficient amount of money to a poor family for them to prove to camp administrators they would not depend upon the government; upon release, that family lent the same money to another poor family for them to be freed, says Loewy. This process continued until Agde camp administrators began to record the serial numbers on the bills, he says.

"Then (the family) became money laund-erers," says Loewy. "We took money to banks, to grocery stores and exchanged the bills so that they would have different serial numbers."

By the time the Agde concentration camp was shut down in 1942, Elias had saved 1,500 people, says Loewy. At that point, Fred and his brother Max joined the French resistance; Capt. Aaron Bank of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services - founder of the Green Berets - trained them to oppose the German occupiers.

During one battle, when 120 partisans opposed 3,000 German-led troops, Max was killed, says Loewy.

"We were side by side. I was just 15 feet away from him," he recalls.

At the end of the war, the Loewy family returned to the French city of Montpellier. Elias was one of the people put in charge of the Federation of Jewish Societies to help refugees who returned from the concentration camps, says Loewy.

Elias "helped put them back on their feet with self-respect," he says.

The Loewy family came to the United States in 1946 and moved to Phoenix in 1948.

Elias contributed his experience helping his fellow Jews in the aftermath of World War II to the Valley's Jewish community by organizing the Phoenix Jewish Free Loan Association and helping found Beth Hebree Congregation.

Elias died in 1954 at the age of 73.

Refugee survived by saving himself

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