Friedel BOHNY-REITER worked for the Swiss Children’s Aid and Red Cross Aid to Children in the Rivesaltes Camp Joffre from November 1941 to November 1942.
Many children, destined to be deported to death camps in Poland, were saved from certain death in Auschwitz by this young nurse from Basel. The documentary film ‘Journal de Rivesaltes 1941-1942’ tells her story with the help of the diary she kept religiously through those dark years, including interviews with some of those she saved. The film received an award in 1997 for best documentary at the Swiss Film Awards.
Touched by the misery of the interned Jews, Spanish refugees and Gypsies in Camp Joffre, Friedel tried to improve their lives, handing out extra food, organizing activities for the children and providing medical services. Prisoners received less than 1,000 calories of food each day; so many were ill, some near death from starvation. The agency supplied food, clothing, and medical treatment, as well as education, professional training, and culture
When the deportations began in August 1942, she smuggled Jewish children out of the camp to children’s homes, one of which was in Chambon-sur-Lignon in the Auvergne, whose inhabitants protected some 3000–5000 Jews from the Nazis between 1941 and 1944. The home was run by Auguste Bohny, later to become her husband.
Thanks to this brave young woman, many children were saved from certain death in the extermination camps in the East. For her efforts, she was decorated « Righteous among Nations » in 1990.
Friedel Bohny-Reiter’s diary, published fifty years after its creation, noted down daily her experience of the camp: hunger, fear, despair. Despite all the hardship, she wrote on December 15th, 1941 “These children’s eyes are the reason I stay here”.