More than 50 years ago, Eva Edmands and her parents fled Austria to escape Nazi persecution. After an unsuccessful attempt to cross into Switzerland from France, they sought refuge in a Catholic church in the small town of Annecy.
It was there that they met the Rev. L'abbe Longeray, who risked his own life to shelter the family from 1942 to 1945 in the rectory of St. Martin, a tiny mountain-top parish.
Upon emigrating to the United States in 1948, Mrs. Edmands, now a Lawrence resident, vowed to tell the world of the priest who kept three Jewish strangers alive during the Holocaust. She finally got her wish in 1989.
The Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, which is the official Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, recently accepted her testimony and accorded Longeray their highest honor, the title of "Just Among Nations." They also planted a tree in the priest's memory at the Yad Vashem's Garden of the Just.
IN EARLY May of this year, Mrs. Edmands returned to Annecy to participate in a commemorative ceremony for Longeray and three other priests. More than 400 guests, including officials from the French and Israeli governments, listened as she described her experiences during World War II.
"The first thing I did was go back to the mountain top," she said recently. "It was then that I had a real homecoming."
One of her childhood classmates, who is now mayor of St. Martin, came out to greet her, and she also visited with an 80-year-old woman who had known her family.
"I stayed for a week with my grade-school teacher in Annecy," she said. "I met many, many people from my past."
MRS. EDMANDS said the ceremony for the four priests was highly emotional.
"The beautiful finale was when the "Medal of the Just" was awarded posthumously to Father Longeray and the current priest accepted it in his name," she said. "Then they decided to put the medal in a glass case on permanent display at his old parish."
The medal bears a saying from the Talmud: "He who saves a life saves all of humanity."
Although many would prefer to forget the atrocities of the Holocaust, Mrs. Edmands hopes to keep alive the memories of the 6 million Jews and thousands of Christians who died as the result of Nazi persecution during the war. She also seeks to spread the word of caring individuals, such as Longeray, who demonstrated true heroism despite the terrifying consequences.
"PEOPLE always hear about the horrors," she said. "I want them to know of the good things. Because one good person did something, I am here today. If there aren't people like me, then there won't be anyone to preserve their memories."
About once each month, she shares her story with local schools, churches, and civic and community groups. In October, she will travel to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., for a videotaped interview about her life during the Holocaust.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City also contacted Mrs. Edmands in a search of permanent exhibit memorabilia.
"I donated about 50 family photos and documents that they were really interested in acquiring," she said. "I gave them a copy of my false IDs and old passports. They were very excited to get those. It was difficult to part with them, but I know they'll make a lasting contribution to humanity."