Arlette deMonceau Michaelis, who along with her family resisted the Germans and saved Jews in Belgium during the Holocaust, was honored in New York by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for her heroism in risking her life to save others.
On Wednesday Arlette received ADL’s Courage to Care Award, which honors rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era, during a ceremony at the League’s National Executive Committee meeting in Palm Beach, Florida.
“Arlette never believed she was doing anything more than the universal obligation to help other people,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director and a Holocaust survivor, who presented the award.
“As she states so simply but elegantly in the foreword of her book, ‘We had a sacred obligation to save innocent people regardless of citizenship, race or religion.’ In taking a moral stand, Arlette proved that is possible to choose to do a most demanding mitzvah against overwhelming odds and without hope of commendation or advantage,” he said.
Meager food rations
In accepting the award, the Brussels-born New Jersey native spoke of the essential importance of helping human beings in need, and praised her Belgian neighbors for not denouncing her family to the Nazis, despite knowing that they were protecting Jews.
“It is our human duty to help people regardless of creed, race or religion,” she said. “We did what we did … because it was the human thing to do. It was not only myself and my parents, but also my neighbors. The honor bestowed on my father and my family must also be shared with our neighbors. I never expected to be recognized for doing what was the human thing to do.”
During her teenage years, Arlette lived in Brussels amid the German occupation of Belgium during the war. She and her family resisted the Germans in many ways, including using their apartment to shelter Jews, bringing home contraband food from the countryside, harassing the Germans and publishing anti-Nazi propaganda in newsletters.
After Arlette’s parents and brother were imprisoned for their activities, she and her sister Ginette were on their own, dealing with frigid temperatures and meager food rations. During this time, Arlette’s apartment was often used to shelter Jews, and she became a courier and aid to Father Bruno Reynders, the Belgian monk who helped save hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust.
After the war, Arlette married and moved to New Jersey where she became a teacher. In 2006, she wrote about her experiences during the war in “Beyond The Ouija Board: A WWII Teenager in Occupied Belgium.”
In 1987, ADL created a unique award to honor rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era. The ADL Courage to Care Award is a plaque with bas-reliefs depicting the backdrop of the rescuers' exceptional deeds – the Nazis' persecution, deportation and murder of millions of Jews. The Courage to Care program is sponsored by Eileen Greenland.
Past recipients of the ADL Courage to Care Award include: Irene Gut Opdyke, Gilberto Bosques Saldívar, Eduardo Propper de Callejón, Khaled Abdelwahhab, Ernst Leitz II, Mefail and Njazi Bicaku, Hiram Bingham IV, Sir Nicholas Winton, Konstantin Koslovsky, Jan and Miep Gies, Aristides De Sousa Mendes, Jan Karski, Selahattin Ulkumen, Chiune Sugihara, the French town of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon, Emilie and Oskar Schindler, The Partisans of Riccione, Italy and Johanna Vos.
Additional information on the award, including the full list of past recipients, is available on the League’s Web site.