Elie Guy Francès

After the raid on the Jewish neighbourhoods of Brussels on the night of 3 September 1942, Moïse Francès realises that he must find a hiding place for himself, his wife, son and daughter.

Elie Guy Francès was born on 13 November 1928 in Thessaloniki, Greece. He was the son of Moïse, alias Maurice Francès, born on 17 November 1903 and Buena Francès, born in 1902, both in the same town. Shortly after Elie was born, his parents, uncles and aunt, immigrated to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, where Elie’s grandfather, Eliahu Moshé Francès, a renowned rabbi who was an expert in Sephardic religious law, had been offered a senior position at the historic Sephardic (“Portuguese”) community. Along with his wife and one of his sons, he would be deported in 1942 to Auschwitz, where they all were murdered.

Since Elie’s father, Moïse, spoke French but no Dutch, and since he wanted to establish his own business as a salesman, the Francès-Francès family relocated to Brussels in 1930, close to the Brussels-Midi train station, at 41 Rue d’Angleterre in Saint-Gilles, a Jewish neighborhood at the time. Elie’s sister Mathilde was born in Etterbeek, Brussels, on 25 May 1932. Although the family’s financial situation was precarious, Elie had a happy childhood. He attended a public school, where he became friends with two Jewish classmates, Gaston and Max. Together they experienced anti-Semitism on several occasions.

While Buena took care of the children, Moïse Francès, as a salesman, travelled a lot by train. Elie’s parents were very religious, faithfully keeping the laws of “kashrut”, the rules of the Jewish religion about food, and refraining from all forbidden activities on Shabbat (Saturday) and the Jewish holidays.

Elie and his father Moïse attended every Saturday the small Sephardic synagogue on Rue Joseph Dupont in Brussels, where Moïse was a cantor. The Francès-Francès family still lived in Saint-Gilles when Nazi Germany invaded Belgium, on May 10, 1940. Elie, his parents and sister were not arrested during the raid on the Jewish neighbourhoods of Brussels on the night of 3 September 1942, as his father showed the German soldiers a certificate from the Italian Consulate, that conferred Italian protection on them as Greek citizens.

However, understanding that they would not have the same good fortune a second time, Moïse started looking for a hiding place. Mr. Schnitzler, from Liège, a business partner, arranged a hiding place for Elie and Moïse in his home on Rue de Serbie in Liège, while Buena and Mathilde were hidden in Mrs. Schnitzler’s mother’s home on Place Sainte-Véronique, not far from there. Mr. Schnitzler changed Elie’s name to Guy, since Elie sounded “too Jewish” in those fateful times. Elie was able to go outside, work and run errands, and for a short period even go to school with his sister, thanks to a headmaster who was a member of the Resistance.

The family learned to live with danger, and to make the best of the difficult circumstances; nonetheless, they all were very aware of the ongoing danger of being denounced and caught. This almost happened, and only the vigilance of the Resistance prevented a letter denouncing them from reaching the Sicherheitspolizei-Sicherheitsdienst (Sipo-SD) headquarters in Liège.
After the Liberation of Liège in September 1944, the Francès family returned to Brussels. Elie, his parents and sister lived for some time in a squalid hotel, while looking for a new place to live, since their apartment had been ransacked and confiscated by the Nazis.

Elie, who after the war was known as Guy to everyone, built a career for himself. In 1952 he started to work as an accountant for Sabena, Société Anonyme Belge d’Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne, the Belgian national airline at the time, in Leopoldville, then Belgian Congo. In 1953 he married Rachel Grunbaum, who had lost her father and a sister during the war. The couple returned to Belgium in 1957. Rachel Grunbaum passed away on 20 November 2000.

Courtesy of Jacques Klapholz, nephew of Elie Guy Francès.