Thursday, October 2, 2008

Robert Maistriau: Farewell to Resistance Hero


Belgium paid its final respects Wednesday to the last survivor of a resistance team that in 1943 rescued over 200 Jews from a train to Auschwitz with no more than a pistol, three pairs of wire cutters, a lantern and a red rag.

Robert Maistriau, who died on Friday aged 87, was 22 when he and two friends hijacked a train deporting over 1,600 Jews from Belgium to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.

On the night of April 19, 1943 (the same day that the Warsaw ghetto uprising began), the trio Maistriau, Youra Livchitz (25) and Jean Franklemon (25) bicycled from their Brussels homes some 40 kilometers to Boortmeerbeek in Flanders.

There they wrapped their lantern in a red rag and laid it on the eastbound railway track as an impromptu stop sign. Lying in the darkness, they watched as the train ground to a halt.

Maistriau then crept out and ran to the train, forcing a carriage door open with his wire cutters.

Seventeen deportees jumped out of the wagon and fled as guards opened fire. While Livchitz fired, Maistriau and Franklemon broke open a second wagon, urging the prisoners to run for their lives.

As the guards closed in, the trio took to their bicycles, racing back to Brussels. When the train finally set off, the men in another wagon broke into the open cars and escaped as well.

It was the only time in occupied Europe that resistance fighters liberated a deportation train.

Livchitz was shot by the Nazis in 1943. Maistriau was arrested in March 1944 and deported to Bergen-Belsen, from which he was liberated in April 1945. Franklemon died in 1977.

He was buried in the cemetery of Woluwe-Saint-Lambert in Brussels Wednesday. (Source: Haaretz)

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