by Peter Menkin
: NELEE LANGMUIR’S STORY AS FROM THE VIDEO
Introduction. Before Nelee Langmuir’s death in Summer, 2010, her daughter wrote of her mother’s experience as a Hidden Child. She wrote of it 2005, September 3 and Debra Wanner in so doing added her voice as a new generation to her mother’s story. Here she serves as an introduction to the condensed narrative that follows of Nelee’s oral history that tells of her remembrance of that time in her childhood, and that of her sister’s, when through the help of good people in France, she and her sister escaped from the German Nazi occupiers who would have otherwise sent them to a death camp from France.
Nelee’s complete video narrative is comprised as an interview this writer viewed at the Holocaust Center of Northern California, San Francisco as set up for the screen by their archivist Judith Janec. The more than three hour “monologue” of memory is an interview punctuated with thoughtful questions by Peter Ryan and Elizabeth Ryan. Nelee’s face is seen throughout the remembrance; voices of the interviewers come to audio only from time to time. Nelee is moved deeply in a visible sense from time to time throughout the talk of her own Hidden Child experience, and it shows that she is a woman of strength and intelligence, as she apparently was, too, as a child–As her sister must have been too– And in addition, as her parents were, as they, too, were flexible and resourceful human beings.
As Cynthia Haven wrote of Nelee Langmuir in her obituary that appeared in “Stanford News,” of her death August 11, 2010 in Nelee’s Stanford home at 78, the August 18, 2010 article notes: “…In Our Stories, a publication by Bay Area Hidden Children (the [San Francisco] chapter of an international organization), Langmuir recalled the first day in 1942 when she wore the yellow star.” Debra Wanner, in that same book writes of her mother’s statement in the same book:
I was affected deeply by my mother having been a hidden child in the war. What first comes to mind is that at around ten years old I was in my grandparents’ study looking around at the interesting pieces of décor on their bookshelves; a miniature chess set, a small crystal candy dish and a little box. I opened the box and saw a letter that was written in French. Being the nosey, curious child that I was I pulled it out and began to try to read it. It began, “Chers Maman et Papa.” My grandfather came in the room and I showed him the letter and asked him about it. He read it to me and translated the French as he went.
This letter was actually two letters combined. They were from my mother and my aunt written during the time they were being hidden in France. The girls wrote about what they were doing and how they hoped they would all be able to be together again before too long. I remember small and tender words…
…I have a very visceral response to this memory as I write these words on the page: a closing of my throat, pulling in of my gut, folding of my torso, and welling of tears and holding in of my breath. I wonder if I was having those same feelings as I sat there on the couch with my grandfather listening and asking questions about the letter and at the same time trying to comprehend what was being unfolded…”
One important point to offer in this article-Obituary is to remake the contention that it is a part of Jewish History and a purpose of contemporary Jewish religious work, even in the ethnic or cultural Jewish sense, to remember the Holocaust and to tell the story of it from generation to generation. This general statement ties in with a statement in the Psalms that individuals shall tell the story of God, of Him, from generation to generation. This writer recalls these important parts of the instruction of the Psalm because the Jewish faith, and that of Christian denominations in their faith, is to tell of God in both history and in 21st century history. Nelee Langmuir’s video testimony plays a living role in the history of the Jewish faith.
Without being too far sidetracked, this writer tried to establish, if briefly, what the college age generation might think of the holocaust experience, and what it meant to them. In an effort to do this, a research institute contacted regarding the subject offered this quote about contemporary university level anti-Semitism:
“Comparisons to experiences during the Holocaust are always difficult, if not impossible. Nevertheless, it would seem to be particularly disturbing to those who experienced this horrific event to see Holocaust imagery in today’s world, on college campuses no less. The idea that today some Jewish students might contemplate whether it is wise to wear a kippah, or a Jewish star around their neck seems absurd, but sadly is a reality on some campuses. Caricatures of Israelis and Jews circulate that too closely resemble those of Der Stermer’s Nazi era comics. The blood libel resurfacing in the form of leaflets depicting cans of “Palestinian baby meat…manufactured according to Jewish rites” are disturbing reminders that, while Jews enjoy unprecedented freedom and security today, anti-Semitism remains very much alive.”
Aryeh Wineburg offered the above in an email, saying, also, “…My title is Director of Research at the Institute for Jewish & Community Research. Also, I am co-author on the UnCivil University….”
This writer replied in that same email thread:
For me, your quote is important because you emphasize a thought that I don’t. That is, that the Holocaust as experience has no real comparison to today’s range of anti-Semitism. I’ve heard this viewpoint a few times this past year especially, and I am beginning to take it in light of a generational difference in thinking (by Jews and non-Jews). For me in my generation, the Holocaust remains a primary experience in Western History, and has become a solid part of the past century’s definition of horror that spills into the consciousness of the 21st Century. That it might happen again, I believe that consideration is moot and you addressed it in the background talk we had by phone today. That is, if it were so, demonstrations and political actions regarding such activity as Hitler’s Germany practiced would be actively pursued by Jews.
This difference in viewpoint regarding the imperative of anti-Semitism as noted in your statement does diminish the danger of the anti-Semitic act. But more to the older generation, and even my generation of Baby Boomers, the depth of experience the Holocaust offers, and its act remains tied to an attitude towards Israel as a State–that Israel has a right to exist. This is not to say, that there is a specific cause and effect between the Holocaust and creation of Israel, but that people who are younger support Israel with less determination and not the refusal of equivocation as do those of the older generations.
Where I found out more on this subject was from Rabbi Adlerstein of The Simon Wiesenthal Center and Rabbi Cooper. Both I talked with for another article on the phone and that viewpoint appeared to be their stance. A stance held through telephone conversation and in their public writings, too. That’s what I think.
I am not trying to diminish the value and impact of your statement regarding campus problems, a contemporary issue that is probably trendy as well…In a sense, anti-Semitism remains alive and well on campuses, and is a block to religious expression and practice, as well as hateful and a breeder of hate towards young people and the Jewish community. So I have learned. I will use your statement, as it is a timely and good one of news value that is helpful in illuminating a sense of proportion and generational view of the current anti-Semitism issue. It also seems a reasonable statement to my ears. So I am grateful that you made it and as I say I’ll use the statement in the Obituary-article.
To a degree, I am glad for our phone conversation for when talking about these hate issues and Jewish inter-faith concerns as well as societal practices (in colleges, hate talk?!), I recall Rabbi Adlerstein pointing out that there needs to be a lesson in these kind of comments. I am looking for that lesson, and think that your statement itself can stand as a question of issue. This allows the reader to come to a conclusion in an article-Obituary and find a meaning, even a lesson of life and history. These are big ideas, and my ambition is not so great that in writing about Nelee Langmuir I must fulfill the stated “lesson” concept. Considering it is enough to write the article=Obituary.
At this point, as I come to the end of my research for the article-Obituary, and must turn to thinking of writing the piece, the thrust it holds in my mind is one of an Obituary that tells of an experience, and character of a woman, the goodness of the Righteous Ones (non-Jews), and the recalling and telling a part of one person’s story with hate and horror in history that seems so long ago. Her life experience is not really forgotten and is still alive. That it is alive, the Holocaust, even after the death of someone like Nelee Langmuir Hidden Child, and it needs to be kept in memory, told from generation to generation. That is my understanding of a Jewish imperative and lesson offered regarding the events. As a Religion Writer, the single important element of the Obituary is that it be told from generation to generation. So far no one has said that to me, so I have no quote for it. The other focus as you know is the goodness of strangers who helped this Hidden Child and her sister, offering brave alternatives and battles with evil at the risk of their own lives—sometimes sacrificed to their integrity. Despite Nelee Langmuir’s tragedy as a child and the misery of it for her life, she prevailed. The Director of the Righteous Ones memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel said to me that Nelee Langmuir lived a successful and happy life. This is important, for she prevailed as did the community (both Jewish Community, and the Stanford Community where she was so welcomed, and where she worked).
In a more simple way, the evil acts of rounding people up and also labeling them with means that make them a target for hate and harm, are answered with those who resisted evil. They could say: We did it because it was wrong. They did the good thing. A truly human thing.
NELEE’S MEMOIR STARTING IN PARIS, FRANCE—SOME NOTES ON THE VIDEO NARRATIVE OF NELEE LANGMUIR KEPT IN ARCHIVE AT HOLOCAUST CENTER OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
Nelee explains that her father was an electrical engineer, but that he worked mostly in metals, buying and selling, and was a successful man at this business so that his family were economically well off enough to live comfortably on the buying and selling of nickel. This educated and successful life of theirs was not a promise by its own of escaping Nazi occupiers who sought their lives and possession. For the Langmuirs, it was the goodness of others that contributed so considerably to their escape to survive the war and occupation in France.
There is little doubt that the director of the school Nelee and her sister attended helped greatly in getting the two sisters out of Paris, probably making a difference that was responsible for the saving of their lives. It was the beginning of a journey of having their lives saved, for during this journey to safety in America as children many good French men, women, and I say children, helped them on their course.
In Paris, Nelee recalls, the registration of the Jews began in 1941. It was that same year that the Langmuir family declared themselves Jewish. They were somewhat secular in their practices, and though not distinguishably ethnically Jewish, it was the father who attended Temple. If they had not worn the Stars, things would have been worse for them. In a family discussion and vote on the matter, that Nelee describes as an historic and seminal turning point for the family in their identity and their life’s experiences as Jews, this decision was by the entire family: We must wear the Jewish Stars, Nelee realized and all complied in a kind of defeat.
Though the father was more of the practicing Jew than the mother, as was noted earlier, the children were friends of many children of Christian faith; they did not live in a Jewish neighborhood, though had many Jewish friends as children, too. They were from Paris, and the father considered himself a Parisian and Frenchman to a large extent, though born elsewhere than France. For example, regarding their faith and ethnicity, the Langmuir parents spoke both Yiddish, and Russian.
So much changed for France and the Langmuir family, for Nelee is specific in saying that she remembered well the beginning of the war. “People were fearful.” This was 1939. In June, 1940, Germans entered Paris, and it was then that the family began the journey of flight from what they were not sure, but from something evil. They left for the coast (the Atlantic in the Southwest). They did return to Paris for the sake of friends and relatives, to gather with others and at the time were very close to getting to the United States. But it didn’t happen. They were missing one paper for exit as part of their processing. True, in the long run, at the end of their journey, they would get to America, and would end up in California’s Sacramento, and in Marysville (close to Sacramento, 90 miles north of San Francisco).
For the record, Nelee mentions in her narrative memoire in the video that as a child she and her sister, 11 and 6 years old respectively, did wear a Star in May, 1942, but there weren’t many children in her school that wore one. It was The Star of David. This writer capitalizes the three word phrase, because it seemed so surprising to Nelee to be wearing a Star of David to school. She said she felt fearful when she sewed on the Star. When with her father in the street, people would see the Star and stop her father speaking apologetically for their situation and the wearing of the Star specifically.
As time and events went on, and though they’d left Paris in 1942, events like secret phone calls were precursors of their leaving. There was the night of the calls about Playing Poker, but really a secret meeting. It was on that same night, if memory and this writer’s notes are correct, or perhaps a night thereabouts, that the French police came to check Nelee’s father’s papers. He was not home at the time. Nelee notes that friends of the French resistance helped the family, and this included the Parents. For Nelee tells the story as if she and her Parents have a tale of escape that is somewhat separate from her’s and her sister’s. And this is true, for the two sisters were separated at times from the Parents, and they were Hidden Children. That they were separated from their Parents helps to create the definition of what a Hidden Child means.
It was from Paris and parts of occupied France that the Hidden Children went on their journey, where parts of the underground helped families and many children. As the tale in story form unfolds with Nelee’s testimony, she tells how they were taken by train; she and her sister, passed the demarcation line. Friends did this: in specific one man, a World War I veteran with a disfigured face who was leader of the resistance in the area of unoccupied France secreted them on the ruse they were his children.
In her sincere story of separation from her Parents, an emotion shared with her sister, she remembered that the man with the disfigured face was also smuggling in some mail from occupied to unoccupied France. It helped them get through to give the guard a new pair of shoes at the change of demarcation point to get through the line. This probably because of the snuck package of mail, this writer surmises.
The two sisters had cried during the time of the trip when they posed as daughters of a stranger, and in her memory of the train through the demarcation line those who helped and those whom they lived with, went to school with, and in the town where they lived, knew the children were Jewish. It was a small town.
Nelee recalls, “We had a lot of wonderful people helping us.” She adds, “We were not taken as happened many times to others.”
One woman who helped had a …“round face and a good smile.” She notes in the video,…In 1944 she says, we wondered what to do, and it was in April that they had to give the people they’d been living with a “hard good bye.” It is important to note, and this particularly from Nelee’s perspective, for it was these people who were her childhood rescuers and even heroic good people risking their lives for the children, that where they went in unoccupied France for shelter was a Catholic area. Germans held no friendship in the minds of this locale, for many Frenchmen were killed by the Germans in the 1914 war.
In time, the “noose was tightening…” and there began a raid a day to find Jews in the small town. Though her sister went to private school (Catholic), she was unable to do the sign of the Cross right. The Nun’s taught her sister the right way so she would fit in better. Though not stated specifically, with the noose tightening it was apparent the efforts and means to hide the children became more intense. After the War (World War II) the Parents learned that though they offered money, nothing would be accepted by the school, and during the War nothing was asked of the Parents of money for the school. So Nelee points out.
In 1944 when the liberation from the Nazis came to the area, the Parents came for the children. In August the invasion reached the Headquarter area of the underground. The allies were advancing, and the Germans were retreating, and so the Parents came for their children—so Nelee tells.
Most of their family in Europe perished, and the Langmuirs after the liberation decided to leave Paris, planning on going to the “States.” Nelee was hesitant to make the complete cut. An Uncle in California offered to pay the way of the family to the United States and at the age of 18 Nelee came to the United States by ship. The Parents made the decision to leave France for “the future of the children…” America seemed like a new world. And the family left France, Nelee says, “…because we were Jewish.”
Nelee says that as a result of the horror, the tragedy, the journey to escape death in the camps, and especially the people who helped in this journey, that, “I believe in the goodness of people.” Everywhere, people had helped and took risks. Asked at the time of the making of the video, whether she considered herself Jewish, Nelee says, “I think I still feel in my heart culturally Jewish.”
This writer knows the three hour narrative memoir spoke by Nelee on video is not done justice in this brief recitation. But hopefully a sense of the tension, reality, and drama comes to the readers mind from the retelling.
SEGMENT TWO: RIGHTOUS AMONG NATIONS
Langmuir mounted a successful campaign to enroll Albert and Marianne Béraud at the Yad Vashem Memorial for the “Righteous Among the Nations.”
–from Cynthia Haven’s “Stanford Report,” August 18, 2010: …French Holocaust survivor and influential Stanford teacher, dies at 78
Who are the Righteous Among Nations referred to in the quote above; they are two of Nelee Langmuir’s rescuers. Both French, neither Jews, this writer wondered for a definition of Righteous Among Nations, and in an effort to get an accurate answer phoned Irena Steinfeldt, Director of the Righteous Among the Nations Department at Yad Vashem in Israel on a Thursday morning, California time. It was afternoon in Israel—later in the workday at the museum.
The interview by phone went this way:
The questions by the writer:
1. I have a few questions, but paramount is to get a quote about Who are the Righteous Ones, What does it mean?
2. Why was the Garden created?
3. What does Shoah mean?
Answers by the Director, Irena Steinfeldt:
1. It’s a program that was established by Yad Vashem in 1953. One of the tasks of the Remembrance Authority was to commemorate the Righteous among the nations,who were defined by the Yad Vashem Law as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Incidentally, it has to be mentioned, that the heroes of this rescue story are not [only] the two rescuers; it is also Nelee and her sister Mina. The struggle for survival and rebuilding a new life after having endured such enormous suffering is an enormous accomplishment.
When Yad Vashem launched the Righteous Program, A commission was established, chaired by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, that evaluates each case and makes the decision who can be awarded the title.
Nelee sent her very moving and detailed testimony to Yad Vashem. The testimony and all the information was evaluated by the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, and the decision was to award the title to Albert and Marianne Beraut from France.
It is impossible to define an average or typical profile of the Righteous; so far we recognized 23,000 people – they come from all walks of life, from all professions, ages, social classes; They may be devout people, or atheists. They may be simple peasants, or nobility of Europe. what they have in common is Not just being good, but doing a good deed that has a very high price tag attached to it. They were willing to take a risk and pay for their good deed – They come from all Christian denominations: It could be Greek Orthodox, Adventist, French Protestant, all the different Catholic Orders, and Muslims. It’s not about religion. It’s about being a human being.
2. The Garden was created to engrave the names on the walls and commemorate these people. This is an expression of the gratitude of the Jewish people.
The Righteous program is unique: You will not find any other precedent of any other nation who were victims of such crimes, who set out to find the good people from the nations of perpetrators and bystanders and decorate them with the highest award they have. Although what most victims experienced was indifference and hostility and although it was only these few people who helped them, the Jewish people did not forget the rare expressions of goodness. I believe that It is a testimony to the Jewish people’s moral strength that they were able to search for the good people despite terrible destruction and terrible pain that they had endured. The reaction was not revenge and not violence [by the victims, Jewish people]. It was an attempt to rebuild new life and to reaffirm their faith in mankind. This is the very special thing about this garden.
Nelee is an example of this admirable strength: Her parents were born in Lithuania. She was born in France and then had to immigrate to the United States. Despite everything she went through look at the life she led and at the wonderful inspiration she is to all of us. Nelee, the survivors and the Righteous teach us that Every single person can leave something good and leave their mark.
3. It is a Hebrew word which means a total disaster. It is the term we use to define this unique and unprecedented murder of the Jews in Europe.
…Her parents were born in Lithuania. She was born in France and then had to immigrate to the United States. Despite everything she went through look at the life she led. Every single person can leave something good and leave their mark.
The following material from the pages of Yad Vashem’s website (edited for space] illustrates in concrete ways what is meant by Righteous among nations:
“I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence… that there still existed a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole… for which it was worth surviving”
Primo Levi describes his rescuer, Lorenzo Perrone (If This Is A Man)
Attitudes towards the Jews during the Holocaust mostly ranged from indifference to hostility. The mainstream watched as their former neighbors were rounded up and killed; some collaborated with the perpetrators; many benefited from the expropriation of the Jews property.
In a world of total moral collapse there was a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values. These were the Righteous Among the Nations. They stand in stark contrast to the mainstream of indifference and hostility that prevailed during the Holocaust. Contrary to the general trend, these rescuers regarded the Jews as fellow human beings who came within the bounds of their universe of obligation.
Most rescuers started off as bystanders. In many cases this happened when they were confronted with the deportation or the killing of the Jews. Some had stood by in the early stages of persecution, when the rights of Jews were restricted and their property confiscated, but there was a point when they decided to act, a boundary they were not willing to cross. Unlike others, they did not fall into a pattern of acquiescing to the escalating measures against the Jews.
They were ordinary human beings, and it is precisely their humanity that touches us and should serve as a model. So far Yad Vashem recognized Righteous from 44 countries and nationalities; there are Christians from all denominations and churches, Muslims and agnostics; men and women of all ages; they come from all walks of life; highly educated people as well as illiterate peasants; public figures as well as people from society’s margins; city dwellers and farmers from the remotest corners of Europe; university professors, teachers, physicians, clergy, nuns, diplomats, simple workers, servants, resistance fighters, policemen, peasants, fishermen, a zoo director, a circus owner, and many more.
In the rural areas in Eastern Europe hideouts or bunkers, as they were called, were dug under houses, cowsheds, barns, where the Jews would be concealed from sight. In addition to the threat of death that hung over the Jews’ heads, physical conditions in such dark, cold, airless and crowded places over long periods of time were very hard to bear. The rescuers, whose life was terrorized too, would undertake to provide food – not an easy feat for poor families in wartime – removing the excrements, and taking care of all their wards’ needs. Jews were also hidden in attics, hideouts in the forest, and in any place that could provide shelter and concealment, such as a cemetery, sewers, animal cages in a zoo, etc. Sometimes the hiding Jews were presented as non-Jews, as relatives or adopted children. Jews were also hidden in apartments in cities, and children were placed in convents with the nuns concealing their true identity. In Western Europe Jews were mostly hidden in houses, farms or convents.
The rescue of children - parents were faced with agonizing dilemmas to separate from their children and give them away in the hope of increasing their chances of survival. In some cases children who were left alone after their parents had been killed would be taken in by families or convents. In many cases it was individuals who decided to take in a child; in other cases and in some countries, especially Poland, Belgium, Holland and France, there were underground organizations that found homes for children, provided the necessary funds, food and medication, and made sure that the children were well cared for.
Twin Holocaust survivors describe arriving at Auschwitz
“And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a “yad vashem”)… that shall not be cut off.”
(Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)
SEGMENT THREE: ADDENDUM FEATURING MEMORIAL STATEMENTS
In an effort to get a sense of Nelee Langmuir in life, here a look at the Memorial Service statements given at Stanford Memorial Chapel on October 12, 2010 at the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California (near San Jose, California—south of San Francisco). Nelee was an important long time part of the Stanford Community as a French teacher, and in her married and family life.
As a French teacher, she helped and inspired many students. One friend in the French department of Stanford who knew her for ten years during the last years of Nelee’s life said of her in memorial…
Kathy Richman: Nelée’s most remarkable gift: her ability to connect with all sorts of people and bring together people who might never have met. This talent carried over into the classroom, too. My friend recalls Nelée giving her and a young man in the class a “special assignment” to see a film together. Off they went, obedient students, and there was Nelée at the movie, sitting 3 rows behind them, making sure that all went well, then politely waving goodnight at the end. They completed the special assignment and, indeed, wound up dating for a few years. Twenty years later, she was still in touch with both of them.
With stories like these, I just had to meet this “Mme Langmuir.” Nelée immediately welcomed me into her sparkling world of humor and warmth. She wove a rich, dense fabric among students, friends, colleagues, and strangers — though no one stayed a stranger for very long. Even in her hospice room, which felt more like a salon, Nelée was still bringing people together and introducing friends. With her enormous heart, Nelée taught by example, in class and out. The greatest professional compliment I’ve ever been paid was that my teaching style resembled Nelée’s and that maybe some day I would be as successful and beloved a teacher as her.
|Rabbi Patricia Karlen-Neuman...|
courtesy Stanford University
1. I am interested to know about Nelee Langmuir’s life in relation to the difficulties of childhood and tragedy of the holocaust. Have you an impression on this? In your Memorial Service held at the Stanford Memorial Chapel October 12, 2010 for friends and family, did you remark on the matter, and to broaden the question, her successful and full life led by the Stanford University French Professor? Have you some additional thoughts now?
What an extraordinary compassionate and Joint Benediction with Sister Mina parsonst. The Church was mostly filled. People came from France. What I wrote is as much as I can say. I think it had a profound effect, and I think the lesson had to do with kindness. I think that’s what she chose to tell. She focused on how many people helped these two young children. I think that the picture that I received now of meeting with her daughters and viewing the film was affirmed by all of the people who spoke. She was an extraordinary teacher, and I used the motif of how she was a light in darkness. How she was a teacher of strength, of hospitality, love, friendship, loyalty, strength.
3. If you have a text of your Memorial Sermon, may I have a copy? Is there something special or of interest to those readers who want to get to know her in your Sermon that you’ve reflected on as a help to her family and friends and reveals her life and character.
Sure, I’ll send it on. I think that I spoke first is that I tried to frame what were the most significant gifts that she brought to people who love her. And then people who knew her best and could provide more color…what I said was provided by her daughter. What I tried to do is remind the family and close friends, this is a time for the family to come together and learn something more about the relationships between themselves and other friends. Rituals help us to mark that legacy, to delineate and frame it.
Excerpt of the Rabbi’s text (at the Stanford Memorial Chapel):
Ha am haholchim bachosech raau or gadol; yoshvei beeretz tzalmavet or nagah alehem
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:1)
Nelee Langmuir was a child in a time of great darkness. Too young, she lost her innocence, buffeted about by the systematic legitimization of
humanity’s degradation. Her story of being a hidden child, of protecting her sister and fearing for her parents might have been told with a different inflection. She might have lived the rest of her life with that shadow of death plaguing her.
Yet, Nelee Langmuir saw a great light. The story she told was one where virtue displaced victimization, where courage conquered cowardice.
The great light that Nelee saw, the great light she continued to illumine
throughout her life was created by the kindness of so many people who risked their own lives to save two little girls, the courage and determination to provide them with comfort, with protection, with laughter and with love. This once hidden child became an elegant, dignified and open-hearted adult. She moved from a past delineated by limits to a future embracing expansiveness.
Nelee paid careful attention to a simple yet profound lesson—that she had
been showered with great kindness in a time of darkness. Heeding that lesson, she became a great teacher. Nelee Langmuir was an award-winning teacher in the traditional sense, having won the Walter J. Gores award for excellence in teaching at Stanford for her infectious enthusiasm, for blending clarity with humaneness and intellectual rigor with empathy. Students across the world have borne testimony to Nelee’s generous humanity and devotion to her craft.
Jeanette Ringold (at the Stanford Memorial Chapel):
I called Nelee to ask her if she might be interested in coming to a meeting of the Bay Area Hidden Children, a group that had just been started after a conference in NYC a few months earlier. She immediately accepted my invitation and started coming to meetings accompanied by Gavin and continued to be a faithful member of the group until her death.
The group’s members are people who as children were hidden to escape being caught by the Nazis. Our members are Holocaust survivors from France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, and Holland. We meet approximately every other month in the home of a member: there is always a potluck lunch followed by a meeting. Nelee’s standard contribution was cheese and crackers – cooking was not one of her interests…
…Nelee’s story seems happier than many because her nuclear family – her parents and her sister – survived, even though the rest of the family was murdered. But during the war Nelee felt responsible for Mina, and she also understood what was happening better than a younger child could.
Sr Ramona Bascom, OP (at the Stanford Memorial Chapel):
Courage is defined as “the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.” And we are at the heart of this particular history: the courage of the Jewish parents to give their precious girls away to this Catholic family; the courage of two little girls to trust themselves into the hands of this family; the courage of the five children accepting their new sisters and teaching them how to make the sign of the cross, memorize the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary” so they could pass in their Catholic school; and the courage of the sisters to accept them into the community. The danger was very real; the love was tenacious; the intrepid courage made them bold and heroic.
Simone Weil says that “God is present at the point where the eyes of those who give and those who receive meet.” God was truly present to them; love united them
At the end of the Mass for the Dead (now called Mass of Resurrection), as the body is being carried from the church to the cemetery the following is sung/prayed “In Paradisum”
May the Angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs greet you at your arrival and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem.
May the choir of Angels greet you and like Lazarus, who once was a poor man, may you have eternal rest. Amen
Vered Shemtov (at the Stanford Memorial Chapel):
The Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai wrote:
Forgetting someone is like
forgetting to turn off the light in the yard,
it stays on all day:
And that means also remembering
By the light”
“I met Nelee almost 20 years ago at Stanford, as a student in her intensive reading French class. Nelee was one of the most memorable teachers I had in grad school. She was one of those teachers that make you realize that good education is not necessarily about the latest technology, or a detailed syllabus. Sometimes, it is first and foremost about role models. Sometimes, there is nothing more important then the personality of the teacher.
Stanford Memorial Chapel Sanctuary...courtesy Stanford University
Nelee had a brilliant, sharp mind and so her explanations were always clear and to the point. She was down to earth and focused on what really mattered. There was no hiding behind the bush with her. No nonsense. She listened to you attentively and generously in a way that made you feel you had to do your best to be worthy of her true interest in you. This combination of extreme kindness and yet high expectations (from herself and from others) made her students always want to excel.
Throughout the years, Nelee became not just a teacher but also a colleague (we taught together in the language center), she was a mentor for me and in the last few years also a loving friend. These same qualities: the deep interest in others, the curiosity, and positive thinking, the integrity and – the same wonderful smile – were part of each and every interaction with her.
But more than anything, Nelee taught me how NOT to forget. In the last few years I had the opportunity to work with her on finding funding for completing her movie about her Holocaust experience. I was astonished to see how it was not anger or revenge that motivated Nelee to tell her story but her enormous gratitude and love for the people who saved her and her sister Mina. This was her way of teaching us how not to forget darkness.
We will miss Nelee but she will continue to be a part of the Center for Jewish Studies and the French Language program. Following her wish, Stanford will have two Nelee Langumir awards: one for excellence in the study of French and the other for the study of Jewish history and the Holocaust. The first prize will be awarded on April 28th at a special screening of the movie in Wallenberg Hall.
Cynthia Haven (in the “Stanford News” as written by Ms. Haven):
Nelee Rainès-Lambé was born in Paris on Oct. 18, 1931, the daughter of a Lithuanian electrical engineer and his wife, who had emigrated to France. Her sister Mina was born in 1935…
Nelee Langmuir married Paul Wanner, who received his PhD in psychology from Stanford, had two daughters and taught adult classes in French at Menlo-Atherton High School for years. She received a master’s degree from Stanford in 1972 and, by that time divorced, remarried the same year.
Her second husband, Gavin Langmuir, was one of the founders of the Jewish Studies program and the interdisciplinary Program in Medieval Studies, as well as the author of the seminal Toward a Definition of Antisemitism and History, Religion, and Antisemitism, both published in 1990. With her husband in 1979-1980, she taught at the Stanford-in-France program in Tours. He died in 2005.
She won a Walter J. Gores award for excellent teaching in 1979. The citation praised “the infectious enthusiasm with which she brings French language and culture to American students … blending clarity with humaneness, intellectual rigor with empathy.”
Kathryn Strachota, a senior lecturer in German, recalled at Stanford’s Language Center in 2006 that in Langmuir’s French classes “there was lots of laughter every day.”
“I was amazed at how she could create, spontaneously, out of an informal conversational exchange about what students had been up to, one teachable moment after another,” she said. “Decades later, she remembers individual students and they remember her and stay in touch. She creates and maintains connections. And she keeps widening the circle.”…
…Langmuir mounted a successful campaign to enroll Albert and Marianne Béraud at the Yad Vashem Memorial for the “Righteous Among the Nations.”…
…She is survived by her sister, Mina Parsont of Gaithersburg, Md.; daughters Debra Wanner of New York City and Jennifer Wanner of San Francisco; a stepdaughter, Valerie Langmuir of Millbrae; two sons-in-law; and two granddaughters…
…In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes donations to the Nelee Langmuir Award. Checks made out to Stanford University and earmarked for the Nelee Langmuir Award should be sent to Taube Center for Jewish Studies, 450 Serra Mall, Building 360, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2190.
This article appeared originally in The Church of England Newspaper, London.