Catholic Priest, Parishioner Honored for Saving Jews from Holocaust
LIEGE, Belgium (AP) _ A Catholic priest and one of his parishioners were honored Thursday for risking their lives to help a Jewish family survive the Holocaust.
Father Jean Cottiaux, needing a cane to bear the weight of his 91 years, attended the ceremony Thursday in which he and Juliette Putzeys were recognized by Israel with the title ``Righteous Among Nations.″
Putzeys is deceased. She was already past 60 years old when she took the Rennert family and their friend Gita Lubart into her home during World War II. Cottiaux encouraged the village to embrace them.
Two members of that Jewish family, Leo and Jack Rennert, now U.S. citizens, attended the event.
``In the darkest of nights, there were still a few lights that came in to take us away from death,″ said Leo Rennert, of Washington D.C.
Cottiaux has always played down his actions.
``I assure you, I didn’t have the impression it meant all that much,″ he said. ``It was just a humanitarian reaction.″
Apart from helping the Rennert family, he also aided several other Jews who sought refuge in the area.
The Rennerts had been fleeing persecution since their Vienna grocery store was attacked in 1938. Their father was killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942. Eva Rennert took her sons to Antwerp and then to rural Burdinne, some 30 miles east of Brussels. Having never seen them before, Putzeys took them in.
Cottiaux made sure the boys remained faithful to their Jewish faith. With the children being so vulnerable, ``I never thought of converting them. That would have been hideous,″ he said.
Catholic influences were limited to butter on Sundays and presents at Christmas.
``I remember him giving us a Hebrew Bible so we could continue study,″ said Leo Rennert.
But Cottiaux’ job was not finished with the liberation in 1944. When Leo, shocked by monstrosity of the camps questioned faith, Cottiaux continued to write to him in the United States, encouraging him to remain faithful.
``I thank him for saving my life but also for giving me a soul again,″ Leo Rennert said.