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Forsaking a potentially brilliant academic career, she was drawn to refugee relief work during the Spanish Civil War.When many of the refugees fled over the Pyrenees Mountains from Spain into France, she bravely joined them.Since Mary Elmes was an Irish citizen employed by the American Friends Service Committee, her colleagues in the US appealed to Robert Brennan, minister of the Irish Legation in Washington, to intervene and try to secure her release.As Ireland was a neutral country during World War II, the Germans agreed to release in July 1943.
She married a Frenchman, Roger Danjou, and had two children, Caroline and Patrick. Mary Elmes (at left, aged 94) presented with a painting of the Rivesaltes refugee camp by her colleague Friedel Bohny-Reiter of the Swiss Red Cross.
Mary Elizabeth Elmes risked her life to save at least 200 Jewish children from the Nazis and chances are you have not heard of her. Born in 1908 in Cork, Ireland, the daughter of a pharmacist, Mary was a highly talented student at Trinity College, Dublin, winning a gold medal for French and Spanish.
Both languages proved to be of vital importance in Mary’s life.
The conditions in the refugee camps were appalling but Mary attempted to make life more bearable by organizing food supplies and providing educational books for the children.
When France fell to the Nazis in 1940, thousands of Jews and others on the Gestapo death list fled to the south of the country.
Over 2,000 Jewish adults and 110 children were on board.