A religious Sister who sheltered Jews from the Nazis has been honoured with a plaque in her home town of Hull.
Sister Agnes Walsh, who died in 1993, helped to save a Jewish family
from deportation while at a convent in southern France during the war.
She was recognised as a “Righteous Among the Nations” decades ago by
Israel’s Holocaust remembrance centre Yad Vashem but her heroism has
long been overlooked in Britain.
The plaque, unveiled by Hull’s lord mayor, describes her as a
“nun and humanitarian who protected Jews during the Holocaust”.
Within a few weeks it will be displayed on the site of the house
where she grew up – on Lowgate, opposite the Guildhall, where Hull’s
Born Ada Vallinda Walsh, Sister Agnes joined the Daughters of
Charity, serving in Ireland, Jerusalem and then France, where she ended
up at a convent in Cadouin, in the Dordogne region, during the war.
The mother superior, Sister Louise Garnier, struck up a chance
conversation with a Jewish refugee, Pierre Cremieux, at a train station.
He had fled the north of France at the urging of friends.
Fifteen months later, amid increasing danger, Cremieux called the
convent to ask for help. Sister Agnes, the deputy of the community,
answered the call and pleaded with her superior to take the family in.
Cremieux arrived with his wife, two nine-month-old babies and their six-year-old son, Alain.
Alain told the Catholic Herald in 2009
that he had received a warm welcome at the convent.
His mother was
introduced as a distant relative of Sister Louise, who had come to rest
after the birth of the twins. Many of the Sisters did not know the real
reason they were staying there.
As a boy, Alain was sent to live with the parish priest in the local
presbytery. He took advantage of the priest’s library where he read
about the lives of saints. He was given English lessons by Sister Agnes.
Sister Agnes herself was pretending to be Irish, rather than English –
she had an Irish passport from her time in the country. As an
Englishwoman – an enemy alien – her presence was a further threat to the
The Cremieux family kept in touch with Sister Agnes, exchanging letters with her up until her death.
During the occupation of France it is thought that 76,000 Jews were
deported from France to German death camps. About 2,500 survived.
Ian Judson, Sister Agnes’s great-nephew, told the Catholic Herald he
did not know the full story of what she did until last year.
“I only found out a few months ago that she hid the family for nearly
a year under the noses of the Nazis,” he said. “She was risking death
on a daily basis.”
He said it was nice to see her being recognised in her home town at last. “It’s long overdue considering what she did,” he said.
Judson, who is studying journalism, said that, while homeless some
time ago, memories of his great-aunt were “an inspiration for me to turn
my life around and get to where I am today”.
“I’d think ‘What would Auntie Ada do in this situation?’, ‘what would
she tell me I need to do?’. Her legacy is still going on,” he said.
Sister Agnes was honoured as a Righteous Among the Gentiles in 1990.
She is one of only 21 Britons to be recognised as such and to have her
name inscribed on the memorial at Yad Vashem.
In 2009 her name was missed off a list of British heroes compiled by
the Holocaust Education Trust.
She was the only Righteous Among the
Nations to be left out.
The charity added her name after it was alerted
to the error.
The next year she was honoured as a British “hero of the Holocaust”, an award created by Gordon Brown, the then prime minister.