Eugène, 11th Prince of Ligne, a member of the Belgian nobility, saved Jewish children from the Nazis by hiding them in Château de Belœil, his family’s seat, during the Second World War. The Prince’s descendants finally met some of the survivors in an emotional meeting at the residence of the Israeli president in Jerusalem.
Ephraim Oelkuchen was seven years old when he was hidden by the prince. “They gave us food, clothes. They let us walk in the prince’s large park, swim in the lake and, in winter, ice-skate. During that time of hell, we were in a place that was like a real heaven,” he said.
The prince kept the girls inside the palace itself and the boys were housed in the Orangerie, on the château’s grounds. They numbered about 43 and were hidden among 1,000 non-Jewish, who were the children of prisoners of war. The Jewish children kept their identity a secret, even from the other children. They were unaware that other Jewish children were hidden amongst them. Ephraim Oelkuchen changed his name to Francois Demien.
“Three people only knew about the presence of Jewish children. Their silence was a guarantee of survival.” said Prince Michel de Ligne, now the 14th Prince of Ligne.
In 1975 both Eugene and his wife Philippine were recognised as Righteous Amongst the Nations by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, which refers to non-Jews who saved Jews at their own risk during the war.
Ephraim Oelkuchen remembers the Prince well, “I remember him sitting down next to us and tasting the soup.” He was also very glad to be meeting the grandchildren of the Prince, “I can’t stop myself from kissing them.” His 16-year-old-sister was sent to Auschwitz and perished there, while another sister was also hidden at the château. She now lives in the United States.
Prince Antoine Lamoral of Ligne, another grandchild of the prince, who still lives at the same castle on the weekend said, “We did not quite realise until today what my grandfather did.”