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Cork-born Irish ‘Oskar Schindler' risked her life to save others

December 16th, 2017 7:10 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Mary Elmes was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943.

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A REMARKABLE woman from Cork is the only Irish person to have been honoured by Israel as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’.

It is the highest honour that the State of Israel can bestow on a non-Jew – who risked their life in the Holocaust, to save one or more Jewish lives.

‘In the case of Mary Elmes we don’t know how many lives she saved, but it was certainly scores,’ said Paddy Butler, whose fascination with her life story has been translated into a documentary, It Tolls for Thee, and a new book, published by Orpen Press, entitled The Extraordinary Story of Mary Elmes: The Irish Oskar Schindler.

Paddy Butler, a journalist and former foreign correspondent, told The Southern Star that he first discovered a reference to Mary Elmes in a book written by a British author, Rosemary Bailey, who wrote Love and War in the Pyrenees.

He said: ‘It was that reference in 2010 that got me interested and since then I have spent hundreds of hours researching her life.’

He made contact with Midas Productions in Dublin with a view to making a documentary about her life. 

‘We got funding for that in 2013, the same year she was made Righteous Among the Nations, and it boosted our efforts to get funding for the documentary,’ he said. 

The documentary was shown on TG4 on November 8th last, but Paddy confirmed that a cinema version will be doing the rounds of the international film festivals in 2018. 

It was already shown in July at the Galway Film Fleadh and from there it was picked by the Irish Film Institute for Doc Fest, which took place in October.

Paddy says he is gratified that the book – which is now available in all good bookstores – is being well received.

He said the feedback has been very positive because people are coming to realise that Mary Elmes is ‘the great unsung heroine of modern Ireland’.

Mary turned her back on an academic career and risked her life to help others. She was, in fact, arrested by the Gestapo in February 1943 and held until July, when she was unexpectedly released.

The book tells the gripping story of her heroism during two of the twentieth century’s bloodiest conflicts and contains interviews with some survivors who owe her their lives.

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