LETTER: Cork woman saved so many Jewish children

October 9th, 2016 8:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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SIR – Readers may know of Cork-born Mary Harris Jones who was a prominent Trade Union activist and leader in the US in the 1880s and ’90s. She is remembered in America’s history and at Cork’s Mother Jones Festival.

There was another Cork lady, not as well-known, but it is hoped this will change as her work in WWII saving children in France was told by Englishman and Quaker, Bernard Wilson, at the national conference of Network Ireland in Cork, where her nephew Mark Elmes received an award on her family’s behalf for her outstanding humanitarian work. It was the first time she was honoured in Ireland.

Mary Elmes of Ballintemple in Cork was a member of the Church of Ireland and won First Class honours in TCD and studied in the International Relations Summer School in Geneva. 

In 1937 she went to Spain to help refugees in the Spanish Civil War. 

World War II began and she was in France working for the Quakers’ American Friends Service Committee. 

She helped set up AFSC hostels and safe houses to save hundreds of Jewish children from the Nazi death camps. 

She was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a prison where few were freed.

She was released after representations from the AFSC and continued to help, non-Jewish refugees, too. After the war she married and had two children. 

The British and American Quakers received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for their aid work in WWII. 

Mary Elmes was offered France’s Légion d’Honneur for her enormous contribution. She chose not to accept as she was modest about her work. 

Professor Ronald Friend, who lives in the US, found out her name in 2011 as she saved him and his brother in 1942. She died in 2002.

Her family in France and Ronald Friend would like to see her officially remembered in her home country.

I think it is never too late for Cork City Council to honour her with a plaque or a posthumous honourable mention, as she is the only Irish and Cork person to be put on the roll of ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ in 2014 at the Yad Vadshem official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust She was nominated by Ronald Friend. 

Perhaps Cork City’s Lord Mayor and councillors could also facilitate an honour?

She is in Rosemary Bailey’s book Love and War in the Pyrenees (Orion Publishing, 2011) on the Quakers’ aid work in Southern France in WWII, when many nationalities and non-Quakers, like Mary Elmes, assisted them. 

Mary Sullivan,


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