Mary Elmes

The only Irish person recognised as Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jewish children during the Holocaust.

Broadcast on Newstalk, May 2020 – Mary Elmes : Documentary On Newstalk

Born in Ballintemple, Cork, Mary Elmes smuggled dozens of children to safety during WW2 and although imprisoned by the Gestapo on suspicion of this work – she managed to survive and live a long life in the South of France with her husband and two children.

A fascinating character for many reasons, her work during the Spanish Civil War and then in Rivesaltes Refugee Camp in the South of France are noteworthy even in themselves. But it’s for risking her life, rescuing Jewish refugees who were being sent to concentration camps that she’ll be most remembered.

Her story raises all kinds of questions about moral courage and humanitarianism – and contrasts sharply with the official policy of the Irish government during the Holocaust.

Producer Bairbre Flood talks to Ronald Friend and Charlotte Berger-Greneche (two of the people whose lives she saved), her biographers Clodagh Finn and Paddy Butler, her family, long-time Quaker researchers Bernard and Janet WilsonMervyn O’Driscoll (Head of History, UCC), and Heino Schonfeld of the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland.

It’s estimated that at least 80 children were directly saved by Mary Elmes. She never sought any attention for her actions, and her story has only recently become known.

She was not alone. There were a lot of people doing the same thing with her. She couldn’t do all that without other people,’ – Mary’s daughter, Caroline.

Caroline pointed out that her mother never desired recognition for her work, eschewing a saviour narrative, and acknowledging the many people who worked together to do what they could under dire circumstances.

And yet, there’s no doubt Mary Elmes was a remarkable woman – a humanitarian who ‘had a tremendous ability and persistence to do what was right,’ as her cousin, Mark Elmes puts it. ‘She stuck with it through thick and thin, and all she was concerned about were the victims.


Funded by the Broadcasting Authourity of Ireland (BAI) under the Sound & Vision Scheme.

Read article here: Broadsheet