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Portrait of Father Louis Celis, Righteous Among the Nations.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 59988

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    Portrait of Father Louis Celis, Righteous Among the Nations.
    Portrait of Father Louis Celis, Righteous Among the Nations.


    Portrait of Father Louis Celis, Righteous Among the Nations.
    1951 February 21
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Wolfgang Rotenberg

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Wolfgang Rotenberg

    Keywords & Subjects

    Photo Designation
    RESCUERS & RESCUED -- Belgium

    Administrative Notes

    Regina Wolbrom (born Regina Rotenberg) is the daughter of Max (Moshek) Rotenberg (born in Lodz, on October 30, 1896) and Tema (Toni) Frankel (born in Busk, Poland, on February 3, 1900). She was born on October 13, 1925, in Gera, Germany. Her two younger brothers both were born in Berlin where their father owned a store. Wolfang was born on June 4, 1929 and Siegmund was born in Berlin on August 4, 1934. In October 1938, the Germans deported Max, a Polish citizen, back to Poland. Eventually he was released and went to live with his sister in Lodz. Tema and her children had remained in Berlin, and the following year, in February 1939, she sent her children with the Red Cross on a Kindertransport to Brussels. Soon after, she and Max came illegally to Belgium and reunited with their children in Brussels. On September 11, 1940, Tema gave birth to her fourth child, Sonja. Max sold leather illegally to support the family. Tema sent Regina to a dressmaker to learn a trade. When the Germans began rounding up young girls for labor, Tema asked the dressmaker if Regina could stay with her. After a month, the dressmaker, worrying that they would both be caught, sent Regina to live with her cousin in the hamlet of Halmael, Belgium. The rest of the family then joined her, and they were able to pay the woman who took them in. Father Hubert Celis, the parish priest of Halmael, became friendly with the Rotenbergs. In October 1942, Tema had a premonition that something would happen, so she asked Father Hubert to help hide her children. Regina and Sonja were sent to stay with his father, Joseph Celis, and Wolfgang and Siegmund went to live with Father Louis Celis (Father Hubert's brother, who was also a priest). Two weeks later someone denounced the family. While Max was working in Father Hubert's garden, a German gendarme arrested him and Tema. Max and Tema were deported to Auschwitz where they perished in October 1942. Father Hubert worried that the children could be arrested as well, so he arranged for Wolfgang and Siegmund to stay temporarily with another priest in the region. Regina took Sonja by bicycle to stay with other friends of Father Hubert who owned a flourmill. However, this family was unable to take care of a two year old, so Father Hubert, who also worked with the underground, found a place for her with farmers near the Dutch border. Regina brought Sonja by bicycle to a train station and handed her to woman dressed in brown. This woman then gave Sonja to three different people, and eventually to the farmer. Only Father Hubert knew her location. After a few weeks, Regina rejoined Joseph Celis, and her brothers returned to live with Father Louis's friends. Around Christmas, Father Hubert took Regina to see her sister. When they left, Sonja screamed so much that the farmer told Regina not to return until they let her know when it would be all right. Regina later visited her siblings once a month using a false identity card Father Hubert made for her. On May 3, 1944, the same gendarme who arrested Max and Tema came to the house and asked Regina for her identity card. Knowing that she would be arrested if she showed him her false ID card, she told the gendarme that she could not find it. He searched her room, found the card, and arrested her. He took her to a cellar and interrogated her. When he asked where her siblings were, she lied and said she hadn't seen them for two years. In order to protect Father Hubert, she claimed that her father had made the false identification card for her when they were in Brussels. Father Hubert's sister-in-law came to bring Regina some food, and Regina was able to tell her in Flemish (so the German guards would not understand) what she had said. The woman passed this information on to Father Hubert who repeated it during his interrogation and was released. The Germans took Regina to another town and imprisoned her for a few nights, and then sent her to the Malines transit camp.

    Two weeks later, they deported her to Auschwitz. While she was on a cattle car on her way to Birkenau, Regina managed to throw down five notes through the floor of the train. A farmer found two of them and mailed them to Joseph Celis and his daughter Franciska Celis. While in Birkenau, Regina contracted rabies, and during a selection she hid in the toilets to avoid detection of her illness. Regina later was hospitalized with jaundice. After she recovered, she remained in the hospital working with the removal of dead bodies. In January 1944, Regina was evacuated and sent on a death march to Ravensbruck, then to Malchov and Leipzig. While marching near Leipzig, Regina escaped with her friend Frieda Madzinksy. They went into town and found shelter in a home. The Red Army liberated them two days later. After two days, the girls decided to go to the American zone. They then walked 150 kilometers over five days. The Americans placed the girls in a temporary camp and repatriated them to Belgium. Since Regina's truck to Brussels passed through the town where Joseph Celis lived, she got off and returned to his house. The family was surprised and delighted to see her. The following day, Wolfgang, Siegmund, and Sonja came to visit with her for the day. Regina began searching for other surviving family members and found two aunts in Brussels. Wolfgang and Siegmund were sent to live with them, but that did not work out, so Regina placed them on the last children's transport to Palestine. Unfortunately, Regina was too old and Sonja too young to go as well, but Regina promised to join them there one day. Sonja continued to live with her rescuer family until the day of Regina's wedding to Izak Wolbrom (a fellow survivor). Regina and Izak became Sonja's legal guardians, and cared for her until her marriage in 1961. In keeping with Regina's promise, in 1949 the three of them joined Wolfgang and Siegmund in Israel. In 1980 Yad Vashem recognized Joseph, Louis and Hubert Celis as Righteous Among the Nations.
    Record last modified:
    2004-03-19 00:00:00
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