2:32 PM PDT, May 17, 2021
A 90-year-old Austrian man bequeathed millions to a French village that rescued his family from the Nazis after his death in December, according to a report.
In 1943, Eric Schwam and is mother, father and grandmother arrived in the village of Chambon-sur-Lignon as they escaped the Nazis. It is not known how the family got there. They had previously been held at Rivesaltes camp, a military facility in southern France used to intern civilians before it closed in 1942, the BBC reported,
Nearly 77 years later, Schwam expressed his gratitude to the residents of the village for protecting his family and keeping them safe in Chambon from the Nazis during World War II by leaving the equivalent of $2.4 million after his Dec. 25, 2020 death, according to the town hall release.
He asked that the money be used to fund scholarships and schools in the village. He also had money donated to three foundations supporting health workers, children with leukemia and animal rights, according to a press release.
The town’s deputy mayor, Denise Vallat, told CNN on Saturday that they were “extremely honored.”
“We will use the sum according to Mr. Schwam’s will,” Vallat said.
Vallat, who described Schwam as “a discreet gentleman,” did not want to publicize his generosity.
“Little is known about the donor but we did some research,” Vallat told the BBC.
Schwam and his wife never had children, and he died a widower, the BBC reported.
A young Swiss social worker named Friedel Reiter, who voluntarily helped refugees at the time, recorded the family’s information. It is likely Reiter helped move the family to Le Chambon when the Rivesaltes camp shut down in 1942, according to the town hall, People reported.
Schwam’s father was a doctor and his mother helped create a library at the Rivesaltes camp, one of the many set up by the Vichy regime to imprison Jews, according to CNN,
When he was 12, he was taken care of by the Secours Suisse, a sub-sector of the Red Cross of Switzerland. The organization specialized in helping children during the war and it was also where his mother had worked, CNN reported
In 1950, Schwam enrolled in a pharmacy course at the University of Leon and graduated in 1957.
It was reported that Schwam’s parents had returned to Austria after WWll ended. And, Schwam had moved to Lyon, a city in France, to study. There he met his future wife, People reported.
It was unclear whether Schwam had returned to Le Chambon.
“We did not know Mr. Schwam; we are now trying to establish who he was and what happened to him here,” Vallet told CNN.
The Chambon-sur-Lignon has a population of only about 2,500 people. It has a reputation as a place of refuge dating back to the French Protestant Huguenots, who fled religious persecution during the 17th Century. And, was later recognized by Israel for its extraordinary effort, according to the BBC.
Six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. About 5,000 Jewish communities were destroyed at the time. Adolph Hitler was the leader of the Nazi party and in power between 1933 to 1945. During this time, Jews in Europe were persecuted under harsh and inhumane treatment. These deaths represented two-thirds of European Jewry and one-third of all world Jewry, according to the Jewish Virtual Library.