At 22 years-old, Elise Rivet embraced a calling to the religious life, and joined the Notre-Dame de la Compassion sisters in Lyon, France. This order worked especially with underprivileged girls who were petty criminals and vagrants, offering them housing and job training so they could leave crime and the streets for a better life.
Trained as a nurse, Rivet took vows and became Sister Elisabeth in 1913. Because of her work ethic and leadership she was named Mother Superior of her community prior to the Nazi invasion and occupation of France.
As early as 1940, Mother Elisabeth was involved in the French Resistance. She was associated with two different movements—L’Armee Secrete and Ajax—as an intelligence agent, and used her convent to hide documents, weapons and ammunition, and equipment for the Resistance.
With the blessing of the Cardinal of Lyon, Pierre-Marie Gerlier, Mother Elisabeth also hid Jewish mothers (whom she dressed as nuns) and their children at the convent and helped them find hiding places as they made their way to safety outside occupied France. Before leaving the convent, she also provided the refugees with false identity papers.
Two of the Jewish women who found shelter in the convent, and several orphaned babies and children, ended up staying until the end of the war.
However, on March 25, 1944 Mother Elisabeth and her assistant were arrested by the Gestapo and jailed. Convicted as a “great criminal of war” for her efforts to hide Jews and assist the French Resistance she was eventually sent to the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. For a year, Mother Elisabeth counseled and offered emotional and spiritual support to the other prisoners and was remembered by many there as the “monument of serenity, and hope, and love for other women.”
On Good Friday March 30, 1945, only weeks before the Nazis surrendered, Mother Elisabeth volunteered to die in the gas chamber, taking the place of a fellow prisoner who had children. Mother was 55 years-old.
On July 14, 1996, Yad Vashem recognized Mother Elizabeth Rivet as Righteous Among the Nations.
Elise Rivet, Mother Elisabeth, is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.