Ermine Orsi was born in the village of Carrara, Italy, in 1909. Life in a Catholic country like Italy was very hard for her family who belonged to the few Protestants of the village. Her mother and grandmother helped people and cared for the sick, but still they were discriminated against because of their religion. ”I’m sure that’s when I learned to fight for any kind of justice. I’ve always known how to defend myself”, said Ermine.
When she was sixteen years old, Ermine married a man of eight years older and they had to leave Italy because he was Anti-Fascist. They moved to Marseilles, but her husband was never able to get identity papers and was always on the move. Her first daughter was born in 1927, and her second one in 1930.
In Marseilles, there were many refugees because it was in the free zone. Ermine had heard about what the people in were doing Le Chambon, a Protestant village in the mountains not far there. Andre Trocme, the pastor of the village, was a pacifist and a deeply moral person who inspired 5,000 Protestants villagers to save 5,000 Jews. ”Even if there was no room for a Jew to stay in Le Chambon, there was room.” she remembered later during an interview.
Ermine would find the Jews that where in risk in their hiding places and needed to be moved, and take them to Le Chambon. She rode the train every day back and forth. She also had about five or six people living in her house all the time, including a Jewish doctor who stayed there for two years and helped her to take care of the refuges that needed medical attention. ”Sometimes I went a long time without eating so I could give food to other people in my house”, she said.
Ermine Orsi was arrested in the Avignon train station and held for eight days in display for other people to see, but she was finally released. She reminded friends with Emilie Guth, who also saved Jews in Marseilles, and got together often to talk about the war, and about the people who remember them.