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Obituary: Flora (Blanchette) Fluer

Holocaust refugee rescued by Portugal who said ‘thank you’ on national television

    At the age of 85 Flora (Blanchette) Rubin Fluer discovered her mission: to thank Portugal, where she had spent the latter years of the Second World War, for saving her family’s lives during the Holocaust. In the UK Blanchette gave a two-hour interview to TV journalist Natasha Kaplinsky about the compassion of ordinary individuals who helped them reach safety. A film of this will be available at the Holocaust Memorial Foundation Learning Centre to be built next to the Houses of Parliament.

    Blanchette, who has died aged 88, was born in Antwerp, the daughter of Rachel and Bernard Rubin. Bernard had fled Poland after his sergeant had sent him to the Russian Front to ensure, as he openly admitted, “the death of another Jew.”

    In 1936, the family, including six-year- old Blanchette and her nine-year-old brother Samuel, left Antwerp for Palestine.  After six months, Rachel fell ill and they returned to Belgium. Blanchette always remembered her father crying on the boat back to Europe.

    In 1940, the family again had to flee. After a long journey mitigated by the compassion of a woman working for the Nazis, they reached the Spanish-Portuguese border in early 1942.

    During this period the PortugueseConsul Aristides de Sousa Mendes was instructed to let in refugees only under extreme circumstances. But, instead he issued blanket visas. He was a man who stood against the tide and saved as many Jewish lives as he could.

    So Blanchette and her family spent the rest of the war in Portugal, saved by the kindness and humanity of individual strangers prepared to risk their own safety. In Portugal, she learned to speak eight languages and went to sewing classes.

    After the war, her family returned to Antwerp, where she worked in the diamond business, one of the dominant industries in Antwerp at that time. Blanchette’s brother Samuel went on to become the bridge champion of Belgium, a title he retained for many years.

    In 1955, Blanchette married Leon (Lennie) Fluer and moved to London. They had one daughter, Danielle.  Motivated by seeing so much suffering on the news, Blanchette decided to thank those who had saved her family’s life in the Holocaust. She wanted to encourage the understanding that one person can make a difference.

    First she was interviewed on Portuguese National Television thanking the Portuguese nation for saving her family’s life. Then the Mayor of Caldas Da Rainha, where her family lived from 1942 to 1945, held a ceremony to thank her for the contribution they had made to the Portuguese nation in bringing their Jewish culture to Portugal. 

    Finally, The Frontier of Peace Memorial Museum, dedicated to the Refugees and Aristides De Sousa Mendes, was opened on August 26, 2017 in Vilar Formosa by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. She has a wall in the New Museum dedicated to her story. It was built on the very site where the refugees first alighted on to Portuguese soil.

    Blanchette is survived by Danielle. Lennie predeceased her in 1991, aged 70.

    DANIELLE FLUER

    Flora Blanchette Fluer: born May 11, 1929. Died December 15, 2017