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Jewish Journal

60th Anniversary Reunites Orphans

by Beverly Gray

April 24, 2003 | 8:00 pm

When Miriam Weichelbaum and Henri Dybnis were married on March 26, 1943, their future did not look promising. Their wedding took place in wartime France, where the two young educators -- he a refugee from Russia, she from Germany -- ran a home for displaced Jewish children. Ten orphan teenagers formed their minyan, and they gave the rabbi a live chicken for performing the ceremony. Six months later, the young couple fled to Switzerland, one step ahead of the Nazis. With them came 22 children they didn't dare leave behind.

In those bleak days, the Dybnises could not have imagined the long, full life that awaited them. They had two children of their own, one born in Switzerland and the other in France, where they returned post-war to run another orphanage. In 1952, the family immigrated to California, pouring their energy into founding Jewish nursery schools. As their 60th wedding anniversary approached, it seemed time for a party.

The Dybnises knew daughter Monique was bringing her own family from Israel for the celebration. And they knew that son Sacha and daughter-in-law Bunni had asked close relatives to share in the day. But they weren't aware invitations had also gone out to the orphan children of long ago. So they were astounded to see 60 men and women, who had gathered from around the globe in their honor. A commemorative album was crammed with tributes in French, German, English and Hebrew from others who couldn't make the trip.

Annette Safatty flew in from Paris to tell the Dybnises, "Thank you for my life. Thanks to you, I was able to marry and have a life of my own."

Miriam Dybnis, vivacious at 83, insists she and her husband never expected to be honored for their deeds. Still, she's deeply gratified that so many of the young orphans have thrived as adults:

"It really showed us Hitler did not succeed," she said. "This is the biggest satisfaction."

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