Pictured below is the Menthon St Bernard castle. There are so many impressive facts about this castle, starting with this week’s posthumous award as Righteous Among the Nations for Count Henry de Menthon, who housed three Jewish kids during World War 2. But more on that later. First, check out the photo:
The castle was built in the 12th Century, with turrets and extra sections added as recently as 1880. The interior is full of interesting stories, and of course the most reputed is that of Saint Bernard himself. Bernard de Menthon, born in 1008, escaped a planned marriage after jumping out one of the castle’s high windows. See the problem there? The castle hadn’t been built, but it’s presumed that there was some other family dwelling in its place. It’s said that the day before his wedding, locked in his room, Saint Nicolas materialised and told him to take a leap of faith (literally — out the window). Angels protected him and he fleed to the Aosta valley, where he devoted himself to religion and making the mountain passes safer for travellers, founding hospices along the way. His work got him a sainthood and a whole breed of dogs named after him centuries later.
This week, the grandson of Count Henry de Menthon accepted the honour of Righteous Among the Nations on his late grandfather’s behalf. He was given the award for his care of three Jewish children during the war. His gardener had agreed to take in a girl during the war, but she refused to be separated from her two brothers, and the Count, who overheard the girl’s protests, agreed to take in her brothers. The gardener cared for the girl, Clair, during the day, and she slept at the castle each night. The villagers knew of the Jewish children and the danger of their presence was clear to all. After the war, the children were told that their parents and other siblings had died at Auschwitz and they were sent to an orphanage. The connection between the families was lost until a chance meeting between the granddaughter of the Count and Clair, who is now known as Dina Godschalk. After reconnecting, Dina made the request for the posthumous award. Dina’s own granddaughter now works as a guide at the castle, doing tours in Dutch, English, French and sometimes Portugese, so the family connection continues.
The castle holds two libraries, a chapel dedicated to Saint Bernard, two kitchens, amazing views of Lake Annecy, and a lot of really interesting facts. If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a visit.