Nelee Langmuir, Stanford teacher and hidden child in Shoah

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Nelee Langmuir, a Stanford lecturer in French for 35 years, died Aug. 11 of cancer at her Stanford home. She was 78.

Langmuir was born in Paris on Oct. 18, 1931, the daughter of a Lithuanian electrical engineer and his wife, who had immigrated to France.

In “Our Stories,” a publication by Bay Area Hidden Children, Langmuir recalled the first day in 1942 when she wore the yellow star. Her school’s director told the assembled children that she was heartbroken and ashamed of the government action, and that she would not tolerate any discrimination toward the Jewish children.

Her family decided to remove their yellow stars, and shortly thereafter, police came to their house and targeted her father in raids. A friend hid him, and the rest of the family found shelter with another friend.

Her parents soon left Paris concealed in a wooden box under the false floor of a meat truck. A network of friends, acquaintances and strangers protected the separated family.

“I had to take care of my sister, so I didn’t stay a child very long,” Langmuir told Stanford Magazine in 2005. Langmuir’s sister, Mina, was born in 1935.

The two sisters eventually were sheltered by the Béraud family in Chabanais, France, where they attended Catholic school. They were protected by the nuns and the family, and years later, Langmuir mounted a successful campaign to enroll Albert and Marianne Béraud at the Yad Vashem Memorial for the Righteous Among the Nations.

With their extended family in Poland and Lithuania murdered in the Holocaust, Langmuir’s family decided to make a new start in the United States, and they moved to Sacramento in 1949.

In recent years, Langmuir made a film about her family’s Holocaust saga, “Tombées du Ciel” (Fallen from Heaven). The film will screen at Stanford on April 28, 2011, with a commemorative reception. At that time, the first recipient of the Nelee Langmuir Award will be announced. The award will be offered to a student in European modern history, with an emphasis on the Holocaust.

After coming to the United States, Langmuir married her first husband, Paul Wanner, had two daughters and taught adult classes in French at Menlo-Atherton High School for years. She received a master’s degree from Stanford in 1972, and began teaching that year.

Her second husband, Gavin Langmuir, was one of the founders of the Jewish studies program at Stanford and the interdisciplinary Program in Medieval Studies. An expert on medieval anti-Semitism, he wrote “Toward a Definition of Antisemitism” and “History, Religion, and Antisemitism.”

Nelee Langmuir won a Walter J. Gores award for excellent teaching in 1979. The citation praised “the infectious enthusiasm with which she brings French language and culture to American students … blending clarity with humaneness, intellectual rigor with empathy.”

“Nelee was the heart of our program in French language instruction,” said Roland Greene, head of Stanford’s Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages. “She was a magnetic and generous teacher and a memorable colleague; it’s not too much to say that many people in the languages and literatures at Stanford loved her.”

“She was a remarkable woman,” said Vered Shemtov, a former student of Langmuir’s and co-director of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies. “She started working on the movie and really turned it into not just her project, but a Stanford project. Many departments and students were involved in creating something really special, about not just her experience, but about how many good people it took to save two little girls.”

Langmuir continued actively teaching until three years ago, and still had an office on campus.

She is survived by her sister, Mina Parsont of Gaithersburg, Md.; daughters Debra Wanner of New York City and Jennifer Wanner of San Francisco; a stepdaughter, Valerie Langmuir of Millbrae; two sons-in-law; and two granddaughters.

A memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. Oct. 12 at Stanford Memorial Church. In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes donations to the Nelee Langmuir Award. Checks made out to Stanford University and earmarked for the Nelee Langmuir Award should be sent to Taube Center for Jewish Studies, 450 Serra Mall, Building 360, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2190.