As headmaster of the Discalced Carmelite boarding school for boys in Avon, France, the Servant of God Père Jacques de Jésus, O.C.D. was able to assist several Jewish children and adults as a member of the French Resistance. He enrolled three Jewish boys under false names and employed a fourth boy as a worker at the school and monastery of the friars. With the aid of a local villager, he was able to shelter the father of one of the students. Furthermore, he hired a noted Jewish botanist as a faculty member at the boarding school.
All of these daring decisions finally came to the attention of the Gestapo. On 15 January 1944 between 10:00 and 10:30 in the morning, the German officers came for Père Jacques and the three students he had been sheltering at the boarding school.
Korf, the commander of the Gestapo operation, barked at the students forced outdoors for assembly.
Vous n’êtes pas camarade avec un nègre, vous n’êtes pas camarade avec un juif.You aren’t comrades with a negro, you aren’t comrades with a Jew.
The fourth student was working in the monastery when the Gestapo came; they didn’t think to search there and thus the fourth boy’s life was spared. He returned 42 years later to give thanks and share his memories of that fateful day.
Outdoors, cold, hastily assembled, the Gestapo held a roll call of all the students. During this interminable roll call, the three Jewish students, surrounded by German officers, came downstairs. They appeared terrorized; their eyes were fixed on the ground, all carrying a blanket under their arms. They left through the courtyard door. When they exited the classroom, they were physically abused; when one of the students had to climb the stairs, he was kicked.
The sight of their three classmates made a great impression on the students assembled outdoors. The roll call continued. Then the courtyard door opened and Father Jacques appeared, followed by two German officers. He moved forward quietly with his suitcase in his hand, wearing his brown beret. Before going down the steps, he stopped and looked at the children, smiling, almost radiant. Then he shouted out to them joyfully:
Au revoir, les enfants ! A bientôt !Good-bye children! See you soon!
The students and teachers replied in a resounding cry, “Au revoir, mon Père !” (Good-bye, Father!) and they began to applaud enthusiastically.
The Gestapo commander, furious, turned around and demanded an end to their demonstration of affection.
Taisez-vous, taisez-vous, silence !Shut up! Shut up! Silence!
The roll call continued. At roughly 12:20 in the afternoon, the Gestapo commander announced that the school was closed and had to be emptied of all its occupants by 3:00 that afternoon. At approximately the same time, in a separate Gestapo raid in Fontainebleau, the botanist, his mother, and his sister were arrested at their home.
The students, their botany teacher, and his family were incarcerated in the Melun detention center in Paris on 15 January. On 18 January they were transferred to the Drancy transit camp in the northeastern suburb of Paris. On 3 February 1944 the students, their teacher, and his family were deported to Auschwitz in a transport of roughly 1200 persons. Upon their arrival in Auschwitz on 6 February, 985 persons were sent directly to the gas chambers. The Carmelite students from Avon, their botany teacher, his mother, and his sister all perished that day.
As for Père Jacques, beginning on 15 January he was imprisoned at Fontainebleau. From there, he was shuffled from one concentration camp to another, forced to endure dehumanizing conditions and backbreaking labor. Eventually, he was sent to the immense Mauthausen-Gusen Camp complex, even disguising his priesthood at a crucial moment so that he could remain in the camp with the prisoners when other priests were transferred to Dachau. There he remained, the only priest for 20,000 prisoners, many of whom were Catholics from Poland. On Easter Sunday 1944, he even celebrated three clandestine Masses.
When the U.S. Army liberated Mauthausen on 5 May 1945, Père Jacques was still alive, but beaten down by his captivity. He was sent to Linz, Austria where the Discalced Carmelite friars have a convent and could look after him. He was transferred to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Linz, his condition was so poor: he was diagnosed with tuberculosis; his weight had dropped to 75 pounds (34 kg). On 2 June 1945, he passed quietly, in solitude, as he desired. His last words were: “for these final moments, let me be left alone.”
Our source for this account is the French biography on the official website for the cause of the Servant of God, which cites the 1947 biography by Philippe de la Trinité, Le Père Jacques : Martyr de la Charité. Additional details come from the English pages of the same website.
On 17 January 1985, the Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem recognized Père Jacques de Jésus, under his baptismal name Lucien Bunel, as Righteous Among the Nations. Learn more about the Servant of God Père Jacques de Jésus from the official website dedicated to his cause and pray for his beatification.
As the years pass and Holocaust survivors die, it is important to remember that the mass extermination of Jews by the Germans is not fiction. It is not a myth. Learn more of the facts about the Holocaust.
Translation from the French text is the blogger’s own work product and may not be reproduced without permission.