Friday, January 29, 2010

January 29 - Jacques Bunel, Martyr, Priest, Opponent of the Nazis,

We know that Jacques Bunel was born Lucien Bunel but we know remarkably little else about his childhood. We know that he became a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Carmelite order and took the name Jacques de Jesus. Jacques served as a minister of the Faith he confessed and loved by becoming headmaster of a school in Avon, France. This school was known as Petit Collège Sainte-Thérèse de l' Enfant-Jésus. From this refuge he would engage in the activities that make him laudable but also cost him his life. As the Nazi scourge swept through Europe, Jacques found a way to resist the Nazi empire nonviolently and in a way that would save lives. Jacques began his revolutionary life saving by offering three spots at his school to three Jewish boys whom he helped assume false identities and names. These three boys were named Hans-Helmut Michel, Jacques-France Halpern, and Maurice Schlosser and would be part of the reason that the Nazis would eventually murder Jacques. Had Jacques known that protecting these three boys would cost him his life it seems that he would have done it anyway. Unlike many other clerics and Christians, Jacques was not blind to the atrocities being perpetrated and was willing to risk everything to be on the side of the righteous and loving. Looking at the faces of the children he protected, Jacques knew he was offering refuge to his savior.

Jacques' sacred work did not end with the three students--like any holy work Jacques' life saving gathered momentum and soon pushed him onward toward more of the same. He found a way to shelter a boy named Maurice Bas by providing him with a job at the school and a new identity. Maurice Schlosser's father was running out of places to hide and so Jacques found a home in the village that would serve as a nearby but disconnected refuge for the man. Finally, he dared another sacred moment when he brought Lucien Weil--a famous Jewish botanist--onto the faculty of his school. Having brought at least six people within his protective power, he knew that it was only a time until the Nazis cracked down upon him. That day came on January 15, 1944 when the Gestapo arrested Jacques and the first three boys he protected. Within the next month they had arrested the others that Jacques had worked to hard to protect. All were shipped away to work and death camps. When told he was being arrested for disobeying the law, Jacque responded: "I know only one law: that of the Gospel and Charity."

The boys and Lucien Weil died in Auschwitz. Jacques was transferred from camp to camp before ending up in Mauthausen in May of 1945. Wherever he went he was known as optimistic and hopeful for liberation. Further, he encouraged his fellow prisoners to share their food and encourage each other. Often, he would go without food so that others might eat. This was near the end of the war and liberation was steadily coming to the camps as the Allied forces beat back the Nazi empire. When Mauthausen was liberated Jacques did a curious thing. He was suffering from tuberculosis and weighed less than 80 pounds when the liberating forces came but he insisted that the others be liberated first. He waited until he knew that all others had gone before him before he consented to be liberated from the hell that the Nazis had engineered for him and other innocents. He died from his illness before he ever made it back to France. His body was shipped back to the school he loved and buried on the grounds of the refuge God had gifted him so that he might try to protect others. Those whom Jacques protected were still murdered by those whom Jacques resisted but he offered love and protection as a testament to the right place of the Church in opposition to great evil. Jacques died a martyr whose death confessed greater allegiance to the Kingdom than to himself.

2 comments:

Amy P said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story of love! I am so happy your website is "telling the stories that matter" - bravo to you and your mission of telling these stories, some perhaps known but others perhaps overlooked. We know they are cherished in the heart of God - and we can cherish them with [Him] and look for ways we can live so lovingly with abandon for what is True.

JHearne said...

Thank you very much for the kind words.