Monday, September 07, 2009

Opposing anti-Semitism in France in WW2

Monsignor Pierre-Marie Théas, Bishop of Montauban (1940 - 1947)
Monsignor Théas was later Bishop of Tarbes & Lourdes (1947 - 1970)
[Courtesy of the Resistance & Deportation Museum, Tarbes, France]

Monsignor Pierre-Marie Théas, Roman Catholic Bishop of Montauban, Tarn-et-Garonne department, (1940 - 1947) was one of a number of French bishops and clergy who openly spoke out in opposition against the Nazi ideologies during the Second World War. In particular, from the summer of 1942 onwards Monsignor Théas and other bishops condemned the internment of Jews, breaking up of families and deportations to concentration camps, which were being carried out by the Vichy-based French government under Marshal Philippe Pétain.

In 1942 Montauban was in the 'Unoccupied Zone' under the direct control of the Vichy government. After November 1942 the Nazis moved in to the previously 'Unoccupied Zone' and took increasingly more control of the area. In 1944 Monsignor Théas preached a sermon in the Cathedral at Montauban condemning 'cruel and inhuman treatment' being meted out against individuals. The following day the Gestapo arrived and Monsignor Théas was himself deported to a concentration camp for 10 weeks, before being returned to Montauban.

For additional information click on 'Comments' below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(1) The 'Final Solution' comes to France

During the Second World War Nazi ideologies - including the 'Final Solution' of exterminating the Jewish population - was applied to the Occupied countries of eastern and western Europe as well as Germany itself. In October 1940 the new Vichy-based French government under Marshal Philippe Pétain proclaimed a 'Jewish statute' that all Jews were forbidden to work in certain professions. Additionally, and especially in the 'Unoccupied Zone' of France, many foreign-born Jews were imprisoned at internment camps that had been built before the war.

Yet, the process that led to large-scale deportation of the French Jewish population did not really begin until 1942. The first transports from the French internment camps to Auschwitz concentration camp began on 27 March 1942. Of 1112 Jewish internees deported at that time the records indicate 1008 of them had been killed within five months. The outlook for Jewish people deported from France to the east was not a positive one.

In July 1942 René Bousquet, Chief of the Vichy French police force, informed Helmut Knochen (Head of the German Security Police in France) that the French police would co-operate with the Nazi policy to implement the 'Final Solution'. They would arrest foreign-born Jews but not French-born Jews. This policy would be applied to both the 'Occupied' and 'Unoccupied' Zones. The 'foreign' Jews would then be handed over to the Germans and ultimate deportation to the concentration camps in the East.

What was the difference between a 'foreign-born' Jew or a 'French-born' Jew? What about the situation where one or both parents of a Jewish family had been born outside France but where some or all of the children were born in France? After 1942 the German Nazi directly responsible to Adolph Eichmann for the day-to-day implementation of the 'Final Solution' in France was SS Hauptsturmführer Theodor Dannecker.

In July 1942 Dannecker met with Pierre Laval (First Minister of State and President of the Council in the Vichy-based government). Laval clarified the Vichy government's policy regarding 'foreign-born' Jews. Quite simply, when Jewish families were to be deported from the 'Unoccupied Zone' then children (Under 16s) could also be removed. In the 'Occupied Zone' the government had no interest in the matter. Later, Pierre Laval attempted to justify allowing the inclusion of French-born children among those deported was a humane desire so that families would not be separated. Basically the Nazis could implement the 'Final Solution' in both the 'Occupied' and 'Unoccupied' Zones. The French government and police would help the Nazis implement the policy in both zones.

Monday, 07 September, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(2) The round-up of Jewish families begins

In the Paris region ('Occupied Zone') the big round-up ('La Grande Rafle') of the Jewish population began on 16 July 1942. The plan was for 888 police teams helped by 400 Youth members of the PPF ('Parti Populaire Français'), an organisation of collaborators, to round up more than 27 000 Jews - men women and children. Somehow, rumours of the imminent internments and deportations began to be passed round the Jewish quarters of Paris and many of the community decided to leave home before any round-up began. Nevertheless, about 13 000 Jewish people (including about 4 000 children) were rounded up and initially taken to the "Vélodrôme d'hiver" (winter cycle stadium) which is in the 15th 'arrondissement' of Paris.

Although the internments that took place at Paris in mid-July 1942 are perhaps the best known, other similar round-ups of Jewish families soon took place in other parts of the 'Occupied' and 'Unoccupied' Zones. Despite the somewhat hypocritical 'apologia' of Pierre Laval referred to earlier that the reason why French-born Jewish children were rounded up with their foreign-born parents was a 'humane' policy to keep families together the true policy of the Vichy government was to spilt up the families. The initial German request had in fact been for adults to be deported who capable of working at the concentration camps.

From the "Vélodrôme d'hiver" the Jewish families who had been rounded up were taken to different transit camps outside Paris. While here it was announced that children would be separated from their parents. This resulted in the most terrible and distressing scenes. One way or another - which according to surviving eyewitness reports included the police beating back screaming women from their children, soaking the people water and threatening to open fire with machine guns - the children were forcibly separated from their parents. As required by the Nazis, the adults were transported to the east.

For several weeks during July and August the Jewish children were left to fend for themselves in what can only be described as dreadful conditions. Only a handful of children managed to escape or were smuggled out to be hidden away by well-wishers. The vast majority of the now-parentless children were eventually deported to the concentration camps in the east from transit camps such as Drancy. It is believed that every one of these children - more than 4 000 - died in the Gas Chambers at Auschwitz.

In his book about the deportation of French children, the French Holocaust historian Serge Klarsfield quotes from a letter from Jean Leguay, a Vichy police official to the 'Préfet' (Prefect) of Orléans, who states:

"The children should not leave in the same convoys as their parents. While awaiting their departure, they will be cared for" (Klarsfield, 1996, p.34).

Basically, the way the Vichy-based administration implemented the round-ups actually contributed to making the deportations even more atrocious than they might otherwise have been. According to Serge Klarsfield, the primary pre-occupation of Jean Leguay was to meet the deportation targets required by the Gestapo. In other words, the main thing was to supply the required adult Jewish deportees while the possible fate of the children was of minor importance.

Monday, 07 September, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(3) The Catholic Church in France speaks out

If the people of France did not know before what was going on before August 1942 they would soon do so. In August 1942 several significant French Catholic bishops and clergy openly denounced the atrocities being carried by the Vichy-based government in the name of France. Many supported protest action and where possible even arranged for Jewish children to be hidden away by the Church, such as in Catholic orphanages or boarding schools.

Among these important figures of the French Catholic Church to denounce the way Jewish families were being treated was Monsignor Saliège, Cardinal-Archbishop of Toulouse (then in the 'Unoccupied Zone'). Cardinal Saliège issued a pastoral letter condemning the treatment of the Jews to be read out, without further comment, at all churches in his diocese on Sunday 23 August 1942.

Monsignor Pierre-Marie Théas, Bishop of Montauban (also in the 'Unoccupied Zone'), was another French bishop who issued a similar pastoral letter condemning anti-Semitism. His letter was to be read out without comment at all churches in his diocese on Sunday 30 August 1942. A transcript of this pastoral letter is given in the next section.

(4) Pastoral letter of Monsignor Théas, 30 August 1942

"My very dear brethren,

There are distressing and at times dreadful scenes unfolding in France for which France is responsible. At Paris, the Jews in their tens of thousands have been treated with the most barbarous savagery. And here, in our own regions assisting in a distressing spectacle: where families are being broken up, men and women are herded together like base cattle and sent towards an unknown destination with an outlook of the greatest possible danger.

I add my voice to the outraged protest of Christian conscience and I proclaim that all mankind - Aryans or not - are brethren because they are created by the same God, and that all of mankind, whatever their race or religion, has the right to be respected by individuals and by Nations. The present anti-Semitism measures are an affront to human dignity, a violation of the most sacred rights of the individual and of the family.

May God comfort and fortify those who are shamefully persecuted, that he grants to the world a true and lasting peace, based upon Justice and Love.

Pierre-Marie Théas
Bishop of Montauban

Pastoral letter to be read without comment at all Masses in all the churches and chapels of the diocese, Sunday 30 August 1942"
[Translated by the writer, and used with permission from a French copy of the letter held by the Resistance and Deportation Museum & Archives, Tarbes, France]

Monday, 07 September, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(5) Deportations after August 1942

The final transport of the Jewish children who had been separated from their parents took place on Monday 31 August 1942. Afterwards, the government authorities felt it was more convenient to keep mothers and young children together for transportation to the concentration camps. Many of these went straight to the gas chambers. In the Resistance and Deportation Museum at Tarbes, France there are records of many of the local women and children who were deported and lost their lives in the gas chambers.

Many of the families who had been able to escape the Paris round-up in July 1942 then made their way to the ‘Unoccupied Zone’. For a time at least many of them were able to live reasonably well without persecution. However, from 1942 onwards after the Germans moved into the ‘Unoccupied Zone’ the deportations of Jewish families and other groups continued – right up until the Liberation in 1944.

When France was liberated in 1944 Pierre Laval went into exile to Germany with Marshal Pétain and other members of the Vichy administration. Perhaps illustrating how an Occupied country can often divide families, Pierre Laval’s daughter and son-in-law, Josée and René de Chambrun were prominent leaders of the French Resistance. In 1945 Pierre Laval was captured, put on trial for high treason, found guilty and subsequently executed by firing squad.

Marshal Pétain was also tried and sentenced to death after the war. However, in Pétain’s case the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Marshal Pétain died while still in prison in 1951 – a rather more peaceful death one would imagine than those who were deported by his government to the gas chambers of Eastern Europe.

(6) A little about Bishop Théas

Name: Pierre-Marie Théas

Born: 14 September 1894

Ordained priest: 16 September 1924 (age 26)

Ordained Bishop of Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne): 26 July 1940

Ordained Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes (Hautes-Pyrénées): 17 February 1947

Retired: 12 February 1970

Monsignor Théas was bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes in 1958 - the centenary year of the apparitions at Lourdes by St Bernadette Soubirous. As diocesan bishop it was Monsignor Théas who oversaw some important renovations and buildings at Lourdes, which that year had more than 5 Million visitors. The most significant of the church buildings opened in 1958 is probably the Underground Basilica of St Pius X which can hold more than 25 000 people at any one time.

Despite being a Gentile, because of his attempts to prevent the Jewish persecutions and deportations during the war, Monsignor Théas received the honorary title 'Righteous among nations'. One of the main roads in Lourdes - which runs past the main basilica of the town - has been named after him. After his death, Monsignor Théas was laid to rest inside the cathedral at Tarbes. He is still fondly remembered in southern France, if perhaps not that widely known about elsewhere.


Further reading:

Klarsfield, Serge (1996), "French Children of the Holocaust", New York University Press, New York.


Resistance and Deportation Museum & Archives, Tarbes (Hautes-Pyrénées département), France

Monday, 07 September, 2009  
Blogger Cathie said...

Joseph, you wrote:
Despite being a Gentile, because of his attempts to prevent the Jewish persecutions and deportations during the war, Monsignor Théas received the honorary title 'Righteous among nations'.

I have to say that the title is always awarded by the Yad Vashem Comittee to 'gentiles'. Who else, but non-Jews in wartime could help the Jews, hide them, provide them with false ID, and organize networks to save the children?
In my area (Nice) Monseigneur Remond also received the title, having precisely worked with an underground network (called Le Réseau Marcel) to hide the children, place them in neighbouring villages, so that they would not be deported.
This, without requiring any conversion.... contrary to what happened in other instances.
Catherine L.

Monday, 07 September, 2009  
Blogger Peter G said...

Alas not all French Catholic clergy were made in the mould of Bishop Théas.

We might start with His Eminence Cardinal Suhard. In December 1940 Otto Abetz, the German Ambassador, reported to Berlin: "Cardinal Suhard, the Archbishop of Paris, assures me that the French clergy is ready to act in favour of French collaboration with Germany. The Church has given instructions in this direction to the French clergy ... that the national interest today and in the future lies in close collaboration, and not in hostility to Germany". The most that Suhard ever did was to ask Petain to exempt Jews who had converted to Catholicism. His request was turned down and he left it at that.

Of course not all the French Cardinals were as virulently anti-Semitic as Cardinal Baudrillart who supported the Nazis "as a priest and a Frenchman ... should I refuse to approve this noble common enterprise, in which Germany is taking the lead?"

Then we have Cardinal Liénart of Lille and Cardinal Gerlier of Lyon. Gerlier twinned Pétain with Franco as 'un chef magnifique' and 'speaking on behalf of the Church in France', he said: "France needed a leader to guide her towards her eternal destiny. God permitted that you should be there".

In 1945 the Cardinals got off lightly. Cardinal Suhard was not permitted to attend the thanks-giving service held in Notre Dame, but that's as far as it went. Some of his obedient clergy were not so lucky, they were summarily executed. The pro-Nazi Monseigneur Mayol de Lupé was imprisoned for 5 years, but only a quarter of the senior French Catholic hierarchy were indicted, of whom only a handful were allowed by the Vatican to resign.

The pastoral letter 'Human Dignity', by Archbishop Saliége, was heard by most of the priests in the diocese of Tolouse, but in Cahors Archbishop Paul Chevriere did not permit it to be read out in his cathedral. It did him no harm, he remained as archbishop until 1962.

Source Bad Faith - A Forgotten History of Family and Fatherland, by Carmen Callil, published by Jonathan Cape, 2006.

Monday, 07 September, 2009  
Blogger Cathie said...

I wish to honour the memory of Pasteur Evrard, a protestant minister who saved countless lives in Nice.

Note that the Protestants, as a rule, were much more involved in resisting and fighting against the Nazis - See what took place in Le Chambon sur Lignon, where a whole village protected and saved hundreds of children. (A movie was made on this episode, and translated into English)

Monday, 07 September, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

As you have rightly mentioned, Peter, not all prominent Churchmen in France spoke out against events that went on during the war, some remained silent and of course have been criticised by many commentators ever since. The most significant of these was as you also mention Peter, Cardinal Suhard, Archbishop of Paris, and of course it was in the Paris region where many of the worst actions of July and August 1942 took place, such as splitting up families and the lack of care given to the children left behind.

During the years of Occupation Cardinal Suhard had conducted services for Marshal Pétain while he was visiting Paris. Also, only a few weeks earlier the Cardinal had conducted the funeral service of Philippe Henriot - a prominent Vichy official who had been ‘despatched’ by the Resistance. Hence some of the Resistance ensured Monsignor Suhard did not meet General de Gaulle at Notre Dame. The Resistance had the opinion that the Cardinal would conduct services for whoever was in control of Paris at the time.

On Saturday 26 August 1944 - on the day of General Charles de Gaulle's 'official entry' into the Liberated Paris - the plan was for De Gaulle to march down the Champs Elysées to hear a 'Te Deum' at Notre Dame Cathedral. I know from my previous research that many Catholic elements among the Resistance were adamant that the Cardinal-Archbishop of Paris, Monsignor Suhard, should not take this service. Consequently, the Cardinal was prevented from attending the service and he played no active part in what I would regard as one of THE defining moments of the war in France, and for De Gaulle personally.

From memory, I think the Notre Dame Service - truncated as it was due to gunfire at the moment when De Gaulle arrived at the Cathedral - was taken by the Catholic chaplain to the Leclerc Division of the Free French Army and the FFI chaplain. They sang the ‘Magnificat’. De Gaulle then De Gaulle called it a day, but he had made his mark on the newly-liberated Parisians.

Because of gunshot fire at Notre Dame when De Gaulle arrived, only the 'Magnificat' was sung. Afterwards, the issue of Cardinal Suhard being prevented from meeting De Gaulle at Notre Dame was officially smoothed over. There were letters of apology from both De Gaulle and the Cardinal.

Two days earlier, when Leclerc’s Division first arrived in Paris on 24 August 1944, the Resistance - then in control of the radio - broadcast asking the people of Paris to get in touch with the clergy and ring all the church bells. This announced the imminent deliverance of Paris.

Thursday, 10 September, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Over the last 20 years or so a number of local museums and archives, in addition to the larger national of regional ones, have been developed throughout France dedicated to putting events that took place in the war into a local context. These would tend to be the places to find out about events and the people from those localities who were caught up in these events. They do also cover the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ aspects of the war, if I can put it that way.

The Resistance and Deportation Museum at Tarbes is just one of a network of similar places throughout the country. An important part of what they do is the education of school children and students. From what I could tell from my visit they have a really good stock of original resources.

Bishop Théas was the local bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes from just after WW2, so being a ‘local’ that is why his wartime story is prominently displayed in the Tarbes Museum. With only a few hours to spend at this museum I had time to look through a few of the books, documents and files they hold. Bishop Théas happened to be one of those whose story I looked through during my visit.

I presume there are similar museums in your part of France, Catherine? Hopefully, the story of the Pastor you mention is remembered in one of these museums in his own area. They knew that often the actions they took were at great personal risk to themselves or their families – not an easy decision to make I would imagine. Peter, of course, is the ‘resident expert’ on deportations and living in an Occupied country, even if this involved Britain and Italy rather than France!

Thursday, 10 September, 2009  
Blogger Cathie said...

Here is the link to the local museum :

Sorry folks, it IS in French, but I know you can manage ans you'll certainly find it of interest.

Wednesday, 16 September, 2009  
Blogger Cathie said...

PS - I'll add this, about Pasteur Evrard :

Wednesday, 16 September, 2009  
Blogger Peter G said...

Here are Catherine's links, just click on the titles:

Le Musée de la Résistance Azuréenne

Pasteur Edmond Evrard

(Unfortunately Comments cannot be edited, so I'm unable to give them in their proper place)

Sunday, 20 September, 2009  
Blogger Peter G said...

Sorry, I forgot to add, for detailed guidance on how to make proper links please see the Blog FAQ, Q19.

Sunday, 20 September, 2009  
Blogger Cathie said...

Thanks Peter.... I should learn all those tricks instead of relying on you. Those are interesting sites indeed.
I was moved when I found out some years ago that this pastor was the very same one who helped my grandmother and actually saved her. I had always heard of him and never realized before he'd helped so many people in the same way. Like many other 'Righteous among the Nations', he was a very discreet man who thought he'd only done his duty.

Sunday, 20 September, 2009  
Blogger Peter G said...


I am so pleased that your grandmother was saved. Did Pasteur Evrard help her get to Switzerland or was she hidden in France?


Sunday, 20 September, 2009  

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