Sunday, September 14, 2014

The wartime refuge of Stanislas Bender

1. Lourdes in the High Pyrenees of southern France
[Wartime refuge for the Jewish painter Stanislas Bender]
2. Lourdes Parish Church
[Dedicated to the Sacred Heart]
3. The Lady Chapel and WW1 Parish War Memorial,
4. "The ecstasy of Bernadette" by Stanislas Bender
[In the St Bernadette Chapel of Lourdes Parish Church]
 For additional information click on 'Comments' below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

Refugees from Nazi persecution

Stanislas Bender (1882 - 1975) was born into a Jewish family in the Polish city of Łódź, which at that time had been part of the Russian Empire since the 1815 Treaty of Vienna. Prior to the First World War Łódź was a cosmopolitan city with a population of various faiths who largely lived side by side and with tolerance - including Polish Catholics and Jews, Russian Orthodox and German Lutherans. Following the First World War Łódź became part of a re-born Poland.

By 1919 Stanislas Bender was a lithographer and painter. Above all, he was a noted illustrator of Jewish life. He lived and worked in the Bavarian city of Munich until the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s. In 1940, following the German invasion of France, he was forced to flee to the French capital of Paris with his daughter, Marylka (born in 1909). In the modern era Stanislas Bender is highly regarded in the art world and several major European museums display his work.

The German invasion of France in June 1940 led to what the French call 'The Exodus' where large numbers of the population departed in haste from northern France in an attempt to evade the German Occupiers. In particular, many Jews of eastern European origin were among those who left as part of this 20th Century Exodus. Among the Jewish refugees fleeing Paris at this time was Stanislas Bender. He managed to find refuge at Lourdes in the 'Unoccupied Zone' of France [seen in Photograph No. 1 (above)].

By 1940 Lourdes was already known throughout the world as 'The Village of St Bernadette', and a major shrine of the Roman Catholic Church where pilgrims visited from all over the world. The reason for the development of Lourdes as a place of pilgrimage was due to a series of apparitons of a 14-year old 'Lourdaise', Bernadette Soubirous, between February and July 1858. Despite the war, in the 1940s Lourdes was also about to become even more famous throughout the English-speaking thanks to another Jewish refugee fleeing the Nazi persecution.

In addition to Stanislas Bender, among the other Jewish refugees able to find shelter at Lourdes for a time after 'The Exodus' were the Austrian writer Franz Werfel and his wife Alma (née Schindler, formerly Mahler). Franz and Alma Werfel only stayed at Lourdes for a few months before managing to find someone able to guide them across the Pyrenees into neutral Spain and eventually to the United States.

It was during his stay at Lourdes that Franz Werfel first came across the story of Bernadette Soubirous and led to him writing a novel which was published shortly after his arrival in America: "The Song of Bernadette" (in German "Das Lied von Bernadette"). Franz Werfel's "Song of Bernadette" then became the basis of the Hollywood film of the same name, released in 1943. Jennifer Jones, It then became the A Hollywood film based on the novel and with the same title was released in 1943. Jennifer Jones, who played the part of Bernadette Soubirous in the film, won the Best Actress award at the Academy Awards that year.

Sunday, 14 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Bishop intervenes and saves a life

Meanwhile back in France, part of the country had been under the rule of Occupiers from 1940 onwards. The 'Unoccupied Zone', including Lourdes, was largely free of Germans until November 1942 but governed by Marshal Petain's government based in Vichy. Nevertheless, the barbarism increased and increasingly restrictive laws were introduced especially aimed at the Jewish population still living in France, This was true in both the Occupied Zone and to a lesser extent in the Unoccupied Zone.

Originally, Stanislas and Marylka Bender were hidden together but later housed separately for better security reasons. In July 1942 the German authorities began a massive 'roundup' of Jews in the Occupied Zone and then in the Unoccupied Zone. Especially at risk in this 'Grande Rafle' were foreign-born Jews such as the Benders. The 'Grande Rafle' began at Paris in the Occupied Zone on 16 July 1942. In the Lourdes area and the High Pyrenees department, which was in the Unoccupied Zone controlled by Vichy the round-up took place the following month. This was towards the end of August 1942.

Although the majority of the Lourdes population were prepared to assist the Jewish and other refugees living in their community during the war there were still betrayals and denunciations. This was the fate that befell Marylka Bender on 26 August 1942. She was arrested and taken to the railway station at Lourdes awaiting deportation to the Nazi Concentration Camps.

Having been informed of the turn of events concerning his beloved daughter quickly made his way to see the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, Monsignor Georges Choquet (1878 - 1946) who had served as a military chaplain to the French Army during the First World War. The Bishop took up the case of Marylka Bender and made a representation to the Prefect of the district for her release. In his turn, the Prefect ordered the French police to locate Marylka Bender and remove her from what would prove to be a train of death.

Thus it was that both father and daughter, Stanislas and Marylka Bender, were able to survive the Nazi persecution throughout Europe during the Second World War. Lourdes - and Paris - were finally liberated in August 1944. For Stanislas Bender and his daughter the time of persecution and refuge was over. They were free to return to Paris and later eventually they returned to live in Germany. Yet they would never forget the wartime sanctuary of Lourdes, nor its people.

Sunday, 14 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Lourdes Parish Church

The present day Lourdes Parish Church (Roman Catholic) is situated on Rue de l'Église (i.e. "Church Street") in the town [Photograph No. 2]. This church is dedicated to the Sacred Heart and was constructed mainly between 1875 and 1903.

It replaced an earlier and rather smaller church dedicated to St Peter on what used to be known as 'Place Marché ("Market Place") and later renamed the 'Place Peyramale' after Abbé Dominique Peyramale, who had been parish priest at Lourdes at the time of the apparitions of Bernadette Soubirous. The previous church building was mostly destroyed by a fire in 1904 although its baptismal font, the one used for the baptism of Bernadette Soubirous in 1844, has been relocated to the present church.

Inside the church, to the right of the High Altar is the 'Lady Chapel' [Photograph No. 3]. In addition to it being dedicated to 'Our Lady of Lourdes' it also pays homage to the 282 parishioners who lost their lives in the so-called 'Great War' of 1914 - 1918. Their names are listed on marble tablets of this side chapel. The statue of 'Our Lady of Lourdes', the Virgin Mary, in this side chapel is a replica of the one found at the Grotto of Massabielle the place of St Bernadette's visions.

Above the statue is an oil on canvas painting by a local artist from the High Pyrenees department, Lucien Gros (1862 - 1942). Entitled "Homage of the Parish of Lourdes to the dead of the Great War" (in French: "Hommage de la Paroisse de Lourdes aux Morts de la Grande Guerre") it was created in 1918 and commissioned by the parish priest of the time, Abbé Jean-Baptiste Fourcade. The tableau has an allegorical figure of a winged angel, arms outstretched, on the field of battle looking over the fallen French soldiers, one of whom still holds the French tricolour. God the Father looks down on the scene from Heaven above.

In 2014 this painting was restored to coincide with the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. The restoration was undertaken by Genowefa Pawlak and largely financed with the support of the National Pilgrimage of the North African Veterans from 1952 - 1964 (in French: "Le Pèlerinage-Rencontre National des Anciens Combattants en Algérie, Maroc et Tunisie (1952-1964)"). The rededication took place on Friday 20 June 2014 by the Parish Priest of Lourdes, Abbé Jean-François Duhar. Among those attending the service of rededication were the Mayor of Lourdes - Mme. Josette Bourdieu - members of the municipal council and the committee members of the North African Veterans from 1952 - 1964.

On the opposite side of the church, to the left of the High Altar, is another side chapel. This side chapel is dedicated to the local saint of Lourdes, St Bernadette Soubirous. A casual visitor might expect that, to be truly reflective of the Lady there would also be a commemoration for the local war dead of the 1939 - 1945. Yet the connection to those year in this district is not immediately apparent. There is a statue of St Bernadette as a young girl stands on the altar and above this there is another painting depicting heaven and earth. But this work is one by the wartime Jewish refugee Stanislas Bender in thanksgiving to people of Lourdes and its patron saint, St Bernadette [Photograph No. 4]. Let us take a closer look at how this came about.

Sunday, 14 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

"The Ecstasy of Bernadette" by Stanislas Bender

In 1945 Stanislas Bender returned to Lourdes with the intention of creating something for the people of Lourdes in thanks for his own and his daughter's survival. It was completed in 1947. Franz Werfel was a writer and so used his writing skills to create his novel about the visions of Bernadette Soubirous in thanksgiving for finding a wartime sanctuary at Lourdes. Stanislas Bender, as a painter, used his artistic skills to create a painting showing the visions of Bernadette in gratitude for finding his wartime sanctuary in the area. This is the painting found on the wall of St Bernadette's side chapel in the parish church. For many of those who know his lifetime's work this is his greatest masterpiece.

Entitled "The Ecstasy of Bernadette" (in French, « L’Extase de Bernadette ») Stanislas Bender's painting shows the kneeling Bernadette looking towards the heavenly vision of the "Immaculate Conception" with a group of Lourdais looking on. Having pondered for a long time on the matter and finally believing it impossible to display the beauty of the vision as seen by Bernadette, Stanislas Bender depicts this by showing Bernadette looking towards heaven and a shaft of light. The image of 'Our Lady of Lourdes' is therefore left to the imagination of each individual looking at the mural.

In addition to the representation of the iconic moment in the history of Lourdes, the apparitions and ecstasy of Bernadette, it also marks a light that remained during one of the darkest moments in world history - that of the Holocaust and persecution of the Jews during the Second World War. It was here, at Lourdes, that Stanislas Bender and his daughter found a shaft of light that helped guide them through the darkness. It is a message of hope and love as much as one of faith. It was not just Bernadette who found the guiding light of her life at Lourdes. During the Second World War the light of Lourdes remained for people of other faiths or of none. This was incorporated into Stanislas Bender's masterpiece.

"The Ecstasy of Bernadette" measures 4 m x 4 m. Because of the relatively poor quality of paint and materials available to Stanislas Bender in the immediate post-war period shortly after the turn of the 21st Century it was found that the painting was showing signs of deterioration. A campaign therefore began in Lourdes for the restoration and preservation for all time of this major piece of art of the Second World War.

In 2009 two residents of Lourdes, Mirose Ringeval and Pierre-Dadé Brenjot initiated the major project of restoration beginning by raising the necessary funds. Over € 25,000 was raised from donors all over the world, including $5000 from an anonymous American donor and € 4,000 from Stanislas Bender's daughter, Marylka who by this time was over 100 years old. The commission for the restoration was given to Mme. Françoise Athie-Pawlak and her daughter, Genowefa Pawlak. It was Genowefa Pawlak who subsequently restored the Great War painting of Lucien Gros in the Lady Chapel, as explained above.

Sunday 8 September 2013, the feast day of the Nativity of Mary in the Catholic Church, was the day chosen for the rededication of Stanislas Bender's restored masterpiece in Lourdes Parish Church which took place after the Sunday High Mass. As this was an inter-parish feast day many Lourdais were present in the parish church. The rededication and blessing were led by the parish priest, Abbé Jean-François Duhar, in the presence of Monsieur Zbigniew Czech, representing the Polish embassy to France, Mme. Josette Bourdieu, the Mayor of Lourdes, members of the municipal council and others.

Sunday, 14 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Marylka's message

In September 2013 the artist's daughter, Marylka, had reached the grand age of 104 and was living in Munich (Bavaria, Germany). Unable to travel to France because of her age, nevertheless Marylka sent a written message expressing her delight at the restoration of her father's masterpiece. It was read out at the rededication service.

This is a translation by the writer of this article of Marylka's message:
"Dear people of Lourdes,

Allow me to introduce myself. I am the daughter of the artist Stanislas Bender painter of the mural in the parish church of Lourdes. In 1947, shortly after the end of the war, my father painted this mural to thank the community of Lourdes for its comprehensive, humanitarian and effective aid during a dangerous time for so many people.

Seventy years have passed since that time. Younger generations have replaced those who experienced the dark days of war and barbarism. Since then, the painting has suffered from various problems. It owes its rejuvenation to those who, from a very young age, have seen and heard of a painting in their church of a gentleman who had painted it to thank the town for its support during a difficult time.

Thus taking an interest during their youth in the history of their town, it is thanks to their initiative and public generosity, such as the talented artist Mme. Françoise Pawlak, we come together to celebrate the restoration of a work whose origin was from a deep gratitude to Lourdes.

Being too old to be able to come to you, nevertheless I am happy to attend your celebration by letter in the place of my father and also by my own personal desire.

Thank you."

Below is a transcription of Marylka's original message in French:
« Chers Lourdais,

Permettez moi de me présenter. Je suis la fille de l’artiste peintre Stanislas Bender, auteur du tableau mural dans l’église paroissiale de Lourdes. En 1947, aussitôt après la fin de la guerre, mon père avait peint ce tableau pour remercier la communauté de Lourdes de son aide humanitaire, compréhensive et efficace dans une période dangereuse pour beaucoup de monde.

Soixante-dix ans se sont écoulés depuis. De jeunes générations ont remplacé celles qui ont connu les heures sombres du temps de la guerre et de la barbarie. Depuis ce temps, ce tableau a souffert des différents malaises.

Il doit son rajeunissement à celles et ceux qui, dans un très jeune âge, ont vu et entendu parler d’un tableau dans leur église qu’un monsieur avait peint pour remercier la ville de son soutien durant une période dangereuse. Donc intéressés par leur jeunesse à l’histoire de leur ville, c’est grâce à leur initiative comme à la générosité publique, comme au talent de l’artiste, Mme Françoise Pavwlak, que nous arrivons aujourd’hui à fêter la restauration d’une œuvre dont l’origine était une profonde reconnaissance à Lourdes.

Etant trop âgée pour pouvoir venir auprès de vous, je suis pourtant heureuse d’assister à votre fête par lettre à la place de mon père et d’y participer aussi par volonté personnelle.

Merci »

Sunday, 14 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


In the long history of Lourdes and the High Pyrenees many people have passed through and left their mark on the district: among them the Saracen garrison commander Mirat (Lorus), the Emperor Charlemagne (King of the Franks) and Edward the Black Prince.

It has been noted that during the Second World War people of many faiths and of none found sanctuary in the Lourdes area while fleeing the Nazi persecution in other parts of Europe. The story of the Austrian Jewish refugees Franz and Alma Werfel's stay in Lourdes is relatively well known, especially in the United States and the English speaking world.

Outside of Lourdes the story of Stanislas and Marylka Bender's stay in the town is relatively little known. Yet, each year many thousands of visitors will have passed through the parish church, looked at the painting in the St Bernadette side chapel and not realised its importance in conveying a part of local and world history. Thanks to two citizens of Lourdes, Mirose Ringeval and Pierre Dadé-Brenjot, the wartime story of Stanislas Bender, his daughter Marylka and his post-war painting will become increasingly better known. Hopefully, this article will help a little in spreading the knowledge of their story.

Sunday, 14 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


This article is dedicated to Stanislas Bender, his daughter Marylka and the people of Lourdes and district who helped them during the Second World War.


Thanks to the following for their assistance in researching this article:

The Parish Church of the Sacred Heart, Lourdes, France

The Tourist Information Office, Lourdes, France.

Sunday, 14 September, 2014  

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