Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Père Marie-Benoít and Jewish Rescue: How a French Priest Together with Jewish Friends Saved Thousands during the Holocaust

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Père Marie-Benoít and Jewish Rescue: How a French Priest Together with Jewish Friends Saved Thousands during the Holocaust

Article excerpt

Père Marie-Benoît and Jewish Rescue: How a French Priest Together with Jewish Friends Saved Thousands during the Holocaust. By Susan Zuccotti. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2013. Pp. xv, 276. $35.00 clothbound, ISBN 978-0-253-00853-4; $16.49 ebook, ISBN 978-1253-00866-4.)

Susan Zuccotti's book brings to our attention the life, work, and times of a credible believer-a Good Samaritan in an age when being such could result in a one-way passage to a death camp. She presents, with careful documentation of primary materials, the work of Père Marie-Benoît (born Pierre Pèteul, 1895-1990), the Capuchin priest credited with saving at least 2500 Jews between 1940 and 1945.

Zuccotti concisely establishes context for the priest's wartime work by taking us from his humble origins in Le Bourg d'Iré (near Angers), his excellent education in Capuchin seminaries, and his service as a medic in World War I (receiving three citations for bravery) to his teaching assignments in France and Italy. After recounting his rescue work, the author summarizes his postwar life filled with writing, promoting Christian-Jewish friendship, and visiting the Jews he saved (his "protégés").

What did he do to earn him the French Legion of Merit and a tree planted in the Alley of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem? Simply and extraordinarily this: from 1940 to 1945 he actively, and at great risk of losing his freedom or his life (a warrant was issued for his arrest), helped to hide Jews from their would-be exterminators. He provided false documents to disguise their Jewish identity, found shelters for them to live in Catholic institutions, supplied funding for travel and sustenance, and pointed them to escape routes into Spain and Switzerland. He did this salvific work without proselytizing or expecting conversion to Catholicism (although a handful did so).

The author makes clear that Benoît did not work alone. …

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