Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Rome's Resistance

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Rome's Resistance

Article excerpt

Rome's Resistance Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler BY MARK RIEBLING BASIC, 375 PAGES, $29.99

During the Second World War, the Third Reich was opposed by local partisans and ad hoc military and civilian organizations. The Nazi authorities disseminated so-called anti-terrorism propaganda, referring to these small groups of brave individuals as "the army of crime." Photos of them were displayed on large posters, their names cited as proof that Jews and foreigners were responsible. Among the eighty members of the Franco-Jewish resistance who were caught by the Gestapo, one was an Armenian poet, another a Catholic. Seventy-nine were executed in France. The eightieth, a woman, was beheaded in Berlin.

When I was sixteen, I joined the ranks of these anti-Nazi "terrorists." I did not throw bombs at German military facilities. My activities were directed at sabotaging factories supplying the German army and at informing Jews and non-Jews about the crimes committed by the Nazis and their collaborators. I would have thrown bombs if called on to do so, seeing no moral basis on which to refuse such a directive. My actions were not a matter of individual choice but the result of collective decisions regarding priorities, the best use of comrades, and the most effective tactics.

My reasons were both clear and indisputable. Since France's military defeat in June 1940 and the Nazi occupation, the conditions for Jews had gone from bad to worse. At first made to register with the local police, the Jewish population was then threatened with incarceration and, ultimately, deported. My father, a Jewish immigrant who had lived in France since the early 1920s, was arrested in May 1941 and sent to a transit camp outside Paris. In June 1942, he too was deported.

Nazi determination to "cleanse" France of Jews became clear in July 1942. Over three days, Jews-foreign or not, men, women, children of all ages, old people, sick or not-were arrested, detained in camps, and sent east. By 1942 Jews had been numbered and their identity and ration cards marked with a /. They were isolated in a ghetto without walls, compelled to observe a tight curfew, forced to wear a yellow star, forbidden to enter parks or any public place of entertainment, and restricted to shopping between 3 and 4 p.m. Was it any surprise that teenagers of my generation revolted?

The non-Jewish population began to recognize the ramifications of Nazi occupation. As the French police went door-to-door arresting all registered Jews, the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard, wrote on behalf of his clergy to France's head of state, Maréchal Philippe Pétain, to call for human rights to be respected. In the Vichy zone, Cardinal Pierre-Marie Gerlier and Archbishop Jules-Géraud Saliège, supported by a few bishops, made the same appeal. It was in this context that some young people, with their families torn apart and their civil rights curtailed, joined the ranks of the Jewish resistance.

Resistance took two parallel forms. The first was that of military struggle, including sabotaging the production of goods destined for the German armies. The second was a counterpropaganda campaign to inform the citizenry about what was taking place across France and Europe. The resistance called on Jews to hide and to send their children to those French people willing to protect them. Thousands opened their doors. Non-Jewish social workers helped the Jewish resistance find refuge for hunted Jews. This National Movement Against Racism, as we called it, spread its message among all ranks of society. Some intellectuals joined the campaign. The Christian churches also played a role, finding homes for more than nine hundred Jewish children in the Paris region alone. The total number of Jewish children saved by Christians in France has never been established.

Yes, 80,000 of the Jews in France were murdered, but 250,000 survived-despite the concerted effort of the Nazi war machine and despite the collaboration of the Vichy administration and its police force. …

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