Friday, 26 July 2013

Priests and the Evaders - Part Three

During World War Two, some priests in occupied Western Europe chose the dangers of escape or intelligence work to fight for the cause, clearly knowing the consequences of discovery or betrayal. 
Many were arrested and deported or executed. When trawling back through information to track the movements and fate of these patriots through prisons and camps; the sparse matter of fact details become instantly striking. Often confined to just arrival, departure and death dates these are illustrative of the organised clinical regime the patriots were fighting against, and the mass dehumanisation process of offenders that the Nazis operated. The men featured in this post are shown only as a gallery of brief illustrations in one tragic aspect of the war. 

Father Vincent Mercier

Father Vincent Mercier was thirty four and involved with the Comete Escape Line. Key operator Michou Dumon headed the Ugeux-Dumon cell in Belgium in 1943 and Father Mercier became active inside a sub-section of this known as ‘Lhoneux.’  Evaders were sheltered in the Putte Kapellen area of Antwerp before being moved south to the main assembly points in Brussels. January 1944 saw Mercier become a victim of the Comete Line’s collapse when he was arrested by the Gestapo, interrogated and tortured. Eventually transported to Theresienstadt concentration camp, Mercier died on 15 May 1945 soon after liberation by the Russians.

Putte Kapellan
Theresienstadt concentration camp  Czecholslovakia

Father Joseph Peeters - Philippe Hamoir Esneux

Father Joseph Peeters had been a priest since April 1920 and a pastor at Comblain-au-Pont in Belgium from 1933. He became involved in a range of resistance activities including moving aircrew evaders, espionage, supplying forged documents and assisting other networks.  Arrested on 1 December 1942 he was imprisoned in St Leonard in Liege until 17 December 1942 and then Saint Gilles Brussels. Sentenced to death by Feldkriegsgericht (German war Court sitting at the Palais de Liège) on 1 June 1943 he was shot at The Citadel of Liege at 6.00am on 31 August 1943.  

Block 24 Citadelle de Liege For Those Condemned to Death - maison de

Commemorative Stained Glass Window at Camblain au Pont

Georges Moussiaux

Pastor of Limont Georges Moussiaux worked in the network ‘Clarence’ which was the largest intelligence gathering operation in Belgium. Other priests were also active in the same organisation, but did not shelter or transport evaders. On 8 July 1942 Moussiaux was arrested and incarcerated at St Leonard prison Liège, then later deported to Bochum. A familiar pattern followed with transfers to further camps and prisons, until he died on 3 May 1945.

Abbé Julien Joseph LePlat 

A member of ‘Group Jam’ Abbé  Julien Joseph LePlat was pastor at Heer sur Meuse and involved in aiding evaders when he was arrested on 7 January 1944. Sent to the horrors of Buchenwald, the priest died on 17 September 1944, six weeks after sustaining wounds in a bombing raid. 

Heer sur Meuse
Abbot Jules Grandjean
Abbot Jules Grandjean was arrested on 15 May 1942 at Willerzie where he been a pastor since 1936. His involvement with moving evaders through a thick forest area on the Franco/Belgian border into the unoccupied zone had been discovered by the Germans. Imprisonment followed in St Gilles for fifteen months, before deportation on 28 August 1943 to Essen and subsequent camps at Munster, Cassel and finally Hamein. At Hamein, he was sentenced to forced labour and transferred to Brieg, Gross - Strelitz, and finally in May 1944 to Gross - Rosen. Grandjean died near Gross-Rosen on February 11, 1945 during the forced March of prisoners to Dora.

Additional Sources 
The US Medal of Freedom Awarded to Belgians for Services During WW2 – Peter Verstraeten

©Keith Morley

1 comment:

  1. As ever found this post of interest-stories well portrayed by Keith. I decided to look into one of the concentration camps a mentioned Priest had been sent to. Have just been viewing the liberation pictures taken by American Photographer Margaret Bourke-White at Buchenwald, and they make very harrowing viewing. On April 11, 1945, American troops liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald. The horror that the American soldiers found there was beyond comprehension: The camp held prisoners from all over Europe and Russia, including Jews and non-Jewish Poles and Slovenes, religious and political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, criminals, homosexuals, and prisoners of war.In addition to Jews, Buchenwald held captive politicians, poets, concert pianists, architects and writers. Among the Buchenwald survivors were Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel; child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim; Austrian architect and industrial designer Henry P. Glass; and Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Clergy held inside its formidable walls included Yisrael Meir Lau, former Chief Rabbi of Israel; and Paul Schneider, German pastor, who died at the camp in 1939.Although Buchenwald was not considered an “extermination camp,” historians estimate that more than 56,000 prisoners died there. Extreme malnutrition, disease, the “Vernichtung durch Arbeit” (extermination through labor) policy—all claimed many lives. Some prisoners were summarily executed with a shot through the back of the neck. Especially heinous were cases of human experimentation: experiments to test the amount of poison required to kill; infliction of severe phosphorus burns in order to test the effectiveness of a balm. This was basically in my view one of the worst camps imaginable. I won’t go into detail but it displayed a total disregard for human life. It is hard to imagine a more depraved ‘mindset’. Some of the Priests were crucified upside down. For those who were lucky to be liberated the following may be apt.
    “For in the end, freedom is a personal and lonely battle; and one faces down fears of today so that those of tomorrow might be engaged.”
    Alice Walker