Born Lucien Bunel in 1900, Father Jacques was one of the individuals who undertook efforts to help Jewish people during the Nazi Occupation of France. His efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, resulting in his death at Linz, Austria after having suffered in the infamous Concentration Camp Gusen, the twin camp of CC Mauthausen in 1945.
Pere Jacques was named one of the "Righteous Among the Nations" by the State of Israel in 1985, as a non-Jew who risked his life during the Holocaust to save Jews. French filmmaker Louis Malle paid tribute to Père Jacques, his primary school headmaster, in the 1987 film Au revoir les enfants.
As headmaster of the Petit Collège Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus, Father Jacques utilized the best tool available to him. He made the boys’ school in Avon, France a refuge for young men seeking to avoid conscription for forced labor in Germany and Jews. In January 1943, he enrolled three Jewish boys — Hans-Helmut Michel, Jacques-France Halpern, and Maurice Schlosser — as students under false names. He also hid a fourth Jewish boy, Maurice Bas, as a worker at the school; sheltered Schlosser’s father with a local villager; and placed the noted Jewish botanist, Lucien Weil, on the school’s faculty.
The Gestapo discovered Father Jacques’ activities and seized the priest and the three Jewish students on January 15, 1944. Weil, his mother, and sister were arrested at their home that same day. On February 3, 1944, German authorities deported the boys and the Weil family to Auschwitz, where they perished. Father Jacques was imprisoned in several Nazi concentration camps before being liberated by American troops at Mauthausen in early May 1945. Suffering from tuberculosis and weighing only 75 pounds, he died several weeks later.
In 1985 the Israeli Holocaust remembrance center, Yad Vashem, honored Pere Jacques as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations" for his efforts in hiding Jewish students at his Catholic boarding school.
Au revoir les enfants
The film Au revoir les enfants was a film made and directed by Louis Malle in 1987, a student who at the age of 11 attended Père Jacques school and witnessed his arrest. The film is about what happened that day and the weeks before, but is set in another school with different characters.
- This article incorporates text from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and has been released under the GFDL.