It is hard for us to imagine the situation that existed across Europe in 1943. Countless families had been ripped apart, leaving children of all ages without parents, without homes, and on the run from the Nazis. Such was the case for Hans-Helmut Michel, Maurice Schlosser, and Jacques Halpern.
Hans-Helmut was 12 years old when his mother was arrested in the Vel d’Hiv roundup in Paris in 1942. He and his sister took refuge with neighbors, and Hans-Helmut eventually landed at a church, Notre-Dame-de-Sion, under the care of Father Devaux. Maurice, at age 15, was left with his father when his mother and grandparents were arrested and deported. Eventually, his father would find refuge as a farm worker through the efforts of another priest, and Maurice would be left in the care of Notre-Dame-de-Sion as well. Jacques, age 16 at the time of the Vél d’Hiv roundup, lost his parents and little brother to deportation. He was taken in as a boarder at a Jewish school in Paris, but when students at the school began to be arrested, he was secreted away to the Notre-Dame-de-Sion. And so in March of 1943, we have three teenagers, ages 13, 15, and 17, all hunted for many months and now hidden at the same church in Paris.
Into the lives of these three boys now came Father Jacques, a Carmelite priest and the director of a boys’ school, the Petit Collège des Carmes in Avon, near Fountainbleu. Father Jacques made the trip to Paris and took the boys back with him to Avon. With the help of the mayor and other town officials, the boys were given new identities and became students at the school. All went well until January 15, 1944, when the Gestapo raided the school and arrested the boys and Father Jacques. As he was being led away, he turned to his students and said: "Au revoir et a bientot!" “Goodbye and see you soon!” Someone began to clap and Father Jacques left the school for the last time to the sound of applause.
Hans-Helmut, Maurice, and Jacques were first sent to Drancy and then crammed onto transport No. 67 with 1,181 others, 184 of whom were children. Having been alone, on the run, hunted, and hidden for a year and a half, the boys were murdered at Auschwitz on February 6, 1944. Father Jacques was deported to Mauthausen Concentration Camp and somehow lived to see the arrival of American troops on May 5, 1945. Exhausted, starved, and desperately ill, he died just days later.
During the Nazi occupation, Father Jacques was encouraged to caution many times, and he responded in this way:
“I am told that since I am responsible for all the children at the Petit College, I do not have the right to expose myself to possible arrest by the Germans. But do you not think that if that happened and if, per chance, I should be killed, I would not thereby bequeath to my students an example worth far more than all the teaching I could give?"
Lucien Brunel, Father Jacques, was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in 1985.