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A Pastor Who Protected Persecuted Jews

Jean Severin Lemaire, on his liberation from Dachau in 1945 (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Jean Severin Lemaire

Pastor of an evangelical church in Marseilles, France, Lemaire was also a lecturer on the Bible. As both an intellectual, as well as a Bible-believing Christian, he felt called to protect the Jews of France who he witnessed being persecuted as the Nazis overtook and occupied his country.

Pastor Lemaire did this first in 1941, when at one of his lectures, he met Joseph Bass, a Jew in hiding who had started a rescue group called Service Andre. Lemaire agreed to support the organization, which aided Jews who were being persecuted by both the Nazis and the Vichy French regime that had given in to the Germans.

The members of Service Andre, people of many different faiths, understood the risks they were taking by helping Jews. They not only sheltered Jewish people, but smuggled them out of France before the Nazis could find and murder them.

Each Sunday after his church service, Pastor Lemaire would provide Jews with falsified identification papers and the addresses of Christians who were willing to hide them. He found hiding places for Jewish children with Christian families or with Christian organizations, while helping Jewish adults escape across the border to safety. The pastor even saved a family of thirteen by getting the Red Cross to intervene for their liberation from a detention camp.

Pastor Lemaire kept up his holy work for two years until 1943, when an informer turned him and Joseph Bass in to the authorities. Arrested by the Gestapo, Bass was able to escape, but Pastor Lemaire refused to go into hiding.

Incarcerated with Jewish prisoners in the Saint-Pierre prison, Lemaire did all he could to boost the morale of his brothers in faith, including helping them hold their Shabbat worship services.

One of the Jewish prisoners, a five-year-old girl named Francine Weil, was imprisoned with her grandparents. In the filthy conditions, the youngster contracted whooping cough, a potential death sentence. But thanks to Lemaire's persistence, Francine was transferred to a hospital, where members of the French Underground were able to whisk her away to safety. Sadly, none of the little girl's cellmates survived the Holocaust.

Despite being imprisoned in both the Mauthausen and Dachau concentration camps, Pastor Jean Severin Lemaire did survive the war. He was liberated by the victorious American forces at war's end. And in 1976, the selfless man of God was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

Tags: Advocates and Allies

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