From Pastor to Prisoner

The Fellowship  |  February 19, 2020

Pastor Jean Severin Lemaire
Pastor Jean Severin Lemaire

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

A Fellowship of Faiths

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.

The Holy Work of Hiding

Each Sunday after his church service, Pastor Lemaire would provide Jews with fake identification papers and the home 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 informant’s betrayal, which found both him and Joseph Bass arrested by the Gestapo. Bass was able to escape, but Pastor Lemaire refused to go into hiding.

Imprisoned by the Nazis

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 weekly 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.

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