Page 6, 29th March 1945

29th March 1945
Page 6
Page 6, 29th March 1945 — FRENCH PRIEST-WORKER IN A GERMAN FACTORY
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Organisations: Employment Office
Locations: Leipzig, Dresden

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FRENCH PRIEST-WORKER IN A GERMAN FACTORY

Extracts from Diary of a Hidden Apostle with J.O.C.)Methods

Below appear some extracts from one of the most remarkable documents of the war: the diary of a French priest who volunteered to go to Germany to exercise his ministry among his compatriots. The diary describes conditions Of life in Germany and the way in which the message of Christianity was introduced into one of the toughest spots imaginable. The first part of the full diary is published in the current number of the French Jesuit review " Etude" " August 22:

Arrived at midnight at Leipzig Station. Thirty men and women who comprise our group are directed to the Employment Office. An architect, careful of his appearance, a ligln brown beard enclosing an aristocratic face, has his plans at once upset by a little black doll for whose sake he will give up to-morrow the place offered at Dresden, enrolling with her in a factory at Leipzig. During this time the German secretary offers as discreetly as possible three hand-picked " Fensionnaires." First night is rough. In the morning we leave our " foyer " seeking a French priest and a church.

Mass in the church of the Trihity; deep feeling at finding ourselves in a parish as at home, Here arc the grandmothers who have just taken their places, and then the children who come in holding hands in groups of threes and fours. Then young girls•in their Sunday best, the mothers who carry in their arms a little child, and lastly the men, Germans. . . Prayer begins; soon the whole congregation bows and altogether we say the Confiteor. Then I feel myself suddenly, I, a Frenchman in that Christian ..congregation, the representative of France, carrying her merits and her faults. At the Kyrie a German soldier takes his place by me, a tall lieutenant about thirty-five years old, who begins to answer the dialogue of the Mass in which I also join : soon our prayer which melts into that of the whole community becomes truly tragic; poignant anguish at feeling oneself son of the same Father and reciting together the same prayer bf oblation, while we live this awful war; " Lord, how is it possible that we should be enemies:. that we should give at one and the same time this affirmation of love and this affirmation of hate?" A desperate prayer that one day Christianity may rise.

Monday we arrive at the factory camp. The camp personnel; a German Camp Chief (the Lagerfuhrer), an interpreter. an Alsatian recently returned from the anti-Bolshevik legion. five or six employees (nurses. clerks, sweepers) and three women cooks. Decent arrangements; plenty of washing places, hot water, showers, reading and correspondence room always filled with noisy card players, infirmary and enquiries bureau.

A minimum of cleanliness, order and eisciptine are kept, thanks to the Lagerfuhrer.

Our food? Once a day, in the evenMg after six, we have a big plate of !hick soup. with macaroni, oatmeal or vegetables in it. Bread, butter, sausage and other extras returning at regular intervals. Each month we get It kilos of ordinary bread and I lb. of white bread, 750 grams sugar, 1 lb.

butter, Ih. margarine. 1 lb. jam and a little cheese. Every Sunday a slice of roast meat and at rare intervals an egg or milk.

4 ugust 30 : Beginning of night work. We leave the camp at about ten past five, in order to start work at six and we finish at five thirty, returning to the camp at a quarter to seven. We faced the prospect with some apprehension. but it turns out to be more beneficial than we had expected. if it were not for the isolation in which the new time-table puts us in regard to our comrades. who are most orthem working by day. an isolation that is very awkward in our work, we should prefer it to working by day.

GERMANS HATE THE WAR • The natives haven't really the ap

pearance of people who are interested in winning the war. Nearly all are conscripts and only vaguely interested in their work. The shop is so short of many tools that it is necessary to find impossible combinations fore carrying out the jerb. Often the work is faulty.

All practise in large measure the " Langsam (" slowly") or repeat again and again the one comment here during three months on the war": Scheise Krieg," a phrase politely translated as " filthy war" and spoken while briskly lowering the right hand from the shoulder to the waist.

September I 6 : In the streets children everywhere. They come out of every door. Little fair creatures with angular faces, little girls with bright dresses trimmed with red, blue or green wool. From seven or eight years old they travel alone in the tram on an errand for their parents. How seriously they take their ticket, look after their money! As for the boys, the bigger they are the more one feels that they are in the hands of the Party, by their dress, their jobs, their games. They walk past with their fists clenched, and when one thinks of what they might be, what the reality is which is waiting for them to-morrow! We never tire, Mark and i, of looking at these little children. We count the prams pushed by the mothers. Between the tram stops in a peaceful quarter, I have passed up to 18, and during the few minutes' wait at the tram stop I have seen 14 crossing the roundabout. And how often we have had the opportunity of helping a mother who climbs up to the platform pushing before her thyee or four little children. Shall I confess it? The presence of these little budding flowers, it seems to me, is• the silent and living prayer of a people.

September 30:

FIRST EFFORTS

The first efforts at Catholic Action are not encouraging. It isn't so funny confessing oneself a Christian amidst these masses of uprooted men, so ready only to show the worst in themselves. apparently so established in their egoism, their hate, their vanity, their indifference. They are rarely hostile, but they seem so very far from any religious preoccupation, and above all so very sure of themselves, so " free," that one really has the feeling of not being'-able to give them anything.

Even the thought of suggesting Mass to them makes one feel quite ashamed. and it is even more difficult to sec them saying a decade of the rosary. The most one can do is to excuse oneself for being a Christian. They smile almost sorrowfully when they see a good seminarist or a good Catholic ge up on Sunday morning to go to Mass, poor chap, to think that he.is obliged to go to Mass!"

they are called the toughs, and they must be so since no one dares approach them ; still it won't be thrit good practising Catholic, timid and pale, who will bother to trouble them in their peace, he's far too gightened of seeing himself treated as an altar-boy! Two words suggest themselves again and again to the mind as characterising our attitude towards these people: an inferiority complex which denotes the Catholic ghetto in which we in practice find refuge as often as possible.

Our beds are in the centre of the dorository ; our cupboard is in a good position near the entrance of the camp, practically everyone passes near us, and very quickly we made contact with the most representative elements. It isn't known that I am a priest. Our great concern is to incorporate ourselves in our . surroundings to get ourselves accepted by all as one of themselves. One word alone expresses the whole' of our ambition love, our love which we offer to all, their love which we

desire above everything. And very quickly it is given to us.

The first to give it is Armand, a little Belgian saxophone player, with a doll's face framed with long hair. The factory work doesn't mean much to him. He sometimes falls asleep as he turns his screwdriver and he only draws each month about 60 marks. What we -most want' is the friendship of the toughs of the Lager. " Nenesse," black market specialist among its ; John, sailor on destroyer during the war ; Joseph, who on returning to France after two years' imprisonment found, as he said. his house empty, his wife had gone off with his brother. So he returned tolGermany; Roger above all. Roger, small, beret to one side, extremely shortsighted. but with his nose plunged in a book . . . he had been for a long time a newspaper seller and responsible for the sale and propaganda of Ami du People and later Petit Parisien in different sectors of Alsace Lorraine or the Vosges. A propagandist temperament such as I have rarely met. He was in their day a very save member of the shock groups of the Jeunesse Patriotes.

Bob is a totally different type. . With Bob, one of the seniors in the camp, is John. He always has some escapade to relate and never a penny in his pocket. Hard, braggart, terrible egotist, he has. so to say. no sympathy, despite his origin (very rich middleclass family) and his education. With all these egoisms. often revolting. how to build a community of men? Love. service. mutual help. a whole world to recreate!

End of October: BEGINNINGS OF SUCCESS In a month the horizon of our life is suddenly widened. Our week-ends across the country have brought us many finds which we discuss at length. Mark and I. Sometimes we feel as though crushed, but we realise more than ever how much the others count on us. . We can weigh 'better and better the poverty of our Christian life =the tone of our lives is pitifully feeble. There we are, a little group of responsible Catholics, faithful whatever happens to the Lord's Prayer. whereas the masses are looking for leaders, prophets. shock troops. What a• transformation to work out!

First of all we set ourselves some definite duties; above all to believe patiently in the mission which Christ wants us to fulfil here. Either we shall emerge from the narrow and closed Christianity, from the ghetto, and we shall witness loudly to the Cross, or we shall have nothing better to do than to disappear. Then to train leaders whom we miss terribly; many are good fellows who believe in their movement —very few arc leaders ready to risk everything. But the masses of workers are there. eaten away through lack of leaders. " I don't care a ' hang," indifference, repugnant egotism, the black market and immorality. But it's enough for a clean man to show himself, for these decent fellows, disgusted with their own cowardice, to gather

round him. Little by little these ideas begin to realise themselves and comrades on whom we can count turn up.

The other day Roger, the ex-newspaper seller, returns to the camp all of a dither. He speaks to Mark, " Well I never. I have been here a year and I have never seen the like. A fellow proposes that we shall all eat together instead of gnawing our bread each in his own corner. A chap who suggests having everything common and who shares his cheese! I've seen a good many since I have been here, but I've

never seen that.. Now your mate can ask me what he likes. . ." Roger is caught. Our friendship had begun through sharing potatoes and cheese.

In a fortnight friendship had grown to the point when I could no longer. without failing in loyalty, hide my identity. Either we had to become accomplices or we must remain simply friends I took advantage of one of those odd pauses when we have our soup together and some potatoes cooked under the cinders to make my confession. "You are the first in the camp to whom I have spoken. . ." At first Roger was slightly surprised, then momd by the immense trust I had shown in him he said, wiping his plate, " well, you know if you need anyone, Mark and you, to help the fellows, you can always ask me." We took Roger at his word. We decided to create a friendship group in order to help the fellows and to arrange mutual help among us, to create a community. He is the first enrolled. He agrees to look after the library. In a fortnight it contains fifty hooks and chaps begin to suggest putting then own hooks in it. Hardly had we proposed to arrange some concerts when grind singers show themselves, clowns. musicians, a seminarist organises a little troupe of singers, while a Belgian tries to find an

orchestra. Another Belgian agrees to train a swimming team. Foothall is more difficult because of the lack of equipment besides many would he physically incapable of training. Soon we get a new delegate, a good fellow from Marseilles whei seems to want to get moving With a Joiciste we go out with him one evening, while he is on his way to his assignment (a girl who waits for him in some cabaret or cinema). He is ready to organise a bureau of willing people. We tell him of the Friendship Group founded four days earlier.

November 8: CELL OF CHRISTIAN LIFE.

Usually I go out with Jacques to say Mass on leaving the factory either in the morning at about 6.30 with the curate of a neighbouring villagKor in the evening before or after dinner in the priyate chapel of a parish priest. Whereyer possible we go with three or four militants :-then we return (time is short). making our thanksgiving on the way; we recite together one of the psalms. we throw our prayer to the four corners of the world and in the tram we continue to pray. Other times, taking advantage of the moment when no one is passing in an unfrequented road. I give communion to seven or eight seminarists or militants Our grandalmoner Louis goes to confession every Saturday walking along Trinity Square: in this way he makes astonishing progress. In this place we feel the need of praying as one feels the need to breathe. Every time any difficulty crops up, every time we meet another soul: the militants of Liguori pray together in the street. and on the evening of the meeting of the leaders five of them were reciting the rosary together

on the platform of the tram, With some of the militants we try to form a cell of intense Christian life.

End of November: In launching the Friendship Group my original intention had been to catch the fellows in a mass, so to speak ; only in that way could I see a means. some would call it a trick, of leading them and obliging them, es it were, to listen to me, putting the religious problem before those who seemed accessible to it. All the social service done had for its end to be a means of penetration, to acquire influence and to facilitate an entry into certain souls, to reach them as they say. Second intention was to hide our properly-speaking Catholic activity behind a big social activity, accepted and recognised by the Germans But for the last few weeks it has seemed to me more and more that our action should be not the conquest of individuals, who must at all costs be rescued after they had been attracted to us; but rather a communal service absolutely disinterested and gratuitous to offer as the witness of a Iota' friendship and generosity, even a tempting one, but to leave them entirely free to find their way towards the God Whom we love. We want to take in hand the works, penetrate into the organisation, not in order to ensure our influence, our recruiting, but to better :heir conditions in every possible way and establish a community of those Christian members of which we believe with all our soul that they alone can find a solid, happy and brotherly society. This is why *we can and must openly make our work depend on Christianity and the Church. The others remain absolutely free in their relations with us. No one asks them to go to Mass or to Confession. Let them• judge the tree by its fruits, and if their heart is straight, let them follow us. Our friendship is there to help them and even to warn them, that God wishes to be adored and loved by free men.

CONTRASTS And so our attitude shOws itself every day firmer in this regard. Results are not slow in coming The chaps .feel that, above all, we believe that we aren't concerned to worry them with our practices. They discover little by little that these practices enable us to live and this is much better. More than one comes to confess how much they envy us, how they also are looking for an ideal, Pierre, our beggar, awakens to a profound life. Marcel, our young Belgian, draws closer and closer. A crowd of others quietly surprise themselves in their desire to risc, to look for something different. and when they speak to us we can easily explain to them how it is that our prayer leads our action, how Mass argl Communion arc truly nourishment for us and not only for us but for many others.

And round us there are the workers —another world. Whatever they may be, they have at times the manners of men—a look, a movement, an attitude, a smell a way of bending over the machines or of feeling the blade of a tool, of taking up a slice of bread or of talking of their children. They have that delicacy which is very near to being a prayer, but they cannot know how much I love them ; and when after having left them in the freshness of the rising sun, with one's temples buzzing and one's fingers trembling through the heat of the night, T raise the Host of sacrifice, they do not know how heavily their life weighs in my hands—their toil of the night, that I would charge with love as one charges an electric magnet.

They do not know, they cannot know, because they do not know God. Doubtless they have some sort of idea. but so vague: nature. nation, world. all sorts of things that for us only have a full and true meaning because in them we find the presence of God. of the Father, of the Word and of Love. W" can then. with a religious conviction of which they ignore the strength and the joy. receive everything, understand everything. intensify everything. . . The memory of the last verses of the Watchman's Song:

Der Wind pocht air mein Fenster rind sorieht von lieben Gott.

The wind knocks at my window • and speaks to me of God.




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