Zuccotti (Holocaust Odysseys: The Jews of Saint-Martin-Vesubie and Their Flight through France and Italy, 2007, etc.) pursues the undercover work by a French priest in aiding the Jews in Marseille and then Rome elude capture and death by the Nazis during World War II.
While Père Marie-Benoît’s (1895–1990) activities have been widely celebrated since the war, the extent of his network was not well-documented, and his benevolent motivation toward the Jews was not explained. Born in western France, an isolated, Catholic agricultural area twice overrun by radical republicans in French history, leaving the inhabitants tending toward monarchist views, he early on empathized with the state of being a “persecuted minority within a hostile state” and was attracted to the simple lifestyle of the Franciscan friars. After he served with distinction during World War I, his scholarly, reflective life was again interrupted by strife. Between May 1940 and June 1943, he lived and worked in the monastery of the Capuchins in Marseille, building a secret network, with associates Joseph Bass and Angelo Donati, to shelter the foreign Jews taking refuge in France. Transferred to Rome, perhaps because his work was growing too dangerous and visible, Marie-Benoît helped Jews secure documents and funds to elude roundup and deportation, earning the epithet “father of the Jews” by his protégés, as he called them. Also known as Padre Benedetto, he helped save the lives of at least 2,500 people, acting out of a true loathing for anti-Semitism. “Above all,” writes Zuccotti, “his wartime experience reveals much about the phenomenon of Jewish rescue during the Holocaust.”
A bright light within a dark, deeply distressing time in history.