Pére Jacques de Jesus

Father Jacques (Lucien Bunel)

The Carmelite friar, Father Jacques of  Jesus, was born as Lucien Bunel in 1900. He was headmaster of the Petit College Saint-Therese de l´ Enfant Jesus in Avon, France, which became a refuge for Jews as well as young men seeking to avoid conscription for forced labor in Germany.

Père Jacques de Jesus
Père Jacques de Jesus on his desk in France.

Father Jacques was sent to KZ Gusen I for trying to rescue several Jewish boys in Nazi-occupied France. He had enrolled 3 Jewish boys, Hans-Helmut Michel, Jacques-France Halpern and Maurice Schlosser, as students under false names in 1943 and hid others in the Couvent des Carmes of Avon and its surroundings.

Père Jacques and the 3 Jewish boys were seized by the GeStaPo on January 15, 1944. On February 3, 1944 the Jewish boys and another Jewish family were sent to KZ Auschwitz.

After being sent to several other Nazi camps, Père Jacques arrived at KZ Gusen I around July 1944. Here he was forced to engage in the most difficult labor constructing a water-reservoir. He also worked on the final inspection command of “Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG” at KZ Gusen I (Georgenmuehle), where he labored alongside Louis Dèble, Jean Cayrol, and Professor Roger Heim.

According to his comrades, “Père Jacques” was a most optimistic person in the KZ Gusen commands and motivated many of his comrads to share their little food and to believe in their liberation. So, like “Papa Gruber” , he helped many survive. Père Jacques also gave his comrades spiritual support and even baptized some of them in KZ Gusen I. Young Polish comrades of his also testify that Père Jacques celebrated illegal religious services (e.g. Easter 1945) at KZ Gusen and visited the poorest of his comrades (the starving comrades at barrack No.24) in his “spare-time” every evening.

On April 25, 1945, with some 800 French inmates of KZ Gusen, he was transferred back to Camp Mauthausen some 9 months after his arrival. He was liberated on May 5, 1945 by S/Sgt. Al Kosiek and his 23 men of the 41st Recon Squad, 11th Ard Div, 3rd US Army. His comrades considered this liberation to be one of Père Jacques´ big achievements, because without him, few of them would have been able to hold out so long in KZ Gusen. Père Jacques was nominated President of the French National Comittee of the KZ Mauthausen-Gusen inmates, but his health was so poor after 9 months in KZ Gusen that he died in a hospital in Linz, Austria, several weeks after the liberation. Like thousands of others, he suffered tuberculosis and weighed only 37 kg. On June 2, 1945, his French comrades gave an official good-bye to his mortal remains at the balcony of the Townhall of Linz (some 15 km west of KZ Mauthausen-Gusen).

In 1985, Yad Vashem honored him as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations”. The world-famous French film-maker Louis Malle paid tribute to his former headmaster in the movie “Au revoir les enfants” that received 7 “Cesars” in Cannes and 1 “Golden Lion” at the film festival of Venice in 1987.

Between April 11 and October 14, 1997 the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum dedicated a temporary exhibition about Père Jacques´ actions, but, unfortunately, his actions at the forgotten Gusen camps were not included (USHMM, Temporary Exhibition on the Actions of Father Jacques, On-line version, Washington, Spring 1997).

On June 2, 2021 a small memorial was inaugurated at the cemetery at Church Saint-Pierre in Avon, France, where Père Jacques rests in peace.

Recommended literature:

  • Bernadac Christian, Les Sorciers du Ciel – Le Pere Jacques a Gusen (Lucien Bunel), France Empire, Paris 1969
  • Carrouges Michel, Père Jacques (Lucien Bunel … as remembered by his fellow prsioners at GUSEN concentration camp) , The Macmillan Company, New York, 1961
  • Hugelé, Gavard, Murphy, Gufoni, Sterckx, Bédarida, Choumoff, Maccise, Par la Croix vers la lumière, Le Père Jacques de Jésus 1900-1945, Textes des journées de recontre organisées à la mémoire du Père Jacques, les 9-11 juin et 22-24 septembre 1995, Les Èditions du Cerf, Paris 1999
  • Murphy Fancis J., Pére Jacques – Resplendent in Victory, Institute of Carmelite Studies (ICS Publications), Washington, D.C. 1998