Mission in Thuringia in the Time of Nazism by Paul Beschet, SJ. Translated by Theodore P. Fraser. ISBN-13: 978-0-87462-095-5. ISBN-10: 0-87462-095-3. Paper. 272 pp. $29. Maps. Bibliography. Index.
While convalescing several months after surviving the horrors of the Death March, a young Jesuit novice and deportee of the sinister Flossenbürg Concentration Camp writes his moving memoirs of the missionary activities that he and a number of committed militants offered while living and working in Germany. Author Paul Beschet came from his Jesuit seminary in Francheville near Lyons in October of 1943 with other fellow novices as a conscript, or slave laborer, to work in German factories and enable the Reich’s war efforts. In his journal that bears striking resemblance to a film documentary, Father Beschet relates the day-to-day works and experiences of his mission group of seminarians and “Jocists” (lay members of JOC or “Young Christian Workers”) as resisters providing spiritual and material support for their brother conscripts (over 700,000 sent from France to Germany under the provisions of the notorious STO draft law of 1943 mandated by the Vichy Government). Jailed by the Gestapo for their “Catholic Action,” Beschet and his fellow resisters are sped off to concentration camps; some of them survive the Death March, April 1945, but a number go the whole route to Christian martyrdom. Unlike the many mostly patriotic and paramilitary Resistance chronicles we are used to, Beschet’s travel journal and narrative present different forms of resistance—both spiritual and moral—in depicting the battle waged against the pernicious ideology of Nazism by those armed only with their Christian faith and humanistic ideals. As such, it offers a new perspective and needed dimension for future studies of the French Resistance.
Theodore Fraser is Professor Emeritus of French & Studies in European Literature, College of the Holy Cross, and Fellow, Global Humanities Institute, University of New England. His previous books include Le Duchat, First Editor of Rabelais; Readings in French Literature; The Moralist Tradition in France; The French Essay; and The Modern Catholic Novel in Europe.