Pastor Jean Séverin Lemaire
Pastor Jean Séverin Lemaire was pastor of the Evangelist congregation in Marseilles and a lecturer in Bible studies. As an intellectual and a pious Christian, he refused to acquiesce to the persecution of Jews. In late 1941, after delivering a lecture to an audience in Marseilles, Lemaire made the acquaintance of Joseph Bass, a Russian-born Jew who had gone underground and established a rescue organization called Service André. Lemaire agreed to support Bass’s organization which formalized assistance to Jews and other persons persecuted by the French collaborationist government or by the Germans. Service André was active in the vicinity of Marseilles and in the entire province abutting the Mediterranean coast. Its activists, who adhered to all faiths, knew how risky their operations were. The organization helped shelter persecuted Jews and smuggle them out of France or to other parts of France, such as the Haute-Loire département and the village Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. The inhabitants of this largely Protestant village had a highly developed sense of religious freedom and were willing to support those persecuted because of their faith.
On Sundays after mass, Lemaire provided Jews in need with forged papers and the addresses of Gentiles willing to shelter Jews. He placed Jewish children with Christian families or in institutions for Christian youth, and helped Jewish adults cross the border or go underground. In certain cases—such as the thirteen-member Wigderbuns family—Lemaire intervened with Red Cross institutions to liberate Jews from detention camps. On March 14, 1943, after an informer snitched to the authorities, Lemaire and Bass were arrested by the Gestapo. Bass escaped, but Pastor Lemaire refused to go into hiding and was incarcerated in the Jewish cell in the Saint-Pierre prison. He bolstered the Jewish prisoners’ morale and made sure they held communal worship on Sabbath eve. Francine Weil, one of the prisoners—five years old at the time—subsequently remembered Lemaire as an impressively tall rabbi with a black beard. Francine, who was imprisoned with her grandparents, the Abravanels, contracted whooping cough. Due to Lemaire’s persistence, the wardens transferred Francine to a hospital, where underground members rescued her. None of Weil’s cellmates survived. In another instance, Lemaire protected a Jew thrown into the Jewish cell who was assaulted by other prisoners on suspicion of being an informer. On April 5, 1944, Lemaire was deported to the Mauthausen camp; from there he was transferred to Dachau, where he remained until liberated by the Americans.
On February 19, 1976, Yad Vashem recognized Pastor Jean Séverin Lemaire as Righteous Among the Nations.