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A German priest helping French prisoners and resistants

In September 1990, the name Franz Stock was given to the esplanade in front of the French Resistance Memorial on Mont Valérien, near Paris, to pay tribute to a German Catholic priest. Born in 1904 into a working-class family in Westphalia, Stock studied theology and took part in the International Democratic Congress for Peace in 1926, whose motto was “Peace through Youth”. He went on to study at the Catholic Institute in Paris. Two years after being ordained a priest in Paderborn in 1932, he was appointed rector of the German Catholic Mission in Paris. The 500-persons strong community was soon joined by a large number of German and Austrian exiles fleeing Nazi Germany. On the eve of the war, he was called back to Germany. Once France had been defeated, he resumed directing the Mission in October 1940.

 

Appointed chaplain to the Paris prisons in 1941, he supported prisoners of all faiths and non-believers, almost all of whom were resistance fighters condemned to death. He accompanied them to their execution at Mont Valérien. Defying the prohibitions of the occupying power on which he depended, he acted as a messenger between the families and the imprisoned Resistance fighters.

 

At the liberation of France, Stock, who at this time assisted wounded German soldiers, was taken prisoner. When the chaplaincy of Paris decided to set up a seminary for German theologians who were prisoners of war, in order to democratise the new Germany, it asked him to take charge. In 1945, the “seminary behind barbed wire” opened in Coudray, near Chartres. Until it was closed in 1947, nearly 1,000 seminarians – future priets – were trained there. Some of them became major figures in the German Catholic Church. Franz Stock, who remained in Paris, died in February 1948. In 1963, after the signing of the Franco-German cooperation treaty, his body was solemnly moved to Chartres. The tombstone bears the inscription: “The grateful families of French prisoners and those shot”.

 

In 1998, to mark the 50th anniversary of his death, a pontifical mass was celebrated in Chartres cathedral by the Archbishop of Paris in the presence of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The European Meeting Place Franz Stock, a place of remembrance and exchange, has been created on the site of the former “seminary behind barbed wire”. Franz Stock’s beatification process has been underway since 2009.

 

Corine Defrance

Sources
  • Franz Stock, Journal de guerre, 1942-1947. Écrits inédits de l’aumônier du mont Valérien, Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2017
  • Franz Stock – Wegbereiter der Versöhnung. Tagebücher und Schriften, Verlag Herder, Freiburg.i.Br., 2017
Further reading
  • René Closset, Franz Stock, aumônier de l’enfer, Paris: Sarment, 1992
  • Boniface F. Hanley, The Last Human Face: Franz Stock, a Priest in Hitler’s Army, 2010
  • Jean-Pierre Guérend, L’abbé Franz Stock (1904-1948): précurseur de la réconciliation franco-allemande et de l’unité de l’Europe, Mesnil-Saint-Loup: Le Livre Ouvert, 2008.
  • Website about Franz Stock: https://www.franz-stock.org/index.php/en/ [also in French and German].

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