Reaching Jewish People in France During the Holocaust
Your Mission to the Jewish People has been reaching the Jewish people of France since the early 1930s and especially during the Holocaust period.
By the Second World War there were 300,000 Jews in France, 180,000 of whom lived in Paris. Some were French Jews who had lived in France for centuries, but the others were recent immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe and from Africa and Asia.
This vast number of immigrants captured the heart of the French Protestant Church, which began to grasp their responsibility to the Jews. Many Protestant churches were active in trying to minister to the needs of these Jewish people, both materially and spiritually, as reported by a global inter-mission organization called the Christian Approach to the Jews:
Over 100,000 Jews from other parts of Europe had moved to France since 1933 and the immigrations were stepping up at this time and so relief work for the Protestant and non-Aryan refugees is organized by a committee of the Federation Protestants de France.1
Chosen People Ministries, then known as the American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ), was also beginning to work in France. The son of our founder, Joseph Hoffman Cohn, had a particular burden to help the Jews of France hear about Jesus. He also wanted to care for their physical needs, as the looming shadow of the coming Nazi terror was already known by many. Joseph Cohn and other Jewish ministry leaders saw the horror coming, but, of course, could not have imagined in their wildest dreams the extremes to which Hitler would go to destroy the Jewish people.
In the April 1936 edition of The Chosen People magazine, Cohn describes the work of Your Mission to the Jewish People during the early days of the Holocaust. He wrote:
I arranged with our honorary director in Paris, Pastor Henri Vincent, together with our missionary, André Frankel, to open up a relief station where we shall be able in the name of the Lord Jesus to bring immediate relief to substantial numbers of these destitute families. Our method is to give them tickets, which entitle each one a meal at a restaurant in the Jewish ghetto district of Paris down below the Bastille. These tickets will then be returned to us by the restaurant keeper and we will redeem them at the price of three and one-third francs per meal, about twenty-four cents in our money at the old rate of exchange. We will also provide, whenever we can, clothing, either by purchase or from gifts which Pastor Vincent will receive from friends in France. Pastor Vincent will also form a central committee, which will have charge of this relief work. Let us pray that this venture on our part will be used of God to bring a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ into the hearts of many of those who now seem to have lost all hope. We must remind them that Israel’s God still lives, and that He will send help when all else fails.2
The work of the ABMJ continued to grow in the period between the wars. The Paris edition of The Shepherd of Israel was available in Yiddish and French by 1936. Added to the staff in January 1938 were Mlles. Jermaine Mellon-Hollard and Salomon.
By the summer of 1940, the work of the Mission was forced to end and the missionaries were scattered. Cohn included a portion of a letter from Mrs. André Frankel, which provides us with a description of the tragedy of those days:
My dear director and friend, My thoughts are so often with you, and I know you pray for us in our distress. I am at the above address with my mother after a terrible travel. We are here without money and luggage. We left Paris on June 10th. André decided to leave the day after and join us, but he never came. I have no news from him and I am in terrible anxiety. He may be in danger or in prison, and as the letters do not arrive from all the parts of France where the Germans are, I do not know what to do. No news from Jean Tangui and Pastor Vincent. And what about all our people we helped?
I think we shall be able to return to Paris in some weeks. In any case our work could be continued as soon as Paris will be free, but perhaps not exactly the same. Until that time our sadness is deep. The situation everywhere is and will be distressing. We have to pray to God more than ever and to accept to suffer much more as before.
Do write me at the above address at Royat, will you? I need to hear something from you. I hope you are well, believe me. Yours affectionately, Jermaine Frankel.3
Regular missionary efforts were becoming nearly impossible.
Cohn reported on the Chosen People Ministries efforts in Paris in a 1941 issue of The Chosen People magazine. It is evident from the report that there was deep concern for the fate of the Mission staff in Paris:
From Paris we hear nothing. This is the occupied area and there is no way for us to get money into Paris or for our beloved workers there to write letters to us. We have had some letters from third hand connections, in one case a Quaker lady with an American passport who had been able to get out of Paris and to reach the Atlantic seaport. She wrote us of the terrible suffering through which our workers are going and she bemoaned that there is no way for us to get help to them. We can only pray for André Frankel and for his good wife Jermaine and for that brave mother, and we must not forget to pray for Pastor Vincent who was in the beginning of the war at the battle front at Dunkirk and Bologna; through an indirect source we learn that he had been demobilized and was again back in Paris. 4
Of course, Cohn could not possibly have known the full impact of the Nazis’ savagery against the Jewish people.
Finally, in 1944, Cohn added a note in his lead article of
The Chosen People magazine. He wrote:
Praise the Lord! Just as we go to press, we must rearrange our forms to flash the news that has come to us this moment from Paris by way of a brother in the Lord. Henri Vincent is alive. And praise be to His name, our beloved Jewish missionary whose name we cannot give you at this time (but you all know who he is) is alive! Here is one paragraph only from the letter we received.
“Pastor Vincent of Paris has been used of the Lord in hiding the above Jewish pastor in his building in order to keep him from falling into the hands of the Germans. Many Jewish families have been kept from German torture through the fine work of Vincent and the members of the Baptist Church of Paris. What has been done by these Baptists has also been done by other Christians of other Protestant churches all throughout France and Belgium. One of these days a story can be told of how the Lord’s work continued during the past four years.” 5
The following letter from Jermaine Melon-Frankel printed in the December 1944 issue of The Chosen People magazine gave more of the details:
My dear director and friend, It is such a blessing to be able to write again after these terrible years. I do hope you are well. Give me your news. Here in Paris we are safe, Vincent as well as my husband, our little girl, myself and all the staff. Our work among Jews was never stopped. But we saw our people secretly and André did not live at home, but went to hide himself in three different places in friends’ homes. During this time the police came twice at home to arrest him, but he was not here, and all was well. And now is a splendid liberation! André is at home again and all the work begins again. We have now to see so many new people who are waiting for the gospel. We shall send a full report as soon as the correspondence with the U.S. will be possible again. With all our affection and gratitude. 6
Cohn reported what proved to be the beginnings of a unique post-Holocaust ministry among the Jewish people of France and of all Europe. Chosen People Ministries’ post-war ministry in Paris was an expression of the nature of our ministry from the very beginning: a deep concern for the spiritual well-being of the Jewish people, of course, but also a deep concern for the physical well-being of each individual Jewish person and for the Jewish community as well:
Many of the refugees from the Nazi persecutions know that our mission in Paris is to be the rallying center when the war is finished for Jewish wanderers in exile. And there they hoped once more to meet their loved ones. The address of our Paris mission is in the pockets and memories of thousands of these unwanted Jews as they now hide themselves in the forests and the hills, behind the rocks, from Nazi hunters.7
Cohn again wrote regarding the post-war plans for the ABMJ center in Paris:
Perhaps we should just say by way of reminder that France will soon be open to us and we want to meet the barest needs of that desolated country when the war is done. We want to reestablish homes, we want to reunite families, we want to gather a much larger staff to headquarters in Paris. As we told you in a previous issue, God wonderfully preserved our workers through all the Nazi occupation and we cannot praise Him enough for his goodness to us.8
1 Minutes of European Sectional meeting IMCCAJ 1940:4
2 April 1936 edition of The Chosen People magazine
3 CP 1940c:2
4 CP 1941a, 5:14
5 CP 1944c, 2:21
6 CP 1944d, 3:13
7 CP 1944b, 8:5-6
8 CP 1945a, 5:9