University of Notre Dame
Jacques Maritain Center   

French Relief

[From an autograph manuscript.]

I wish to express the gratitude of my countrymen to Miss Anne Morgan and to her cooperators. Frenchmen will never forget what she did for them in the first world war and afterwards, and what she is doing now. Now, when they are defeated and crushed, given up to the most atrocious humiliation in their history, the faithful love which they receive from all those in this generous country who keep on trusting them and helping them is, in their dire distress, something all the more precious and unforgettable, an invaluable strengthening of their hope.

To trust the people of France does not mean to trust the leaders who at present rule France. I am one of those who consider that the armistice and the coup d'état of June nineteen-forty have been, despite the intentions of their authors, a tragic trap into which France has been thrown and in which she is now caught, and that the unholy things we are witnessing at present are but the sequel of this first abandonment of the spirit and vocation of France. I think that the French soldiers who continue to fight side by side with England do not represent only their own will, their own honour and their own calculable powers, but also the will, the honour and the latent power of the French people as a whole. It is from this standpoint that I appeal to your generosity on behalf of the French prisoners.

First of all I should like to point out that helping the poor and abandoned, keeping prisoners and children from dying, is a matter of human and Christian charity which does not depend on any political position. Nothing would be more harmful to the prisoners and more contrary to their own feelings than to subordinate their cause to or to use it for any political bias or partisan policy whatsoever. This cause is a sacred cause. In the midst of war it refers to the sacred, ever living effort of human love and divine charity. It does not refer to any kind of unjust peace with conquerors who are perfectly resolute in their will to enslave the world by terror and cruelty. The cause of the prisoners is the very cause of the One who said: "For I was in prison and ye came unto me. . . . Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me."

This is true for all of us. This does not depend on any terrestrial policy. May I add that most of those French soldiers who continue to fight, and above all their leaders, were themselves prisoners either in the former war or in the present one; and that the young men who have braved everything to join them in the combat were also prisoners in their captive country, for all France is a prisoner of war. And while we think of her sons captive in Germany, we do not cease to think of that great prisoner -- France, who stretches toward freedom her arms burdened with chains.

Well, the men of whom I am speaking know by experience the ordeals of captivity. No abuse against them and their friends is more injurious than to say, as was said in France and even here by some supporters of French official policy, that they are indifferent to the fate of their fellow-prisoners, or to the fate of the French children. The needs of the French prisoners and the needs of the soldiers of Free France cannot be separated in our hearts. Every Frenchman is indebted to the men and women of good will who, here in America, no matter what their political sympathies, do not link to these sympathies the task of human devotion and work efficaciously to save our brethren. Every time it is possible for us to cooperate in such a work, our duty as well as our desire urges us on.

It is obvious that the work of charity for the war victims must be performed in such a way that the conduct itself of a just war and the weapons of victory should not be put in jeopardy. But it is also obvious that neither the milk and vitamins sent to the children, the distribution of which is strictly controlled, nor the help given to the prisoners, can really jeopardize the weapons of victory.

Moreover this very help is itself a weapon of victory in the lasting struggle for civilization, for maintaining in the world human feeling, mercy, generosity, respect for the human person, concern for the needs and dignity of those in dire distress, means maintaining and strengthening the inner substance of that civilization which is now in deadly danger.

We know, on the other hand, that in the total war waged by Nazism, the conquered peoples are confronted with extermination or slavery. In the case of the French prisoners as well as the children, it is the source of French vitality which is at stake. The French birthrate is badly harmed by the separation of a million and a half prisoners from their families. And these men are starved, they are submitted to the starvation diet with which you are familiar, exhausting labour is imposed upon them, they are put to slow death. If they are not helped from without, those among them who will be able one day to return to France run the risk of being destroyed men. Do you think that to prevent such a victory for barbarism is not the duty of everyone who wishes to save freedom in the world of tomorrow? In helping French prisoners, it is the very springs of human liberty that you are saving for France, as well as for Europe which needs French freedom and French activity.

In helping French prisoners, as well as in helping French children, it is also the French people in its present night and in their dark struggle that you are aiding and strengthening. Obviously, and with right, you, who enjoy freedom, are eager to know everything concerning the morale of this captive people, which a merciless victor is trying to enslave by all possible means. This people is humiliated, robbed, famished, cut off from itself by a stifling line of demarcation, subjected to the oppression of the enemy, bound fast by the Gestapo, confronted with savage reprisals and overwhelming means of oppression, inundated by the lies of the German-controlled newspapers and radio. The present rulers of this people have chosen to collaborate with the Nazis for the so-called new order, they have imposed upon France Racist decrees and Nazi police methods. Yet not only does this people oppose collaboration and keep its faith in the victory of the Allies, but everywhere a heroical underground work -- which may be jeopardized in a bloody manner by those blind acts of terrorism which deliver compatriots to horrible retaliation provoking in its turn a more and more tragic round of reprisals -- everywhere a heroical underground work prepares and furthers resistance in the depths of the country. Illegal literature, clandestine newspapers, hidden organizations stiffen the hope and concentrate the energies. Such are the ordeals that this people is suffering, and the moral strength with which they oppose misfortune. How would it be possible to deprive this people of the last hope of the abandoned, hope for their captives, hope for their children! Every package you send to the prisoners, every can of milk you give the children, not only defends human lives against starvation and death, it also furthers the hope, the burning, sacred hope in the heart of France.

Never has the people of France been in a deeper need of feeling the trust and friendship of the American people. They know this friendship, they place their hope in you. May you feel the desperate intensity of this hope! Amidst all the atrocities and human degradations of the present day, something in the life of nations still witnesses the nobility of men's feelings, I mean that love, living in the depths of souls, and stronger than any historical misfortune, which firmly links the heart of the American people and the heart of the French people. American friends, I thank you, and I beg you: keep alive the hope of the people of France, help their prisoners! Before the terrible winter comes, extend your generosity to the famished and ill-clad captives, send them food and clothing, pay a visit, by the gifts of your love, to those in prison.