Bourg d’Iré, France
30 March 1895—5 February 1990
Pierre Péteul was the name Father Marie-Benoît was born with. He served in World War I and after it joined a monastery in Rome. He studied there and became an expert on Judaism. In 1940 it became clear to him (and others) that Italy would soon declare war on France and he returned to his homeland.
Moving into the Capuchin monastery in Marseilles, he reacted strongly to the Vichy government’s treatment of Jews. He started arranging fake birth certificates and other documents to be created on the monastery’s printing equipment. With these, hundreds of Jews were able to sneak across the borders to escape France. The German occupation of southern France put a stop to these efforts and Marie-Benoît started to focus on using Italy as an escape route.
With a plan that would send 30,000 Jews from Nice to Africa, Marie-Benoît negotiated with an Italian official and then Pope Pius XII. Both agreed to help, but before the plan could be executed Italy joined forces with Germany. Marie-Benoît turned to Spain where Franco agreed to allow Jews of Spanish descent to cross the border. Marie-Benoît sent 2,600 people across – many of whom had forged documents to “prove” their Spanish history. Marie-Benoît went into hiding after this at the urging of his many friends. He survived the war and lived until 1990.