On the 75th anniversary of the deaths in the Dachau death camp of two founders of the Young Christian Workers, it is illuminating to recall their commitment and sacrifice, writes Stefan Gigacz. Source: Catholic Outlook.
On Monday, the world commemorated the liberation by Soviet troops of the infamous camp at Auschwitz, where so many people perished during World War II. Sadly, this was not the end for all camps. Many others would continue to die in other camps over the next few months.
Among these were Fernand Tonnet and Paul Garcet, two members of the “founder trio” of the Belgian JOC, who died at the Nazi death camp at Dachau in January and February 1945.
Born in 1894, Fernand Tonnet met young Fr Joseph Cardijn within weeks of the latter’s appointment as a curate in the parish of Our Lady of Laeken near Brussels at Easter 1912.
In 1919, he teamed up again with Fr Cardijn and two other young men, Paul Garcet and Jacques Meert, to launch the Jeunesse Syndicaliste (Young Trade Unionists), the forerunner of the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (JOC) or Young Christian Workers (YCW).
For the next six years, the dynamic group worked together to develop the emerging movement, eventually gaining the approval of Pope Pius XI for their initiative. This, in turn, led to an explosion of growth of the YCW with 400 new teams launched in 1925 alone.
Much of the pair’s work was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. In 1940, Belgium was occupied by invading German forces. Yet despite dangers, Tonnet and Garcet continued their apostolic work.
Although they were not formal members of the underground resistance, they nevertheless took many risks to provide aid to those in need. Inevitably, their actions came under scrutiny.
Garcet was arrested at the beginning of June 1943 for allegedly helping to provide lodging for a parachutist member of the Resistance. Tonnet was later accused having failed to report the location of the parachutist. He was arrested on August 10. By the end of August 1943, Garcet and Tonnet were transferred to the concentration camp at Esterwegen.
After seven months, they were moved to Flossenbürg camp, eventually being transferred to Dachau in Upper Bavaria by the end of 1944.Garcet died on January 23 with Tonnet at his side. Tonnet died 10 days later on February 2.