Among the many Jewish families in Będzin, the distinguished Lustiger family is a fascinating example of Catholic-Jewish diversity. The brothers David and Charles were born to a Jewish family in Będzin. Long before the Holocaust, Charles decided to move with his wife Gisèle to France. David, however, stayed in Będzin, where he became an elected member of the town’s council. On the council, he worked closely with Polish Catholics, organizing the life of the local community.
David’s son Arno Lustiger was born in 1924. When Arno turned 15, he witnessed the occupation of Będzin by the Nazis. They immediately confiscated his father’s small company. From now on, David became a worker in his own company. The family went into hiding in 1943, but was deported later this year. David died in Auschwitz-Birkenau. His son Arno survived a series of slave labor camps and death marches (Blechhammer, Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, Langenstein-Zwieberge). After the war, Arno settled in Frankfurt, Germany, where he founded a company and later became a historian of Jewish resistance. He died in 2012. His daughter Gila Lustiger left Germany for Paris, where she became an author.
Charles, the brother of David, had settled in Paris in the 1920s, where his son Aaron Lustiger was born in 1926. Aaron, the cousin of Arno, studied in Paris. At the age of 13, Aaron converted to Catholicism. Baptized in August 1940, he took on the name Jean-Marie Lustiger. During the Nazi occupation of France, Jean-Marie went into hiding in Orléans. His mother was deported from Paris and murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the war, Jean Marie—despite his father’s attempt to annul his baptism—remained in the Catholic Church and moved up in the hierarchy. In January 1981, he became Archbishop of Paris and then Cardinal. In 2006, Jean-Marie accompanied Pope Benedict XVI on his papal visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Jean-Marie Lustiger died in 2007. For his tomb in Notre Dame Cathedral, he wrote his own epitaph, seen below.
I was born Jewish.
I received the name
Of my paternal grandfather, Aaron
Having become Christian
By faith and by Baptism,
I have remained Jewish
As did the Apostles.
I have as my patron saints
Aaron the High Priest,
Saint John the Apostle,
Holy Mary full of grace.
Named 139th archbishop of Paris
by His Holiness Pope John Paul II,
I was enthroned in this Cathedral
on 27 February 1981,
And here I exercised my entire ministry.
Passers-by, pray for me.
† Aaron Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger
Archbishop of Paris
More information on Cardinal Lustiger:
The movie depicts Jean-Marie Lustiger’s life:
On Arno Lustiger’s life:
For Arno Lustiger, see his memoir in German:
Sing mit Schmerz und Zorn [Sing with Pain and Rage] (2004)