It was 1939 and within the year France would fall to the German Third
|Sister Helene Studler
Reich. In the northeast corner of France, where the borders of France, Germany, and Luxembourg intersect sits, what is now, the capitol city of the Alsace- Lorraine region, Metz. Being the last of the Medieval fortified cities in France, Metz held a particular interest to the Germans, and would eventually be captured and occupied by the Third Reich.
It was during these desperate times that the one hundred thousand villagers of Moselle were evacuated, being given less than a day to leave the city and thus many had to leave behind all their personal belongings. Witnessing this, Sister Helene Studler (1891-1945), from the Daughter”s of Mercy, used her truck to personally collect and deliver the villagers’ belongings to them after their evacuation. That truck would be indispensable in months to come. After organizing a group of volunteer nurses to provide care and food for a column of prisoners being marched toward Metz, she then used that truck to bring food, supplies and clothing to those prisoners in the stalags. Once there she had to force open the door to get the supplies to them. Knowing that desperate times call for bold action, Helene Studler took it upon herself to set up an organized group of smugglers to make an escape system for the prisoners. During that time she saved over 2000 Frenchmen by helping them to escape to the border and to their safety. She also used her truck to hide prisoners that she herself drove to safety.
But by 1941 the Gestapo had figured out who she was and what she was doing and had her arrested. During her imprisonment Sister Helene’s health declined and she (amazingly) was released early because of it. She must have had an iron will to survive because she continued her work immediately upon her release smuggling prisoners to the border. However, it wasn’t long before the Gestapo was onto her again. Fleeing to Lyon for her own safety, she left the Daughter’s of Charity behind using her connections to come to the aid of the French Resistance where she helped them with General Henri Giraud’s escape.
It is said that at her sick bed (1945) , the General pinned on her the Legion of Honor and kissed her hand. She never lived to see the U.S. Third Army liberate the city of Metz nor the end of the war but thousands of men who survived those horrors have her to thank for her courage, bravery and ultimate dedication to the assistance of those in need.
She is laid to rest in Metz where her liberated prisoners erected a memorial in her honor in front of the hospice from which she worked during her time with the Daughter’s of Mercy.
The Hundred Years War had been raging for nearly the entirety of the
Fourteenth Century. Having employed “scorched earth” tactics against
its enemy, England had laid to waste many of the villages and much of the agricultural land in France, financially crippling the French population.
By the time Joan of Arc is born on January 6, 1412, France had barely overcome the ravages of the Black Plague, which devastated the European Continent in the first half of the century before they were again assaulted by the dynastic Hundred Years War in which a very “Game of Thrones” battle ensued for the French throne for the remainder of the 14th century and into the next.
England enjoyed a long series of victories over the French that lasted generations, beating down the French peoples so greatly as to reduce their population significantly not only by means of war, but through the resulting epidemics, civil wars, and famine.
It is not until 1429, nearly one hundred years since the wars inception, that France finds a glimmer of hope in a young woman named Jehanne d’Arc. (Some records show that she was also referred to as Jehanne Romee, her mother’s maiden name, though at her court trail she referred to herself as Jehanne la Pucelle, or “Joan the Maid”.)
Having had a vision, while alone in a field as a young twelve year old girl, Joan stated that the Saint’s Catherine, Michael and Margaret appeared to tell her to held rid France of the enemy and bring the Dauphin (uncrowned King) of France, Charles, VII to Reims for his rightful coronation. For five years her vision fuels her destiny until at last, she travels to the French garrison commander to make a military prediction that was laughed off until she was deemed to be correct. The credibility of her prediction gained her an audience with the Dauphin Charles in which she so boldly asked to travel as the leader of his Army on a relief mission to the town of Orleans. It is said that her request was granted due in part to her courage and intelligence but also that France having tried every other tactic was out of options and thus decided to try something different.
Joan changed the way the French military met their opponent in the field thus reversing the tide of fortune in France’s favor (for the first time since the war’s start) and gained her the support of previous naysayers. With her standard and sword she lead her men into a series of successful battles that ultimately lead to King Charles coronation.
Her success was short lived though as she was captured by the English, tried and convicted of heresy shortly after in 1430. King Charles VII who, without her help, never would have ascended the throne, betrayed her by apathetically refusing to save her life when he could. Joan was ultimately burned at the stake as a result. Nearly a quarter of a century later, her trial was reviewed and nullified by the Pope, claiming her trial illegal and her death unjustified. He deemed her a martyr. She has become a symbol of French national pride, and a patron saint to many including women of the armed forces.
Happy Birthday Jehanne.