When this French priest was a teenager, he undertook a courageous act of defiance against the Nazi occupation.
It’s an evening in 1942. France is under Nazi occupation, but the spirit of resistance is alive and well among the population. Alexis Hiessler and two 17-year-old friends are planning to do something that the occupation authorities will not appreciate: The teenagers want to seize the Nazi flag hanging on the bell tower of the basilica next to St. Columban School, where they are students.
They can’t bear to see this symbol, incompatible with their faith, enthroned on the tower of this church, St. Peter of Luxeuil-les-Bains, which was once part of an ancient and venerable abbey.
The friends climb a short ladder and reach the roof. From there, they manage to tear the flag down from the bell tower.
The mission accomplished, young Alexis keeps the flag. Of course, the absence of the Third Reich’s flag doesn’t go unnoticed by the German soldiers. They raid the school but cannot find the flag, which Alexis Hiessler has hidden. Later, he gives it to his mother, who puts it in a safe place.
This story was shared recently by Fr. Alexis Hiessler, who, years after the incident, was ordained a priest like his older brother before him. While tearing down a flag seems like a simple act, under the Nazi occupation—when any act of defiance could lead to severe punishment, even death—it was a particularly symbolic and heroic gesture.
As such, it was commemorated 79 years later by the Haute-Saône Combattant Museum on June 18, 2021, the anniversary of General Charles de Gaulle’s Appeal. The present-day students of the St. Colomban School were present to learn about this page of local history, recounted by Fr. Alexis Hiessler himself, his two friends having already passed away. The museum will keep the flag from now on.
French journalist Frédéric Buridant tweeted:
In the winter of 1942, with two of his fellow students at St. Colomban in Luxeuil-les-Bains, Alexis Hiessler, who later became a priest, tore down a Nazi flag from the bell tower of the church in Luxeuil. An act of resistance underlined on this June 18 in front of the current students of the college.