February 1, 1954 or the insurrection of kindness

February 1, 1954 or the insurrection of kindness

Winter 1954. Homeless people die on the sidewalks of major French cities. On February 1, a man, Abbé Pierre, uttered an angry cry on the radio and triggered an unprecedented outpouring of generosity among the population.

The night of January 3 to 4, 1954 ends. At the Luxembourg Palace, the Council of the Republic has been meeting since the day before. Parliamentarians have examined more than 70 texts and are falling asleep. “Gentlemen, I ask you for a little more attention!” asks Senator Léo Hamon. I would like to talk to you about emergency cities. »

This proposed amendment was inspired by a priest, Father Henri Grouès, who calls himself “Abbé Pierre”, his resistance name. “It’s useless!” shouts a counselor. In three years, we will see “for rent” signs everywhere in Paris! » The session adjourned amidst the hubbub. The measure was not voted on.

On the first floor of a rickety house, rue Paul-Doumer in Neuilly-Plaisance (Paris suburb), Abbé Pierre, 42 years old, with the beard of a missionary and Canadian worker closed over his cassock, picks up his phone in the early hours of day, January 4, 1954.

Mr. Minister, the little baby from the Cité des Coquelicots in Neuilly-Plaisance died of cold on the night of January 3 to 4, during the speech in which you refused emergency housing.” (Abbé Pierre)

At the end of the line, the desolate voice of Léo Hamon: “The senators did not believe in emergency cities. » Abbé Pierre himself was an MRP deputy between 1946 and 1951, then he gave up politics to devote himself to the Emmaüs movement founded in 1949.

On the front page of Figaro , this January 5, 1954, the tone is serious: “Mr. Minister, the little baby from the city of Coquelicots in Neuilly-Plaisance died of cold on the night of January 3 to 4, during the speech in which you refused the cities of emergency. It is at 2 p.m., Thursday January 7, that we will bury him. Think about him. It would be nice if you came among us at that time. We wouldn’t receive you badly, believe me. We know you didn’t want that. »

Does he really think the minister will come? His companions at Emmaus hardly believed it… The next day, the priest received several letters. In one of them, Hélène Larmier, owner of a hotel in Paris, the Rochester, offers to make around ten rooms available to the poor.

On Thursday January 7, 1954, shortly before 2 p.m., a large black car stopped in front of the barracks in Neuilly-Plaisance. A tall man steps out, wearing a tie and an elegant double-breasted coat. “It’s here,” says the Abbot by way of welcome.

Around twenty rag pickers are gathered on the dirt road hardened by frost. The minister removes his hat and, bareheaded, joins the meager procession. Together, they walk in the cold behind the small coffin. After the ceremony, at the cemetery, the minister stands for a moment in front of Abbot Pierre.

“You see, I have come; of course I have never known such misery, but I am not incapable of understanding. » “- What matters for us is what you are going to do from now on,” Abbot Pierre replies. Before leaving, Maurice Lemaire promises to examine the emergency cities project.

>>> Also read on Lepelerin.com: The 10 most beautiful quotes from Abbé Pierre

On January 31, 1954, the priest was invited by Georges Verpraët, a journalist in his thirties, to the church in Courbevoie, a working-class suburb. From the pulpit, he tells. The street, the onslaught of the cold, the bodies that fight every night against death and life that sometimes gives up.

Video. Abbé Pierre’s call of February 1, 1954 on Radio Luxembourg. Source: Abbé-Pierre Foundation.

He talks about the companions, their nocturnal rounds and the immense needs. Touched to the heart, the parishioners of Courbevoie raised 750,000 Francs (€16,000) and spontaneously formed an emergency aid committee for the homeless.

That evening, the Abbot was exhausted. He stayed to sleep in the warmth of his friend Verpraët, rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, in Courbevoie. In the morning, the two men learned of the death of a 66-year-old woman, found curled up on Boulevard Sébastopol in Paris, clutching an eviction notice between her frozen fingers.

My friends, help! A woman has just frozen to death last night at 3 o’clock (…) Every night, there are more than 2,000 huddled under the frost, without bread, more than one almost naked…” (Abbé Pierre)

It is 1:15 p.m., an emotional but determined voice rises over the airwaves. He has not finished when the phone is already ringing at Radio Luxembourg: listeners asking who to send their donations to.

In the control room, a technician holds up a “Where?” sign. “. Behind the glass, the Abbot hesitates for a moment then remembers this lady, Hélène Larmier, and her hotel rooms. He says: “We need for this evening, and tomorrow at the latest: 5,000 blankets, 300 large American tents, 200 catalytic stoves. Drop them off quickly at the Rochester Hotel! »

In the Radio Luxembourg studios, a long silence punctuates the call. At 1:30 p.m., the lobby of the Rochester Hotel is crowded. At 2 p.m., faced with the influx of anonymous people, bringing a few notes, a blanket or a woolen item, the police stopped traffic on rue La Boétie.

The day after, France Evening title “No one slept outside in Paris last night”. Two days later, 6,000 letters with checks arrived at the Rochester Hotel. There are so many mattresses, clothes, tents and stoves that the administration allows the ragpickers to use the Orsay station as a warehouse. By the end of winter, the cause of the homeless will have raised a billion francs. Surprised by this momentum that he himself had triggered, Abbé Pierre would henceforth call this winter of 1954 “the insurrection of kindness”.

>>> Also read on Lepelerin.com: “Abbot Pierre has Pope Francis as his heir”

Similar Posts