Castel, Jean-Gabriel

Jean-Gabriel Castel is a man who has lived an exciting and varied life, filled with unique stories and experiences. Born in Nice, France in 1928, he spent part of his youth in the French Resistance in World War 2, challenging Germany’s wartime occupation of his homeland. He and his family survived all the difficult experiences of the war years – the hunger, the deportations, the tension that filled each day. Jean initially experienced the flight and terrors of the early days of the war, as he and so many French civilians sought refuge from the German onslaught. He lived in Nice, an area that was put under Italian control after the French capitulation in 1940. When Italy was removed from the war, Germany occupied that area directly, and a panzer division was headquartered at Jean’s family home. His mother was a nurse, and the teenaged Jean took on the role of a first aid worker. They were allowed to stay in their family villa when one of the German officers saw that Jean’s grandfather had been awarded the Great Eagle of Prussia during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Given his access Jean was able to keep tabs on German communications, which he reported to his local resistance cell. And his role in the resistance would only grow from there: he smuggled weapons and messages to begin with, but he was denounced by someone, and the Gestapo came looking for him. Fortunately a friend alerted him, and Jean made his escape to the mountains, where he connected with friends and another resistance cell. They were directed in August 1944 to aid the Allies in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France; Jean and his colleagues set out to disrupt German communications, cutting wires and using their maps to direct American soldiers. As his area was freed from Nazi oppression Jean recalls a time of anarchy and retribution as different resistance and collaborationist groups looked to settle scores. Peace did return though, and Jean returned to his studies. He went on to become one of the first scholars of the Fulbright program and an intern at the United Nations. He also taught law at McGill University and the Osgoode School of Law, and they now have an annual lecture named for him at York University, in addition to many other accolades. War and the events of his youth turned him into a lifelong advocate for peace. Jean-Gabriel Castel shared his story with Mr. Masters’ History 12 class in May 2019. In 2022-2023 he took part in several cooperative ventures with the Logbook Project, which can be found here – In 2023 he also returned to Crestwood to take part in our Remembrance Day commemorations.