On discovering the horrors of the persecution of the Jews and patriots, Henri Grouès joined the Resistance in July 1942. He used several false identities including “Abbé Pierre” so he wouldn’t be caught by the Gestapo and the Vichy police.
Abbé Pierre’s involvement in the Resistance began on 18 July 1942, when he took in two Jewish people on the run who knocked on his door. At that moment, he realised the extent and the horror of the persecution the Jews were facing and he began to take action. With assistance from a nun, he managed to obtain false identity papers for them and helped them escape to Switzerland. He gradually created networks of routes through the Alps. He also set up a workshop in his home to make false identity papers and continued to take in those fleeing persecution. In 1943, he organised the safe passage to Switzerland of Jacques de Gaulle, General de Gaulle’s brother, to escape the Gestapo. As he was a quadriplegic, Abbé Grouès carried Jacques de Gaulle across the barbed wire with the assistance of French customs officers.
In February of the same year, a law was passed to provide forced labour to Germany. Abbé Pierre formed the first maquis (underground fighters) in the Vercors for young people resisting the new law. In April 1943, he also founded a newspaper for them. He needed a secretary and met Lucie Coutaz, who would go on to become his loyal colleague for 39 years, supporting him with all his struggles and later becoming the co-founder of Emmaus.
During this period, Henri Grouès used different pseudonyms so as to avoid identification by the Gestapo and Vichy police. Of the four he used, one was destined to stick: Abbé Pierre.
At the beginning of 1944, Abbé Pierre was wanted in Grenoble and Lyon. He was then active in Paris, but was soon wanted there as well. In May, he travelled with a fellow resistance fighter, who had narrowly escaped the Gestapo, to help him cross the border to Spain. When Abbé Pierre was scouting the land on his own in the Basque country, he was arrested by the Gestapo. He managed to escape and, as his situation became untenable, the local Resistance leaders managed to smuggle him into Spain. He reached the unofficial Free French embassy in Madrid and from there flew to Algiers to meet General De Gaulle in May 1944.