Le Chambon sur Lignon

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Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is a commune in the Haute-Loire department in south-central France with a past !.

Primarily a Huguenot town, it became a haven for Jews fleeing from the Nazis during World War II.

During the Holocaust in France, in a tiny mountain Huguenot village 350 miles from Paris called Le Chambon-sur-lignon, 5,000 Jews, mostly children, found shelter with 5,000 Christians, almost the entire population of the village.

Defying the French government which was collaborating with the Nazis, the villagers of Le Chambon hid Jews in their homes for years. They provided the refugees with forged identification, provided education for the children, ration cards, and sent them to safety in Switzerland.

The Chambonnaises were descendants of the Huguenots, the first Protestants in Catholic France. Having endured persecution in France they were able to understand the plight of the Jews.

Under the leadership of a young French pastor, Andre Trocmé, the people of Le Chambon felt it their duty to help people in need, never considering their actions heroic or dangerous.

Born in 1901, Trocmé came from a long line of German Huguenots. As a teenager in World War I he had been profoundly influenced by a German soldier who was a conscientious objector.

Andre Trocmé and his assistant pastor Edouard Theis were pacifists. In1938 they founded Ecole Nouvelle Cévenole, an international pacifist school that educated Jewish children. Attendance grew from 18 in 1938 to 350 in 1944.

Trocmé and Edouard Theis inspired the non-violent rescue activity in Le Chambon between 1940 and 1944, enlisting the involvement of 13 Protestant ministers.

Residents of the town were unaware of the rescue efforts of their neighbors. They neither talked about it during the war, nor after, when the refugees had already left. No records were kept.

By the middle of the Occupation, there were seven houses in Le Chambon, financed by Quakers, Catholic clergy, the Red Cross and Sweden, for children whose parents had been deported. The Vichy police frequently searched houses and farms in the village.

The head of one of these schools was Daniel Trocmé, Andre's, cousin, head of one of France's finest elementary schools, Les Roches, who had a heart condition which made it difficult for him to do strenuous work.

When the Nazis discovered the school, they arrested Daniel, and questioned him all the way to the prison camp, Maidenek in Eastern Poland, where he was gassed and incinerated, in 1944.

The village was known to the Germans as "that nest of Jews in Protestant country," where no villager denounced a refugee or a person concealing refugees. When a national leader of the Reformed church asked Trocmé to stop aiding Jews, because it would damage French Protestantism, he refused.

As Jews in Paris were deported in 1942, he delivered this sermon, "The Christian Church should drop to its knees and beg pardon of God for its cowardice." While the Vichy government allowed 75,000 Jews to go to their deaths and made informing on Jews patriotic, the French police cooperated with the Nazis.

The abandonment of the Jews prompted Elie Wiesel to write "What hurts the victim is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander. Villagers in Chambon, armed with their beliefs, in view of storm troopers, saved the lives of 5,000 refugees."

In Le Chambon women played a key role in the rescue. They were faced with the decision to whether or not take a stranger into their homes whose presence could imperil the lives of their families. The women of Le Chambon were the backbone of much of what occurred there.

Pastor Trocmé always responded to calls for help to hide Jews, even if it jeopardized his life, his wife or children, because Huguenots believe in the dignity of all humans, without using their influence to convert Jewish refugees.

Once Chambon became "a city of refuge," they felt compelled to diminish suffering and put into action the principles in which they believed that faith without works is dead. No violence, not even the violence needed to defeat Hitler, was permissible to them as Christian pacifists.

Trocmé told a Vichy official who had threatened him about the sheltering of the Jews: "We do not know what a Jew is," he told him, "we only know men."

Andre Trocmé was eventually arrested, and released, without having been persuaded to sign a commitment to follow government orders regarding Jews. Many Jews resided in relative calm until the end of the war, with the aid of local residents.

While Andre was in hiding his wife, Magda, continued taking trips with Jews to neutral Switzerland. Many involved in the rescue efforts received a medal from Yad Vashem that contains a Talmudic saying, "Whoever saves a single life is as one who saved an entire world."

"The responsibility of Christians" they said, in Church after an armistice with Nazi Germany was signed, "is to resist violence through the weapons of the spirit."

In 1990 Le Chambon, became the first community to be honored as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem. Two thousand French Righteous Among the Nations have been recognized for their help of Jews during the Holocaust, 40 of them in Le Chambon

And it is a deliberate choice, in tune with our Internationalism that we chose this place with such a historic appeal.

 

 

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President Barack Obama speaks about Le Chambon
Yom Hashoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day
United States Capitol, April 23, 2009 (excerpt)

“We also remember the number 5,000 -- the number of Jews rescued by the villagers of Le Chambon, France -- one life saved for each of its 5,000 residents. Not a single Jew who came there was turned away, or turned in. But it was not until decades later that the villagers spoke of what they had done -- and even then, only reluctantly.

The author of a book on the rescue found that those he interviewed were baffled by his interest. "How could you call us 'good'?" they said. "We were doing what had to be done."“…”Their legacy is our inheritance. And the question is how do we honor and preserve it? How do we ensure that "never again" isn't an empty slogan, or merely an aspiration, but also a call to action?”

The course