And yet, let us not forget for one second that there are fine people in the Presbyterian Church who loathe what is happening, who recognize the antiJewish hatred and are fighting against it. Take a look at the guns and butterblog.
My Seraphic Secret article Presbyterian Terror has been edited and printed in the Friday, June 2, 2006 of The Jewish Press.
And from our good friend and commenter Maurice comes this fine article that reminds us of a French Village of Protestant Huguenots that was a safe haven for Jews during World war II.
A Haven from Hitler
The French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon played an extraordinarily courageous role in the second world war, providing sanctuary for thousands of Jews. So why are the locals so reluctant to talk about it?
Tim Carroll investigates
The Massif Central in the Auvergne region of France has in recent years become a magnet for mountaineers, walkers and cyclists. Except for one village, whose occupants, for the past 60 years or so, have preferred to maintain a studious distance from outsiders.
Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is a haven of tranquillity, clinging to the edges of a plateau where the Haute-Loire meets the Ardèche. Perched 1,000 metres above the magnificent Rhône valley, Le Chambon’s community is remote and insular.
The municipal elders do their best to promote Le Chambon. But the locals – descendants of generations of hardy hill farmers – are indifferent to the financial benefits that the tourist trade might offer.
The centre of their village is a little run-down, with a few gnarled old cafes and restaurants. Not so unusual for a French provincial town. But Le Chambon is different. It has its own secret.
In a building at the crossroads of the village I am met by Pierre Sauvage, who was born here. This is the headquarters of his organisation, Amis du Chambon, which is dedicated to commemorating the town’s unique role in the second world war.
It has the feeling of an old schoolroom. Notice boards are covered with photographs of students: happy faces of youths swimming in the Lignon, playing games in the fields, studying in their bright, airy classrooms. This was Le Chambon during the Nazi occupation. And the young, smiling faces mostly belong to Jews, sheltered there throughout the war. Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is the village that said “non” to the Nazis and the Vichy regime set up in the wake of the fall of France. In 1940, when the French capitulated, the village, and a dozen or so of its near neighbours, was home to 5,000 people. By the end of the war those stout, country souls had saved the lives of 5,000?Jews. Virtually everybody on “the plateau” took part in the rescue effort. But Le Chambon is now acknowledged as the nucleus of this communal act of defiance, a beacon of hope and courage in the dark years of Vichy. In 1988, Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial institute, hailed the wartime population of Le Chambon as among the “Righteous”. It is the only place in France to have been accorded such an honour.
It might be expected that in a country widely reviled for her wartime collaboration with the Nazis, Le Chambon would be lauded as evidence of a different side of the story. And to a certain extent it is. President Jacques Chirac has belatedly seized upon the community as a “symbol” of French wartime resistance: as the 60th anniversary of D-Day loomed, he arrived in the village amid great fanfare and declared: “Here in adversity, the soul of the nation manifested itself. Here was the embodiment of our country’s conscience.”
But we all know that Le Chambon was unique. During the war the French were uncommonly compliant with their German masters. Out of about 300,000 Jews living in France at the time, around 75,000 were sent to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps. Historians generally agree that fewer than 5% of French people took part in even the most mild form of resistance. So rather than stir the soul of a nation where anti-semitism is still rife, Chirac’s words have provoked an uneasy disquiet. “There is nothing at all symbolic about Le Chambon as far as wartime France goes,” says Sauvage. “Quite the contrary: it was the exception in a country that overwhelmingly submitted to the Nazi regime.”
Pierre Sauvage was born on the plateau in the dying days of the war. His Jewish father, Léopold Smotriez, was born in Germany but raised in France. His mother, Barbara, was a Polish Jew. They lived in Paris but fled to Marseilles after the Germans invaded, and adopted the French-sounding pseudonym Sauvage. When Barbara became pregnant, the couple were steered to Le Chambon by a friend. They were fortunate. Throughout the Nazi occupation, a doctor by the name of Roger Le Forestier tended to the medical needs of the people on the plateau, and he shared their humanitarian outlook.
On March 25, 1944, he delivered a baby boy to the Sauvages. After the war the family immigrated to the US, where Léo became the New York correspondent of Le Figaro. Pierre Sauvage was raised in the city, unaware of his Jewish heritage or that he was a survivor of the Holocaust. “I knew I was born in Le Chambon,” he says. “But there was nothing in the home or in my parents’ conversations to indicate what they had been through.” It was not until he was 18, when he went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne, that he was told the truth. But for the time being, the story of Le Chambon remained little more than an occasional twitch in his subconscious. Eventually, Sauvage found his vocation in the cinema and became an award-winning film-maker.
In 1982 he was drawn back to the remote community of his birth. He decided to make a film about Le Chambon. Over several years he filmed those who had been involved in rescuing the Jewish children. While listening to their testimony, he discovered something singular about the plateau. In an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country, the area’s inhabitants were predominantly Protestant. The first Protestants in France had long suffered murder at the hands of their countrymen. Many fled the country. But here they clung tenaciously to their rocky territory – and their equally unshakable beliefs.
The area became a sanctuary for the dispossessed. At the turn of the century they welcomed the impoverished children of newly industrialised France. In the 1930s it was refugees from the Spanish civil war – and then the Jews. “The key to their extraordinary behaviour during the war is their collective memory of their own persecuted past,” says Sauvage. One pastor told him: “The Jews felt close to us, because we believed in the Old Testament and they were the people of the Old Testament.” The moral compass of this spiritual resistance to the terror of the time was the pastor of Le Chambon, André Trocmé, and his colleague Edouard Theis. The day after France surrendered to the Nazis, Trocmé told his congregation it was their duty to protect Jews: “The responsibility of Christians is to resist the violence that will be brought to bear on their consciences through the weapons of the spirit.”
Word spread about the sanctuary of psalms and solidarity high in the hills. Soon, trains were regularly delivering refugees. Many were youths smuggled out of the internment camps, often only hours before their parents were deported. Some claim that Trocmé worked with local resistance groups. But this is fiction. Chris
tian relief groups got them out. They were funded by American, Swiss and French charities; Quakers and American Congregationalists; Evangelists – and Catholics. Within months there were a dozen schools and scores of homes helping to cater for this tidal wave of hounded humanity. In flagrant violation of Vichy decree, the children were not obliged to swear obedience to Marshal Pétain. Nor did the church bell ring in honour of his accession, as it was required. Pensions and hotels were bursting at the seams with strange faces. What visitors must have made of all of this is a mystery. “They didn’t blend in at all,” laughs Nelly Trocmé Hewett, the pastor’s daughter, who grew up in Le Chambon and now lives in the US. “They were all obviously Jewish,” she says. Those less well disposed to Le Chambon knew it as “the nest of Jews in Protestant country”.