My report from Le Chambon, the French town that rescued thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

 

Meeting with Gabriel, 90, a devout Christian in Le Chambon sur Lignon, who joined the Resistance to fight the Nazis and protect the Jews. He was wounded twice.

Meeting with Gabriel, 90, a devout Christian in Le Chambon sur Lignon, who joined the Resistance to fight the Nazis and protect the Jews. He was wounded twice.

 

Presenting a signed copy of "The Auschwitz Escape" to the staff of Le Chambon's museum.

Presenting a signed copy of “The Auschwitz Escape” to the staff of Le Chambon’s museum.

In 1998, the State of Israel honored every single resident of a small French town with “Righteous Among the Nations” status. Why? Because during the Holocaust, the Protestant Christian pastors of this town rallied all 3,000 people to develop a system to hid, house, feed, school and protect some 5,000 people escaping from the Nazis. Most of those who were rescued were Jews, and many of them were children.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to visit this special town — Le Chambon sur Lignon — of which I had written about in The Auschwitz Escape. I went with an Israeli pastor who was born in France and made Aliyah in the early 1980s. He had been there before and had friends in the town. When he heard that I was using my novel to help draw attention to the remarkable story of these remarkable Christians, he offered to take me there. It was a humbling and amazing experience.

Here is a brief report:

We arrived around 8pm on a Friday night and went straight to the evangelical church in town. Waiting for us was a packed room of about 60 Christians from Le Chambon and neighboring towns who had gathered in this mountain hamlet to learn about God’s plan for Israel & the Jewish people.

The Israeli pastor taught the prophet Jeremiah on God’s “everlasting love” for the Jews, on the importance of Jerusalem in the Bible, and why there has been such a long and fierce struggle for control of Jerusalem throughout the centuries.

“You don’t know me, you’ve never heard of me,” I told the assembled group when it was my turn to share briefly. “But I know you. I’ve heard your story. I’ve studied your story and that of fore-bearers. And God told me to tell your story around the world. I’ve come here to Le Chambon to learn more of your remarkable story. To meet you. To understand why you did what you did. But most of all, I’ve come here to thank you, and to thank your parents and grandparents, for risking your lives to save so many lives, to rescue so many Jews, during the Holocaust. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

That night, I had the opportunity to present a signed copy of The Auschwitz Escape to the pastor and his wife. On Saturday, I was able to present a signed copy of the book to the town historian, and another copy to the director of the town museum (via the staff) which is dedicated to teaching the story to future generations.

We also met with several people who had lived through those terrifying years, including Gabriel, 90, a devout Christian whose pastor was Andre Trocme, the hero who organized the people of Le Chambon to develop a system to rescue so many Jews (for details, see below).

In the days ahead, I will share more stories and pictures from our visit. But today I’d like to just lay out some of the facts of the story — facts that I hope you will share with others. When we say, “Never forget,” and “Never again,” it is selfless courage of heroes like the Christians of Le Chambon that we must remember.

  • Le Chambon is located on the Lignon River, on a wide plateau in the mountains of south-central France.
  • The population of the town in the early 1940s was about 3,000.
  • Remarkably, the townsfolk rescued about 5,000 people, most of whom were Jews, and many of who were children.
  • This was an evangelical Protestant town in a country that was — and remains — largely Catholic.
  • Other Christians from surrounding towns also played an integral role helping rescue all these people — it wasn’t just the Christians of Le Chambon.
  • Also, there were brave Catholics who also helped rescue Jews — it wasn’t just Protestants.
  • That said, the senior pastor of the town at the time was Andre Pascal Trocme.
  • Trocme was born in 1901.
  • His family were Protestant evangelicals, descended from followers of John Calvin.
  • They were descendants of the Hugenots, French Protestants who had been terribly persecuted by French kings who forbade them to preach the Gospel, teach the Word of God, publish or distribute Bibles, baptize believers, or gather for prayer and worship. Thus, the Trocmes — like other Christians in the town and on the plateau — understood what it was like to be a persecuted religious minority standing firm against tyrants.
  • Trocme and his family not only hid, saved, and rescued Jews fleeing the Holocaust, they all organized the rest of the town to help.
  • Trocme was ultimately arrested and sent to a concentration camp for his efforts in rescuing Jews, but later was released.
  • He was recognized by Yad Vashem on January 5, 1971 as a “Righteous Among the Nations” for his heroic work to rescue Jews.
  • When you read various accounts of his story, you quickly discover that he was a faithful, born again, deeply devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
  • Trocme couldn’t bear the thought of people persecuting the Jews, for in his view — according to the Scriptures — Jews are the Chosen People of God, the apple of God’s eye.
  • Trocme knew that Jesus was Jewish, and Jesus’ disciples were Jewish, and all of Jesus’ early followers were Jewish. How could a Christian oppose the Jews?
  • Trocme also believed that when Jesus commanded His followers to “love your neighbor,” that this required to Christians to love and care for Jews, even Jews who didn’t — and might never — believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
  • Trocme also believed that when the Apostle Paul (also Jewish) wrote in Galatians 6 that Christians should “do good to all men,” that Paul really men “all” men, including Jews.
  • Trocme’s wife’s name was Magda.
  • Magda was from Italy.
  • Magda was recognized by Yad Vashem as a “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1986.
  • The Trocmes had four children, all of whom helped in the rescue efforts.
  • Pastor Trocme’s nephew, Daniel Trocme, was a science teacher. He was asked by Andre to run a boys school for refugee children, including Jewish refugees, which he readily agreed to do.
  • But Daniel was arrested by Gestapo in 1943, along with 19 boys from his school, six of whom were Jews.
  • Daniel was offered his freedom by the Gestapo, but refused to be separated from the boys entrusted to his care. 
  • The six Jewish boys were sent to Auschwitz and murdered.
  • Daniel was sent to the Maidanek concentration camp where died in April 1944 of sickness and exhaustion. He was 34.
  • Daniel was recognized by Yad Vashem as a “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1976.
  • Another pastor in Le Chambon was Edouard Theis.
  • Theis directed the Cevenol high school nearby, where many Jewish refugee children were educated. 
  • Theis was also arrested for hiding Jews, but was later released.
  • Roger Darcissac was another key leader in the town.
  • Darcissac was head of the public Boys’ School, and also hid and protected many Jews.
  • He, too, was arrested, but later released.
  • To learn more, please read the book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, by Philip Hallie, published in 1994.

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