All over Europe, a small number of individuals tried to save Jews. But in Le Chambon, a village in southern France, the entire community became involved in rescue. Le Chambon was a Protestant village in a predominantly Roman Catholic region, which before and even during the war was a center of tourism. Now its residents turned their tiny mountain village into a hiding place for Jews from every part of Europe. Between 1940 and 1944, Le Chambon and other nearby villages provided refuge for more than 5,000 people fleeing Nazi persecution, about 3,500 of whom were Jews.1 Magda Trocmé, the wife of the local minister, explained how it began.

Those of us who received the first Jews did what we thought had to be done—nothing more complicated. It was not decided from one day to the next what we would have to do. There were many people in the village who needed help. How could we refuse them? A person doesn’t sit down and say I’m going to do this and this and that. We had no time to think. When a problem came, we had to solve it immediately. Sometimes people ask me, “How did you make a decision?” There was no decision to make. The issue was: Do you think we are all brothers or not? Do you think it is unjust to turn in the Jews or not? Then let us try to help!2

Jews living at a children's home in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, with their director, Juliette Usach, 1941. The people of Le Chambon and surrounding villages hid nearly 5,000 people fleeing Nazi occupation.

Almost everyone in the community of 5,000 took part in the effort. Even the children were involved. When a Nazi official tried to organize a Hitler Youth camp in the village, the students told him that they “make no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. It is contrary to Gospel teaching.”3

The majority of the Jewish refugees were children. The villagers provided them with food, shelter, and fake identity papers. They also made sure that those they sheltered were involved as much as possible in the life of the town, in part to avoid arousing suspicion from other visitors. Whenever residents of Le Chambon learned of an upcoming police raid, they hid those they were protecting in the surrounding countryside. The values of the village were perhaps expressed best by its minister, André Trocmé, who concluded his sermons with the words, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Go practice it.”4

In February 1943, the police arrested André Trocmé and his assistant, Edouard Theis. Although they were released after 28 days, the Gestapo continued to monitor their activities. In summer 1943, the Gestapo offered a reward for André Trocmé’s capture, forcing him into hiding for ten months. Many knew where he was, but no one turned him in.5

Historian Marianne Ruel Robins notes:

The fact that an entire community participated (or watched and said nothing) is remarkable indeed. The silence observed by the people of the Plateau was an important condition for its success, not simply because it sheltered Jews from external threats, but also because it minimized internal dissent. To refrain from talking meant that one would not shame one’s neighbor for his lack of participation; it also meant that different rationales for behavior would not conflict with another, be they commitment to pacifism, nationalism, Christian charity or judeophilia. Silence did not necessarily imply that everyone implicitly agreed on the reasons for hiding Jews, but rather that most people came to agree that something ought to be done.6

The rescuers of Le Chambon also drew support from people in other places. There was an extensive network of sympathizers throughout the region who could be called upon for help with communication and organization. Jewish rescue organizations brought Jewish children to the area for protection. Church groups, both Protestant and Catholic, helped fund their efforts. So did the World Council of Churches. Also, a group known as the Cimade led hundreds of Jews across the Alps to safety in Switzerland. 

When Magda Trocmé reflected on her choices years after the war, she said, “When people read this story, I want them to know that I tried to open my door. I tried to tell people, ‘Come in, come in.’ In the end I would like to say to people, ‘Remember that in your life there will be lots of circumstances where you will need a kind of courage, a kind of decision on your own, not about other people but about yourself.’ I would not say more.”7

Citations

  • 1 : “Le Chambon-sur-Lignon,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, last modified January 2016, accessed May 17, 2016.
  • 2 : Carol Rittner and Sondra Myers, The Courage to Care: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust (New York: New York University Press, 1986), 102. Reprinted by permission from New York University Press.
  • 3 : Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed (London: Michael Joseph, 1979), 102.
  • 4 : Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed (London: Michael Joseph, 1979), 170.
  • 5 : "Le Chambon-sur-Lignon,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  • 6 : Marianne Ruel Robins, “A Grey Site of Memory: Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and Protestant Exceptionalism on the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon,” Church History 82, no. 2 (2013).
  • 7 : Carol Rittner and Sondra Myers, The Courage to Care: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust (New York: New York University Press, 1986), 107. Reproduced by permission from New York University Press.
  • 8 : Carol Rittner and Sondra Myers, The Courage to Care: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust (New York: New York University Press, 1986), 2. Reprinted by permission from New York University Press.

    Le Chambon: Una Aldea Que Opone Resistencia

    Por toda Europa, un pequeño número de personas trataron de salvar judíos. Sin embargo, en Le Chambon, una aldea al sur de Francia, toda la comunidad intervino en el rescate. Le Chambon era una aldea protestante en una región predominantemente católica romana, que antes de, e incluso durante, la guerra era un centro turístico. Ahora bien, sus residentes convirtieron la pequeña aldea en la montaña en un escondite para los judíos de cualquier parte de Europa. Entre 1940 y 1944, Le Chambon y otras aldeas cercanas sirvieron de refugio a más de 5,000 personas que huían de la persecución de los nazi, de los cuales, aproximadamente, 3,500 eran judíos.1 Magda Trocmé, la esposa del pastor local, explica cómo empezó todo.

    Quienes recibimos a los primeros judíos hicimos lo que pensamos que se debía hacer; nada más complicado. No se decidió de un día para otro lo que teníamos que hacer. Había muchas personas en la aldea que necesitaban ayuda. ¿Cómo podíamos rehusarnos? Una persona no se sienta y dice: voy a hacer esto, y esto, y lo otro. No teníamos tiempo para pensar. Cuando se presentaba un problema, teníamos que resolverlo de inmediato. A veces, las personas me preguntaban: “¿Cómo tomó la decisión?”. No había una decisión que tomar. El asunto era: ¿Creen que somos hermanos, o no? ¿Creen que es injusto entregar a los judíos, o no? ¡Entonces, tratemos de ayudar!2

    Casi todos en la comunidad, de 5,000 habitantes, participaron en este esfuerzo; incluso los niños estuvieron involucrados. Cuando un oficial nazi trataba de organizar un campamento de Juventudes Hitlerianas en la aldea, los estudiantes le decían que ellos “no hacían distinción entre judíos y no judíos porque es contrario a las enseñanzas del evangelio”.3

    La mayoría de los refugiados judíos eran niños; los aldeanos les proporcionaron comida, refugio y documentos de identificación falsos. También se cercioraron de que aquellos que habían refugiado intervinieran al máximo en la vida del pueblo, en parte para evitar despertar sospechas de otros visitantes. Cuando los residentes de Le Chambon se enteraban de una redada de la policía, escondían a aquellos que estaban protegiendo en la zona rural circundante. El que mejor expresaba los valores de la aldea fue, quizás, su pastor, André Trocmé, quien concluía sus sermones con las siguientes palabras: “Amarás al Señor tu Dios con todo tu corazón, con toda tu mente y con toda tu fortaleza y amarás a tu prójimo como a ti mismo. Vayan a practicarlo”.4

    En febrero de 1943, la policía arrestó a André Trocmé y a su asistente, Edouard Theis. Aunque fueron liberados después de 28 días, la Gestapo siguió vigilando sus actividades. En el verano de 1943, la Gestapo ofreció una recompensa por la captura de André Trocmé, obligándolo a esconderse durante diez meses. Muchos sabían dónde estaba, pero nadie lo entregó.5

    La historiadora Marianne Ruel Robins señala:

    El hecho de que toda la comunidad participara (u observara y no dijera nada), en realidad, es extraordinario. El silencio observado por las personas de la meseta fue una condición importante para que tuvieran éxito, no solo porque protegían a los judíos de amenazas externas, sino también porque minimizaban el disentimiento interno. Abstenerse de hablar significaba que uno no avergonzaría a su vecino por su falta de participación; también significaba que distintas razones de comportamiento no entraban en conflicto entre ellas, ya fuera su compromiso con el pacifismo, el nacionalismo, la caridad cristiana o la judeofilia. El silencio no necesariamente implicaba que todos estuvieran de acuerdo con las razones para esconder a los judíos, sino que la mayoría de las personas estaban de acuerdo en que algo debía hacerse.6

    Los rescatadores de Le Chambon también recibieron ayuda de personas de otros lugares; había una extensa red de simpatizantes en toda la región a quienes se podía acudir en busca de ayuda con respecto a la comunicación o a la organización. Las organizaciones de rescate de los judíos trajeron niños judíos al área para protegerlos. Grupos religiosos, tanto protestantes como católicos, ayudaron a financiar los esfuerzos; al igual que el Consejo Mundial de Iglesias. Además, un grupo conocido como la Cimade llevó a cientos de judíos a través de los Alpes hasta sitios seguros en Suiza.

    Cuando Magda Trocmé reflexionó sobre sus decisiones años después de la guerra, dijo: “Cuando las personas lean esta historia, quiero que sepan que traté de abrir mi puerta; traté de decirles a las personas: ‘Sigan, sigan’. Finalmente, me gustaría decirles a las personas: ‘Recuerden que en sus vidas habrá muchas circunstancias en las que necesitarán algo de coraje, algo de determinación propia, no con respecto a otras personas sino con respecto a ustedes mismos’. No diré más”.7

    Citations

    • 1 : “Le Chambon-sur-Lignon”, Museo Estadounidense Conmemorativo del Holocausto, modificado la última vez en enero de 2016, consultado el 17 de mayo de 2016, https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007518.
    • 2 : Carol Rittner y Sondra Myers, eds., The Courage to Care: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust (Nueva York: New York University Press, 1986), 102. Reimpreso con autorización de New York University Press.
    • 3 : Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed (Londres: Michael Joseph, 1979), 102.
    • 4 : Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, 170.
    • 5 : “Le Chambon-sur-Lignon”, Museo Estadounidense Conmemorativo del Holocausto, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007518.
    • 6 : Marianne Ruel Robins, “A Grey Site of Memory: Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and Protestant Exceptionalism on the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon”, Church History 82, n.o 2 (2013).
    • 7 : Rittner y Myers, The Courage to Care, 107.

    Connection Questions

    1. Draw an identity chart for the people of Le Chambon. What parts of their identity might the people of Le Chambon have drawn upon when they chose to act? 
    2. What do you think allowed the people of Le Chambon to act successfully and decisively to help Jews even though, as Magda Trocmé says, they had “no time to think”? Compare Trocmé’s description of having “no time to think” to that of the professor in the reading No Time to Think. He, too, says he had no time to think, but his response was very different from Trocmé’s. How do you account for that difference?
    3. In the reading, historian Marianne Ruel Robins mentions other factors that may have influenced individual villagers’ choices to participate in the rescue of Jews, besides exceptional moral behavior. What were some of those reasons? Do they make the villagers’ actions any less admirable?
    4. Elie Wiesel has said, “Let us not forget, after all, that there is always a moment when the moral choice is made. Often because of one story or one book or one person, we are able to make a different choice, a choice for humanity, for life. And so we must know these good people who helped Jews during the Holocaust. We must learn from them, and in gratitude and hope, we must remember them.”8 Why do you think Wiesel thinks we should remember these stories? What were the stories that might have inspired the people of Le Chambon to act? What stories do you know and value that could inspire you to act in a difficult time? 

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