originally posted on Facebook on 10-May-2015 by, and with many thanks to, Accidental Talmudist, unedited…

The Heart and Mindset of Pastor Trocme, Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon

An amazing tale: from 1940 until 1944, while thousands of French Jews were being deported to concentration camps, the tiny mountain village of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon was the safest place in Europe to be Jewish.

The 5,000 residents of Le Chambon, along with 24,000 others from nearby villages, hid 5,000 Jews – mostly children – and helped hundreds of other Jews flee to neutral Switzerland.

The spiritual leader of Le Chambon was young Pastor Andre Trocme. He was a committed pacifist and, like the rest of the village, a Protestant Huguenot.

For hundreds of years, the Huguenots of Le Chambon were persecuted by French Catholics. Trocme and the villagers had great sympathy for the Jews as an oppressed religious minority and were deeply committed to protecting Jews from any threat.

The Germans occupied Paris in 1940, and Trocme immediately reached out to the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), who were in Marseilles negotiating the release of foreign Jews from internment camps.

The Quakers were able to get some Jewish children out of the camps, but there was no place for them to go. Trocme offered his village as a home for displaced Jews.

Every family in Le Chambon and surrounding areas sheltered Jews. They gave the refugees food, clothing, and false documents. Children were hidden in farmhouses, schools, and hotels.

The townspeople had to trust their neighbors, knowing that if just one person gave away the secret, the entire community could die.

Despite their brave actions, the people of Le Chambon claimed that they were not heroic, but simply human.

Pastor Trocme’s wife Magda said, “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!”

Pastor Trocme required the Jewish children to attend Protestant religious school to avoid suspicion, but he encouraged them to hold Jewish worship services in secret.

In 1943, French police, collaborating with the Germans, arrested Pastor Trocme and his assistant, Pastor Edouard Theis.

They were questioned about hiding Jews.

“We do not know what a Jew is,” Trocme responded, “we know only men.” The pastors were held and eventually released. Le Chambon continued to harbor Jews until the town was liberated in September 1944.

In 1990, the entire town was recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.

For heroically opening their hearts and their homes, we honor Pastor Andre Trocme, his wife Magda, and the brave people of Le Chambon as this week’s Thursday Heroes at Accidental Talmudist.

With thanks to Tali Chais.

img: Jewish and Christian children play together in Le Chambon during World War II

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