in Le Chambon
Account of the events in Le
Chambon as told by Magda Trocme
The village of Le
Chambon was a
Huguenot village with a population of only 3,000 citizens.
Yet, during World War II, the villagers of Le
Chambon managed to save about 5,000 Jewish refugees, mostly children,
hands of the Nazis (Hallie 5). The
Huguenots were a highly persecuted group in mostly Catholic France
after the Edict of Nantes, which allowed religious freedom. Thus, they had an innate sense of rebellion
and this allowed them to be an integral part of the French resistance
Pastor Andre Trocmé was
the religious and moral figurehead
of Le Chambon. He was well-loved by his
parishioners and the door of the presbytery was always open to them. In accordance with his loving nature, the
gate at the presbytery read “love one another” in French.
Along with Trocmé, there were two other men
who were deeply involved in the rescue effort at Le Chambon – Minster
Theis, the administrator of the private Cevenol School,
and Roger Darcissac, director of the public school.
These three men risked their lives and those
of their families in order to help the persecuted.
The idea of Le Chambon as a city
of refuge comes from a
passage in Deuteronomy 19 that discusses the concept of a place for
refugees. A city of refuge is a place for
those who had
been accused unjustly to take sanctuary.
The people of the city of refuge would protect the refuges at
‘lest innocent blood be shed’. This
concept is seen clearly in Le Chambon, where there was a network of
responsables, the leaders of thirteen youth groups established by
Trocmé. These groups became the
networks and worked to save the lives of the Jews who came into Le
the afternoon trains. Pastor Trocmé
the only one in Le Chambon who knew about the whole operation. While almost everyone in the village knew
about and was involved in the rescue effort in some way, Trocmé
protect the whole operation in case one responsable was caught and
There were multiple ways in which
the people of Le Chambon
helped the refugees. False identity
papers and food ration tickets were procured for the refugees, and many
children were able to be integrated into the schools in the village. They were given false names and educated
while being hidden. The geography of Le
Chambon was imperative in its actions as well.
Surrounded by thick forests, the outskirts of Le Chambon
provided the perfect
hiding place for refugees. Also,
families who lived in these forests would open their homes to the
refugees. An anonymous source, whose
identity is not known to this day, would phone Pastor Trocmé
before the Germans
would stage a raid on the village. As a
result of this warning, Trocmé was able to get word to the
refugees in the
village to take to the forests for protection.
False Identification Card
The Gestapo knew about the
activities occurring in Le
Chambon, but did little to actually stop it.
Le Chambon was actually known by both Germans and members of Vichy France
as “that nest of Jews in Huguenot country” (Hallie 10).
Why was Le Chambon left mostly alone by the
German occupying forces? There are many
answers to that question. Firstly, the
villagers of Le Chambon were non-violent, and the main task of the
to keep the peace and the citizens did not contradict this task. Others look at it as a religious miracle that
occurred because of Pastor Trocmé’s deep religiosity.
There was one incident in which
Trocmé, Theis and Darcissac
were rounded up and arrested for their alleged actions.
On 13 February 1943, two Vichy
policemen arrived in Le Chambon to arrest Trocmé and his
co-conspirators. Magda Trocmé, the
pastor’s wife, invited the
two arresting officers to join them for dinner.
The policemen sat down for supper, but said they did not have
to eat. News of the impending arrest
spread quickly and before the meal was through, parishioners began to
the house to say goodbye to Trocmé and bring him packages
sardines, chocolate biscuits, sausages, stockings and toilet paper. The villagers also lined up along the street
as Trocmé was led out of the presbytery and driven away. Theis and Darcissac were arrested along with
Trocmé. The men were kept in a
concentration camp for over a month, and were not released sooner
refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the Vichy
government. When they were eventually
released, they were not given any reason for why this was so. Most believe they had become a threat to the
camp through the religious services they were conducting, which
the most hardened Communists in the camp (Hallie 20-25).
Many ask the question of why this
happened in Le
Chambon. According to author Philip
Hallie, who wrote the story of Le Chambon in his work Lest Innocent
Shed, there were an unrecognized depth and goodness in the people
Chambon. These citizens did not believe
that they were doing anything great or that they were heroes. They merely saw people who needed help and did
what had to be done. The driving force
of the Chambonnais peoples’ faith was the “love one another” teaching
over the gate of the presbytery. It was
this that allowed them to risk their lives everyday to save the Jewish
who came to them asking for assistance.