Resistance in Le Chambon

Le Chambon cover
Account of the events in Le Chambon as told by Magda Trocme
(Philip Hallie)

 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, from the hands of the Nazis (Hallie 5).  The Huguenots were a highly persecuted group in mostly Catholic France before and 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 movement. 

 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 Édouard 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 any cost ‘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 communication networks and worked to save the lives of the Jews who came into Le Chambon on the afternoon trains.  Pastor Trocmé was 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 wanted to protect the whole operation in case one responsable was caught and tortured. 

 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 of the 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.

ID Card
False Identification Card
(Ehrlich 151)

 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 Germans was 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 France 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 the heart to eat.  News of the impending arrest spread quickly and before the meal was through, parishioners began to arrive at the house to say goodbye to Trocmé and bring him packages containing candles, 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 because they 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 attracted even 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 Blood be Shed, there were an unrecognized depth and goodness in the people of Le 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 that hung over the gate of the presbytery.  It was this that allowed them to risk their lives everyday to save the Jewish refugees who came to them asking for assistance.

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