YAD VASHEM HONORED PASTOR TROCMÉ FOR HIS DARING DEFENSE OF JEWS
ON THIS DAY, 5 JANUARY 1971, the Jewish organization Yad Vashem recognized André Trocmé, former pastor of the Reformed Church of Le Chambon sur Lignon, France, as Righteous among the Nations. In 1984 they would similarly recognize André’s wife, Magda. Many other residents of Le Chambon were awarded recognition at various times, and in 1998 Yad Vashem presented a diploma of honor to the village as a whole.
The tributes were for humane conduct during World War II when Jews were being deported and slaughtered by the Nazis and their collaborators. The people of Le Chambon, and indeed of the entire Plateau Vivarais-Lignon—inspired by the exhortations of pastors Marc Boegner, André Trocmé, Edouard Theis, Roland Leenhart, Daniel Curtet, and pastor-turned-mayor Charles Guillon (all of whom actively participated in the rescue effort)—risked their lives to save perhaps as many as 3,000 Jews as well as other refugees, including Communists, who would otherwise have been sent to concentration camps.
Guillon prepared the way by advising Le Chambon, months before rescue operations were needed, to be ready to assist refugees. André, preaching pacifism, urged his flock to shelter “the people of the Bible” and to make Le Chambon a “city of refuge.” He argued that “The duty of Christians is to use the weapons of the Spirit to oppose the violence that they [evil men] will try to put on our consciences.” Leenhart published a religious paper that called the plateau’s Reformed Church believers to stand with the persecuted.
The French Reformed could identify with persecuted Jews because their own history had included much suffering during Catholic persecutions of Huguenots. The Darbyists and Ravenists, two small sects deeply steeped in Old Testament studies, helped as well, as did Catholics and non-believers, although a small proportion of the Plateau’s population.
Developing a network, the villagers met fleeing Jews, fed, clothed, and housed them, and schooled their children. They helped hundreds escape to Switzerland and hid hundreds more in their homes, in public institutions, in barns, in caves, in country lodges, or in nearby forests. Among the active rescuers—there were too many to name here—were psychologist Madeleine Dreyfus, schoolteacher Gladys Maber, Boy Scout Pierre Piton, Doctor Le Forestier, and cafe owner Dorcas Robert.
Oscar Rosowsky, a medical student, became an expert forger, working nights to prepare false papers for Jews and their rescuers. Teenagers carried out responsible roles as lookouts, couriers, and guides. Hundreds of French people who did not live on the plateau also risked their lives in the rescue effort. However, it was Trocmé who received the lion’s share of attention immediately after the war because of his pacifist preaching, although it was only part of the story. He clearly deserved recognition, though. For instance, Trocmé defied Vichy authorities when ordered to list the Jews who were being protected locally, saying, “We do not know what a Jew is. We only know men.”
Trocmé, Edouard Theis, and schoolmaster Roger Darcissac were interned by Germans for a few weeks. Surprisingly, although two of them refused to sign commitments to obey the government, they were released. The three had gotten out in the nick of time because their camp was soon moved east where most of its prisoners perished. Warned of imminent re-arrest, Trocmé and Theis went into hiding. A German officer caught Trocmé but failed to recognize him and, through inattention, allowed him to escape. He paid for his mistake by being demoted and sent to the Eastern Front.
Although the residents of the plateau successfully hid most of the Jews who came to them, not all rescuers escaped with their lives. Among the dead was André’s second cousin, Daniel. In ill health when a raid captured the Jews hiding with him, he insisted on accompanying them, and succumbed to disease in prison at age thirty-four. Le Forestier was summarily executed by Germans.
Others were captured but lived to tell their stories. Madeleine Dreyfus survived nearly a year in the concentration camp at Belsen. Dorcas Robert returned after several months in Ravensbrück.
Different stories, a different nation, same resistance to evil and support of persecuted Jews. Check out these accounts of noble-minded Christians in the Netherlands. The Reckoning; Hidden Heroes; Making Choices.