ANDRÉ TROCMÉ, LE CHAMBON-SUR-LIGNON, AND THE SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES & POTATO LATKES
André Trocmé (April 7, 1901- June 5, 1971) was the spiritual leader of a non-violent resistance operation in the mountains of southern France that saved the lives of 5,000 Jews and other refugees from the Holocaust. Mostly children.
André is not a saint. In fact, as a pastor in the French Protestant Church, he did not practice the veneration of saints. (See my All Saints post for the Protestant take on saints.) He did, however, believe in the non-violence teachings of Jesus Christ. His messages and actions radiated from the pulpit, throughout his congregation, town, farms, outlying villages, and on to other towns. After WWII, his messages and deeds continued to radiate all the way to Israel and the Yad Vashem (Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority) who awarded him the Medal of Righteous Among the Nations in 1971. This award was created to honor non-Jewish individuals who risked their lives to protect Jews from the Holocaust.
No doubt André would rather we particularly remember him, not on his death date as a saint, but on January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) each year. However, André doesn’t want to be remembered by himself at all:
Since I am opposed to decorations, I would have to refuse such a decoration. Why me? Why not the throngs of humble peasants of the Haute-Lorie, who did as much and more than me? Why not my wife, whose conduct was much more heroic than mine? Why not my colleague Edouard Theis, with whom I shared everything and all the responsibilities? I would not be able to accept the Medal of the Just except in the name of all those who were “anchors” for their unjustly persecuted brothers and sisters; even to the death . . . Could you intervene with the Yad Vashem so that Le Chambon might be the place for doing this? — Letter to Amy Latour, a friend who let him know of the upcoming award
The Yad Vashem honored his request, and presented the award at Le Chambon and not in Switzerland. Alas, André was in the hospital in Geneva where he would die five days later.
In all, the Yad Vashem awarded 40 medals to individuals of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the surrounding communities and established a monument to honor the people of the area who worked hard and risked everything to protect so many vulnerable lives. The Yad Vashem also commemorates the Righteous Among the Nations with carob trees planted in their honor in Jerusalem’s Garden of the Righteous.
I first learned of André Trocmé during a healing service homily at my Episcopal church. My research led to four books and one documentary – all of which I highly recommend if you’d like to delve deeper. (See below.) I look forward to reading more about other pockets of Jewish protection and rescue, plus a biography of Virginia Hall, an American undercover member of British Intelligence who worked with the French Resistance movement called the Maquis.
Whether violent like the Maquis or non-violent like André Trocmé and the people of Le-Chambon-sur-Lignon, resistance was not futile, and it continued for four years.
André Trocmé grew up in St. Quentin, France, near the Belgium boarder in a strict haute bourgeoisie (upper middle class) French Protestant household. His German mother was the second wife of his French father. André adored his older stepbrother and stepsisters as well as his German relatives.
As was the way of their social class, André and his younger brother were taken care of by the household maids. His mother, Paula Schwerdtmann Trocmé, was not as affectionate as the maids, but she read to André and taught him how to read.
His father, Paul Trocmé, in the ways of his fathers before him, taught his children their heritage, religion, social rules, and moral code. He also took advantage of his wealth, one day to a tragic end.
After purchasing a new limousine when André was 10, Paul took his family out for a drive in the country. He raced another driver on the winding roads. The children laughed in the backseat while Paula begged him to slow down. They crashed and everyone was thrown from the car. Paula’s injuries were fatal.
At the funeral, Paul cried over and over, “I killed her. I killed her.” André and his brothers embraced their father and forgave him.
There was no questioning his forgiveness and love for this man who killed his mother. André understood her death was a stupid accident and his father was remorseful and repentant. André would remember this and later believe there was always hope of remorse and repentance in anyone who hurt others.
Three years later, World War I, or the Great War began. St. Quentin was so close to the Belgium boarder that it was soon taken over by German soldiers. After a childhood spent playing with toy soldiers in the garden, André learned the devastating effect real weapons had on real people:
The horror of war struck me . . . the day I saw a pitiful column of wounded German soldiers coming into town from the railroad station . . . Three men walked slowly in front of the procession. The one in the middle had his head replaced by an enormous ball of bandages and he obviously couldn’t see. He stumbled and was sustained by the other two who were also covered by bloody dressings. As he came closer, I saw that his lower jaw and chin had been blown off and in its place, a mess of rags from which hung strings of clotted blood. My heart stopped when I discovered that’s what war was like. — André Trocmé, unpublished memoirs
Further, André’s father was French while his mother’s family was German. Were his stepbrothers now being shot at or shooting their own cousins?
Meanwhile, as was expected, he joined the Christian Union, similar to a youth group or confirmation class. The other boys prayed out loud to God as if He were in the room with them and could help them with their problems. André was happy here after having been taught a more private form of worship of a less intimate, distant God.
Also, André learned that religious groups could affect society as a whole. André joined other members of the Christian Union who smuggled food to Russian prisoners of war held in St. Quentin.
André learned about pacifism from a German soldier recovering from injuries in their house:
I am not your enemy.
I am not what you believe I am . . . I am a Christian . . . I met Jesus Christ in Breslau and I gave him my entire life . . . I will not kill your brother . . . I will not kill a single Frenchman. God has revealed to us that a Christian shall not kill . . . ever. My captain has authorized me not to carry a weapon as a telegraph operator. I often find myself in a dangerous situation on the front line and I sing a hymn and pray to God who decides whether he wants me to go on living . . .
One must refuse to shoot. Christ taught us to love our enemies. That is his good news, that we should help, not hurt each other, and anything you add to that comes from the devil. — André Trocmé, unpublished memoirs
André’s beliefs of pacifism and non-violence were set solidly from this point on. He spent the rest of his education and career firming up ways to communicate and promote these beliefs.
As the war heated up, the Germans evacuated all the civilians and took them by train to small farming towns in Belgium. These poor farmers took in all the refugees and shared their meager wartime food supplies. André felt “purified” of his upper class status and rejoiced in becoming one with the working class. He also never forgot how the farm families took them all in without question.
After the “war to end all wars” ended, André began his secondary education while his father worked to rebuild their gutted home. He decided to serve his mandatory two years in the military before studying to become a theologian.
Because the war had been so devastating, military service was not only mandatory, but anyone who didn’t serve because they were pacifists were considered traitors. Even those wanting to serve their country but not carry a weapon were treated as almost traitors in the service.
André learned a lot about himself during these two years, especially how far he was willing to go against the popular beliefs and expectations. He firmed up his pacifist stance and his strong adherence to the non-violence teachings of Jesus Christ.
At age 24 in 1925, his studies took him to New York City to attend Union Theological Seminary where he met his future wife.
Magda Elisa Larissa (Grilli di Cortona) Trocmé (November 2, 1901-October 10, 1996) was born in Florence, Italy, into an aristocratic family of Russian and Italian heritage.
Sadly, Magda beautiful mother’s Nelly Wissotsky Grilli di Cortona, died of childbed fever when Magda was less than a month old. Magda remained painfully aware of being motherless and endured the jealous coldness of her stepmother.
The loving “mother” in her life was her paternal Russian Grand-Maman Varia, who set the example of working with the poor. Magda and her cousin created their own “charity organization” when they were eight years old.
Magda spoke Italian, French, Russian, and sometimes German or English. Her religious heritage was just as varied — her mother was Russian Orthodox, her father Protestant on one side and Catholic on the other. Her stepmother was Roman Catholic. Magda attended different churches of the upper class in Florence. It was too much variety for young Magda who couldn’t find the answers she sought about life in their liturgy.
She was wooed by a gentleman for whom she had a fondness, but she couldn’t see herself in a stifling marriage of wealth, privilege, and leisure. She refused his hand, studied hard and unlike most of her contemporaries, earned a prestigious secondary education and turned to the study of social work.
She was accepted into the New York School of Social Work and arrived in the fall of 1925.
A few days before Easter, 1926, Magna and André happened to sit at the same table in the International House cafeteria. (Some friends later admitted to carefully setting up this encounter because they thought they’d be a good match.)
Although their religious beliefs were different, they were attracted to each other and shared many social and moral values. Further, Magda found in André a strong faith, voice, unwavering social convictions, and she felt protected when she was with him. André discovered in Magda an affectionate soul, an educated and opinionated intellect, and a heart with a powerful need to do good works. They’d make a great team.
Yet, when André proposed marriage to Magda, she responded with all the reasons why it wouldn’t work. Mainly that she wasn’t strong in the Protestant (or really any) faith and she had no interest in theology.
André had a positive answer for each of her doubts, and she realized also that he would be a different kind of pastor – with him she would have the freedom to do real works that benefited society. Magda agreed, and their marriage was a loving and affectionate relationship of equals.
Andre’s first church was in Sous-le-Bois, France. André was happy to be among working-class parishioners with whom he gathered for bible study and open conversation. He called them kitchen meetings, and they remained a big part of his ministry throughout his career.
They didn’t stay at this parish for long because André felt stifled by his church superiors. The best thing to happen at this parish was that their daughter, Nelly, was born.
Magna’s delivery did not start well due to inept care, and she was terrified that she would die like her mother. André quickly called in his older stepbrother Francis who was a skilled doctor. He calmed everyone down and helped deliver the healthy baby. Francis would remain a strong parental presence in their lives – assisting with the births of their other children and admiring André’s good works and sermons.
In the fall of 1928, André accepted a new position at Sin-le-Noble, an industrial town. Their three sons, Jean-Pierre, Jacques, and Daniel were born here. Magna relied on German au pairs to help her with the children so she could meet her obligations to the parish.
André thrived in this community where he learned from and taught his working class parishioners. André had a way about him that people responded to without question.
There was a particular man, Celisse, whom André confronted about his excessive drinking and abuse of his family. Celisse stopped drinking and became a model Christian, to the point of offering to beat up anyone who disagreed with André. Of course, André talked him out of it. It soon became clear that this man’s sobriety and faith depended on André’s strong, attractive, and enthusiastic spiritual presence.
Celisse was his best self under André’s influences. Tragically, when André and his family moved away, Celisse slide back into drinking. Distraught about his behavior and hopeless without André, he committed suicide. This saddened André beyond words, and he never forgot Celisse.
By 1934, the political climate (socialistic against communists, both claiming to be non-violent until provoked by the other) and the hopelessness of the industrial workers lives began to overwhelm André.
Meanwhile, the actual coal dust-filled air overwhelmed his children. Their family doctor recommended relocation to avoid the risk of silicosis and tuberculosis.
André had trouble finding a church that would accept him and his non-violence teachings. Two church communities offered him positions, but the hierarchy refused to allow him to take the position because he was a pacifist. The church hierarchy considered it an act of treason to preach non-violence to a flock of potential soldiers who might be needed to fight for their country.
Finally, André was called to Le-Chambon-sur-Lignon to serve as pastor of the Protestant Temple. Somehow, the paperwork to the church bureaucracy was delayed until André was firmly in place as beloved pastor.
André and Magda remembered 1934 to 1944 in Le-Chambon-Sur-Lignon as the happiest years of their lives. It’s where they did their most important work.
Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon Protestant Temple was located in the center of town on a plateau surrounded by small villages and far-flung farms in a mountainous region called Haute-Lorie.
Unlike the rest of France, it was mostly populated by Protestants, whose ancestors were Huguenots. Huguenots were French Reform Protestants inspired by the writings of John Calvin (1509-1564) who were persecuted in the Catholic nation. Many fled to different countries. A handful fled to “Protestant Mountain” where they were protected by the landscape and harsh weather. Their descendants remembered what it was like for their ancestors to be persecuted.
Le Chambon was a popular summer vacation spot. The villagers earned most of their living for the whole year during those few summer months when they were overrun by tourists. They pretty much holed up in their homes during the winter months.
When André and Magda arrived with their children, they got right to work — Magda on upgrading the presbytére, André on new social programs for his community. Even with chronic back pain, he routinely walked through the snow to outlying farms and engaged in kitchen meetings with families and their neighbors.
Magda came up with an idea for a Protestant international college called Collége Céveno in order to give the local youth and others of their economic class perhaps their only opportunity for secondary education. Unlike other colleges of its day, the school would teach boys and girls together. For the first few years, the college had no building, so the classes were taught in various rooms throughout the town. Magda taught Italian in a large bathroom.
André called in Pastor Edouard Theis to serve as leader of the Collége Céveno and be his co-pastor at the temple. Edouard and his wife, Mildred raised nine children and dedicated themselves to their new community.
André, Edouard, Magda, Mildred, and their parishioners worked together on social improvement projects, mostly in areas of education and summer camps for city children whether they could pay or not.
André never wavered in his non-violence view and planned incessantly how he could resist the enemy and protect his parishioners without raising a weapon.
Hitler’s Nazi Regime grew stronger and closer, André and Edouard prepared their flock for the fight of their life time. (I’m leaving it to my dearworthy readers to remember, read, watch, ask, and listen to why and how Hitler came to power, and how he was allowed to manufacture such terrible devastation and death.)
Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. France and England declared war on Germany two days later.
By mid June 1940, German troops took over Paris and occupied the north. The unoccupied zone in the south was led by Marshal Pétain and the new Vichy Government, created in the Armistice of June 22, 1940, under the strict control of Nazi Germany.
The members of the newly-formed, puppet government of unoccupied Vichy France reacted to the controlling Nazi Regime the same way as its citizens. Some who were anti-Semitic made great use of the persecution of Jews and other “undesirables” and profited by their imprisonment and eventual deaths.
Many citizens of Vichy France seemed to be in a fog that prevented them from seeing the full horror of what the authorities were doing to the Jews. They saw only the popular leader Pétain and believed his lies, because it was easier than facing the brutality that their own government was capable of in the name of collaboration and self-survival. Many let themselves be deceived.
Others in the Vichy Government did whatever they could not to follow their orders. It didn’t happen everywhere, all the time, but when it did, this “looking the other way” by French Vichy police, bureaucrats, and even German soldiers, saved lives.
Thousands of Jewish refugees arrived in France. If they didn’t escape France, they were rounded up and overcrowded by the thousands into concentration camps with deplorable conditions. Disease, starvation, and death were rampant. Those that survived were shipped out to work camps or death camps.
André wanted desperately to fight this terrible enemy as a conscientious objector.
Aid organizations involved with these internment camps in unoccupied France were allowed to assist with food and medical supplies, mainly with the children whose parents had been sent to work camps in Germany. Switzerland remained neutral throughout the war, so they had the freedom to assist openly. There were several other aid organizations, as well.
André met with Burns Chalmers of the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) and offered to be an aid worker in the camps. Burns had a better idea and asked André outright if he’d help create safe houses for Jewish and other refugee children in Le Chambon. The aid workers would get the children out of the internment camps and funnel them to Le Chambon, a few at a time. They would also send funds regularly to pay for the rental or purchase of these houses as well as their expenses.
André took the request back to the church council. Although some were nervous about accepting foreign or adult Jews, they all agreed. It soon became clear that there was no distinction between the refugees that needed their help.
The next Sunday André and Edouard preached from the following biblical passages:
I command you today—to love the Lord your God and to walk always in obedience to him—then you are to set aside three more cities. Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance, and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed. — Cities of Refuge, Deuteronomy 19:9-10
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” — Luke 10:27
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” — The Good Samaritan, Luke 30-37
Everyone agreed to help. And during those four long years, no one ever betrayed the refugees.
The first refugee was a German Jewish woman who knocked on the outer door of the presbytere in threadbare clothing in the middle of winter. She asked for help. Magda ushered her into the warm kitchen, “Naturally, come in and come in.”
The Yad Vashem awarded Magda Trocmé the Righteous Medal of Honor in 1988.
Le Chambon already had some children’s homes and summer camps, but they needed a lot more. The Swiss organization Secours Suisse aux Enfants sent Auguste Bohny on the request of the American Quakers to establish some of these new homes. He became good friends with André, and they supported each other in their works.
Auguste worked with Friedel Reiter, a pediatric nurse in the Swiss Red Cross who, with or without permission, took children out of one of the terrible camps called Rivesaltes and sent them to Le Chambon. When Rivesaltes closed and everyone left was sent to death camps, she became director of one of the children’s homes and later Auguste’s wife.
The Yad Vashem awarded them both the Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1990.
One of the refugees, Oscar Rosowsky, a French Jewish teenager whose parents where lost in the camps, was a skilled forger, prolific in the way of making false identification papers. Identification papers were desperately needed by the refugees so that they could attend school or otherwise blend in with the community. Others made counterfeit ration cards which were also needed to feed the refugees. Most of the food was rationed, so without the cards, the townspeople wouldn’t have enough to share with the refugees and keep themselves fed.
The operation, which started slowly, covertly, and without a lot of discussion or dangerous organization, arranged the care of every refugee that arrived in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the surrounding villages and cities.
Whole families who had the means might rent a house, or if not, they were taken in by farm families. Children of all ages, even young adults were hidden among other children in families, group homes, and at schools.
Other refugees were passed from protector to protector and guided over 200 miles to sneak across the boarder to neutral Switzerland.
And so 1941 passed with relative ease as everyone worked to maintain their City of Refuge. But perhaps “ease” is too strong a word. As Auguste Bohny says of that time:
I hope one can feel a little of the ambiance of that time. Worries about what would come next were the daily bread of every day. ‘Will there be a checkup by the police? Will there be a roundup? Will we still have all the children at the end of the day? All those questions cannot express sufficiently the daily anguish of that period.
In August 1942, the authorities showed up in the form of George Lamirand, the Under-Secretary for Youth Affairs in the Education Department serving under Marshal Pétain who wanted to impress Hitler with his national youth organization. Lamirand’s mission was one of recruitment and promotion of the Vichy Government and Marshal Pétain. Because the people of Le Chambon had first-hand news of the thousands of Jews being rounded up and imprisoned, the welcome he received was far less than what his secretary ordered.
In fact, a delegation of older students from the École Nouvelle Cévenole handing him a letter they wrote together:
Monsieur le Ministre,
We have learned about the horrifying events which took place in Paris three weeks ago, when the French police, obeying orders given by the occupation forces, arrested in their homes all of the Jewish families of Paris and shut them inside the Vel d’Hiv. Fathers were torn from their families and deported to Germany; children were wrenched from their mothers who suffered the same fate as their husbands.
Knowing from experience that decrees of the occupying forces are, in a short time, imposed on non-occupied France where they are presented as spontaneous decisions made by the head of the French State, we are afraid that the deportation of Jews will soon be applied in the southern zone of France.
We want you to know that there are, among us, a certain number of Jews. Now, as far as we are concerned, we do not make any distinction between Jews and non-Jews. That would be contrary to the teaching of the Gospel. If our friends, whose only offense is to have been born in the another religion, receive the order to let themselves be deported or even be subject to a census, they will disobey those orders, and we will do our best to hide them in our midst.
Lamirand held his composure and left Le Chambon. His local handlers warned André that he had better turn over the Jews when asked.
André replied, “We don’t know what a Jew is, we only know men.”
Their defiance became stronger when they heard about the last letter Hans Hoffman, a German Jewish teenager who was rescued from Rivesaltes, received from his parents:
Tonight we will leave Camp de Rivesaltes to be transported to a camp near Paris. The name of the camp is Drancy. Drancy is the last stop before deportation to Auschwitz in Poland. And dear Hans, you know what that means. Be strong and pray for your mother and father, as they love you forever and ever.
Soon Leo and Barbara Sauvage arrived while Barbara was pregnant with Pierre. He was born at a nearby hospital under the care of a Dr. Roger Le Forestier who simply arrived one day to assist the town in their good works.
The Sauvage family was cared for by Henri and Emma Heritier who also hid and protected Oscar Kosowksy as he continued the dangerous work of forging identification papers.
The Yad Vashem awarded the Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations to Henri and Emma Heritier in 1987.
Suddenly, but not unexpectedly, in February 1943, André, Edouard Theis, and Roger Darcissac, the director of the public school, were arrested and taken a internment camp in Saint-Paul d’Eyjeaux.
Conditions were tolerable. They were allowed visitors, mail, and care packages. They were also allowed to conduct religious services and discussion groups with the other prisoners, mostly communists who were arrested for refusing to adhere to governmental authority.
Nevertheless, the three men suffered from the uncertainty of why they had been arrested and what would ultimately happen to them.
On March 15, they were brought to the commandant who told them they would be released as soon as they signed papers which included a clause that they swear to obey the government and personally support Marshal Petain.
Roger signed it because as a government employee, he had already signed such papers.
André and Edouard refused.
The commandant said, “Don’t be stupid. Just sign them and go. No one will pay attention to the papers.”
The pastors stilled refused. Roger was released. He went back home to continue his work protecting Jewish children in his school and creating and distributing counterfeit ration cards.
The Yad Vashem awarded Roger Darcissac the Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1988.
The next day, André and Edouard were released without having to sign papers.
André Trocmé, Roger Darcissac, Edouard Theis
Tragically, the rest of the 500 prisoners were deported to Poland and no one knows if any returned alive.
André, realizing they were being closely watched, carefully helped arrange for more schools and children’s homes. There was a particular need for a home for older boys attending secondary school. André called on his young cousin Daniel Trocmé to come run two homes, Les Roches for older boys and Les Grillons for younger children. He agreed.
Les Grillons – Daniel left last row, André center last row.
On June 29, 1942, the worst happened at Les Roches. German forces arrived at dawn to do a round up at Les Roches. Daniel, who could have escaped out the back door of Les Grillons and was encouraged to do so by his students, stayed with the 16 boys all the way to their death and his at a concentration camp. Daniel had been so sympathetic towards his boys and Jews in general, that the Nazi’s were positive he was Jewish. After his death, they sent a letter to his local library demanding confirmation of his Jewish status for their meticulous records.
André took full responsibility for Daniel’s death since he had recruited him for this work. He wrote several letters of deep remorse to Daniel’s parents. They replied, “You know of the uncertainty of the faith of our son who was still seeking his way. He gave his life and thus found what he was searching for.”
Daniel Trocmé was posthumously awarded the Righteous Medal of Honor in 1976.
Along with the arrival of many refugees, there also arrived members of the Maquis. Their resistance was mostly violent, but they also aided Le Chambon in their good works of hiding Jews or guiding them to Switzerland.
One woman, an American named Virginia Hall worked as a journalist, but undercover she was a member of British Intelligence. She sent and received covert radio transmission which she relayed to the local Maquisards. She also coordinated desperately needed Allied parachute drops of food and medicine which the growing and always hungry children greatly appreciated, especially during the winter.
The many separate Resistance groups made André nervous about his parishioners maintaining the non-violence way he taught them as they were now influenced by the presence of the Marquis and the growing threat of German troops.
In early July 1943, both André and Edouard were warned by a Marquis double agent that they were on a Nazi assassination list.
André became sick with worry that like Celisse, his parishioners would not be able to function without him. André also worried that the Maquis would become stronger and more influential in his absence.
But in order to protect his family, he went into hiding. His chronic back pains prevented him from joining Edouard in the forest as he worked guiding refugees to Switzerland. Mildred took care of their nine children and continued Edouard’s works with the school and refugee children.
The Yad Vashem awarded Edouard and Mildred Theis the Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1988.
André hid in different mountain farms far away from Le Chambon and worked on his writings, including his memoirs.
The Maquis did become stronger as they united under the leadership of Pierre Fayol, a French Jew who worked with the Resistance in Marseilles. His experience and leadership were crucial in communications between groups as they dealt with the Germans as well as Vichy France.
Some of the older students joined the Maquis, but they understood that they had to leave their school to protect the cover of the other students.
Early in 1944, many of the Resistance groups combined to become the Forҫes Francaises de I’Intéieur (FFI) and fought hard against the Germans in the occupied zone. After D-Day, June 6, 1944, the FFI worked openly with the Allied forces and the defeat of Germany was well within sight.
André returned home to see, unlike Celisse, his parishioners were strong enough in his absence to maintained their non-violent resistance in the care and protection of Jews and other refugees.
Sadly, in these last frenzied months of the war in France, three tragedies occurred.
Some of the marquis rented the third floor in the home of the Barraud family. On July 5, 1944, their teenage daughter, Manou, her classmate/boyfriend, Jean, and her younger sister explored the third floor. Jean found a gun in a drawer and accidentally shot Manou in the neck. Dr. Le Forestier rushed over, but he could not save her.
Manou’s mother was beyond shocked, but she went immediately to Jean to try to console him, so worried was she that he’d do something desperate. Even with the forgiveness of Mrs. Barraud and the community, he remained grief stricken for a long time.
The Trocmé family was saddened by this death, but life went on. On August 13, 1944, they went to see a performance of a lyrical poem called, “The Ballad of the Hanged Men.” The oldest son, Jean-Pierre, was fascinated with the way the actors portrayed the swinging of the bodies in the gallows. Further, he and his fellow students were assigned to recite the poem themselves for school.
The next day in the empty presbytere, Jean-Pierre, with the doors and windows wide open, set up a noose in the bathroom, put his head through it and lost his balance.
Everyone, including the local police, believed that he was rehearsing for his performance at school and died accidentally.
He was buried next to his friend, Manou.
André and Magda were deeply affected by this loss and neither came to terms with it. Magda suffered mother’s guilt particularly for not being home at the time. André remained distraught with the realization that God could not be counted on for protection. (For some thoughts on this aspect of God, see St. Julian of Norwich.)
Later that month, Dr. Le Forestier, who fully followed his Hippocratic Oath by providing medial care to all who needed it, including refugees, Maquisards, and even German soldiers, decided to drive his car to a prison in Le Puy and talk the authorities into releasing two of his friends.
André said everything he could think of to try to stop him. His wife, Danielle, mother of his young children and medical assistant, pleaded with him not to go. But, he was determined.
He gave a ride to two Maquisards who said they didn’t have guns on them. They lied. When they arrived in the town square, the Maquisards hid their guns in his car and went to a café.
The guns were discovered and Dr. Le Forestier was arrested. Later, a major promised Danielle that her husband’s death sentence was commuted to deportation for medical work in Germany and that he would return safely to her.
On August 20, 1944, on the way to Germany, the train with Dr. Le Forestier and 120 other prisoners was redirected. They were told to get out of the train and go into an abandoned house.
Under the order of Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, they were machine gunned until none were left standing.
Then the house was set ablaze. The screams of those who had not yet died of their wounds were heard by the whole town of Saint-Genis-Laual. The community put out the fire, searched for identifying personal effects, and buried the remains. Danielle confirmed the death of her husband via a metal button from his jacket.
A memorial park stands on the site.
The Yad Vashem awarded Dr. Robert Le Forestier and all the people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the Surrounding Communities the Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1988.
On September 3, 1944, Allied tanks arrived on the Plateau and drove through the town square of Le Chambon. One-hundred and twenty Germans soldier in Le Puy surrendered to the Maquis and were imprisoned in an old chateau.
With permission, André preached non-violence to the POW’s with an emphasis on repentance. He preached reconciliation to his parish in an attempt to thwart the revenge of the Marquis on the Germans and French collaborators.
André and his family eventually moved to Geneva. He and Magda worked towards non-violence at an international level throughout their lives.
After the war, young Pierre Sauvage immigrated with his parents to New York City. When he was 18 years old, his parents told him about his toddlerhood. Fascinated by the whole story of the people of Le Chambon and their amazing operation, he went back to the Haute Lori to create a documentary, Weapons of the Spirit, which includes interviews with many of the key figures.
Pierre Sauvage with Marie Brottles and Henir Heritier, 1990
I highly recommend “Weapons of the Spirit,” as well as the books listed below which will probably lead to other books, documentaries, and movies of that period (including Casablanca, one of the greatest movies of all times).
In solidarity with my cousins in faith, I offer this recipe for potato latkes. I chose it because my children were introduced to potato latkes by their school friends’ parents who taught them about Jewish customs. Plus, they requested it.
HELEN WALLERSTEIN’S POTATO LATKES
From RECIPES REMEMBERED: A CELEBRATION OF SURVIVAL by June Feiss Hersh
5 medium russet potatoes, peeled
1 medium or large onion, to taste
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup matzo meal
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
¼ to ½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup vegetable oil for frying
In a food process using the metal blade, or using a box grater, finely grate the potatoes. (Or shred them for more texture.) Place them in a colander, and squeeze out all the liquid.
Grate the onion, using the food processor pulse feature to capture any small chunks.
Stir the onion, eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper into the potato mixture.
Heat 1/2-inch of oil in a non-stick skillet, over medium heat, until very hot (a drop of water should dance in the pan).
To test the seasonings before frying the entire batch, drop one tablespoon of the mixture into the hot oil, fry for several minutes on each side and drain on a paper towel. Taste the latke and add more salt or pepper if needed.
Drop a generous tablespoon of latke batter into the skillet and flatten the pancake with the back of a spatula. Turn the latkes over when the underside is nicely brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Fry until golden on both sides. Drain on waiting paper towels.
Repeat this process adding more oil to the pan and a touch more matzo meal to the mixture if needed to absorb the excess liquid that will collect in the bowl.
Serve hot with sour cream, sugar, or applesauce. (My recipe for homemade applesauce can be found here.)
Options – Swap out a potato for a large carrot or zucchini, grated or shredded.
For More Info:
Weapons of the Spirit The Astonishing Story of a Unique Conspiracy of Goodness, a documentary created by Pierre Sauvage, born and protected in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon along with his parents during WWII
LEST INNOCENT BLOOD BE SHED: THE STORY OF THE VILLAGE OF LE CHAMBON AND HOW GOODNESS HAPPENED THERE by Philip Hallie
A PORTRAIT OF PACIFISTS: LE CHAMBON, THE HOLOCAUST, AND THE LIVES OF ANDRÉ & MAGDA TROCMÉ by Richard P. Unsworth
HIDDEN ON THE MOUNTAIN: STORIES OF CHILDREN SHELTERED FROM THE NAZIS IN LE CHAMBON by Deborah Durland DeSaix and Karen Gray Ruelle
RECIPES REMEMBERED: A CELEBRATION OF SURVIVAL – The remarkable stories and authentic recipes of Holocaust survivors by June Fiess Hersh.
March of the Living International – An annual educational program that studies the history of the Holocaust.
Irena Sendler – Rescuer of 2,500 Jewish children from the Holocaust. Another amazing Righteous Among the Nations.
(Originally posted on 5/19/2013 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger.)