CHAMBON-SUR-LIGNON, French town. Located in the mountainous Haute-Loire department of France, Le Chambon with its environs was for several centuries a stronghold of French Protestants, with a large representation of Calvinist-Huguenots. Inspired by its own tradition as a persecuted minority, Le Chambon was transformed during World War II into a city of refuge for thousands of Jews in flight. André Trocmé (1901–1971), who served as pastor of the town, was one of the leading catalysts of this operation, seconded by his wife, Magda (1902–1996). Many Jews were diverted to this town from different parts of France, by Jewish as well as non-Jewish lay and religious organizations, and were dispersed in private homes as well as public institutions established by various welfare agencies before the war to house people in need, such as La Guespy, Faidoli, Coteau Fleuri, Tante Soly, Les Grillons, and Maison des Roches. Others were taken on long treks to Switzerland and passed on to Swiss Protestant hands across the border. André Trocmé was aided in this large endeavor by (to name just a few) Pastor Edouard Théis, director of the Collège Cèvenol; Mireille Philip, whose husband served on De Gaulle's London-based staff; and Daniel Trocmé, a distant cousin of André, who was eventually arrested by the Germans, and deported to the Majdanek camp, where he died in April 1944. At the time, Daniel Trocmé was in charge of the Les Grillons home, where refugees from the Spanish Civil War and Jews were sheltered; they were subsequently deported. When André Trocmé was asked by a senior police officer to turn over a list of Jews sheltered in Le Chambon, he categorically refused, stating, "Even if I had such a list, I would not pass it on to you. These people have come here seeking aid and protection. I am their pastor, their shepherd. The shepherd does not betray the sheep in his keeping." To the local prefect, Robert Bach, who asked him to desist from helping Jews, Trocmé responded: "We do not know what a Jew is. We only recognize human beings." Arrested in February 1943 by the French authorities, he was released five weeks later, in spite of his refusal to sign a statement committing himself to obeying all laws and regulations emanating from the Vichy government. He then went into hiding until the liberation of France in August 1944. It is estimated that several thousand Jews found refuge in Le Chambon and its environs at one time or another during the war years. The French-Jewish historian Jules Isaac was one of those who stayed in Le Chambon for a while. Asked by author Philip Hallie about what motivated them, one Chambonnais gave the following response: "How can you call us 'good?' We were doing what had to be done. Who else could help them? And what has all this to do with
goodness? Things had to be done, that's all, and we happened to be there to do them. You must understand that it was the most natural thing in the world to help these people." Marie Brottes, a Le Chambon rescuer, gave a religious explanation, linked to the Calvinist belief that the Jews are the Chosen People: "What? God has sent His people and we would not receive them?" Israeli historian Ely Ben Gal described his stay in Le Chambon as a young boy as "one of the best times of my life. … I shall never forget it." In addition to André Trocmé, Daniel Trocmé, Edouard Théis, and Marie Brottes, Yad Vashem has awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations to several dozen other rescuers of Jews who operated in the Le Chambon area as well as to the people of Le Chambon and the Vivarais-Lignon plateau as a whole.
Yad Vashem Archives M31–612, M 31–1037; P. Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood be Shed (1979); Le Plateau Vivarais-Lignon: colloque du 12–14 octobre 1994 (1994); I. Gutman (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations: France (2003), 134–35, 529–30; M. Paldiel, The Path of the Righteous (1993), 27–30.
[Mordecai Paldiel (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.