Village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in France
In honor of the courage and compassion they showed by providing a safe haven, not only to the Jewish refugees, but to others who fled Nazi persecution during the Second World War.
In Nazi-occupied countries during the Second World War, many courageous individuals risked their lives to provide shelter to people fleeing persecution and death—Hitler’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.” These rescuers knew that at any time, they might be discovered by friends/informants, and turned in to the authorities. But from 1940 until the end of the war, an entire town in France and the nearby villages gave shelter to every refugee, including thousands of Jews, never once turning anyone away or over to the government. The story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon begins with its pastor, Andre Trocmè, and his wife Magda. Always a pacifist, Trocmè practiced a quiet but firm resistance to the Vichy government, refusing both to recognize the Vichy head of state and to obey any orders from the Nazis; he encouraged his parishioners to do the same. One night a Jewish refugee came to his door, asking if she could come in. From that moment on, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a Hugenot town of around 5,000 people, doubled in size as it took in every refugee who arrived. In the end, at least 3,000–3,500 Jewish people (many of them children) escaped the Nazi death camps.
The villagers took the people either into special homes set up for them, or into their own homes and farms, often giving them false names and papers. Children and young people could continue their education at the school founded by Trocmè and another pastor, Reverend Edouard Theis. Whenever the Nazis or the Vichy police came by to investigate, the refugees were sent out into the countryside to hide in the woods. As one of the villagers recalled, “As soon as the soldiers left, we would go into the forest and sing a song. When they heard that song, the Jews knew it was safe to come home.”
Combined with other organizations such as the Quakers and the Salvation Army, the villagers were able to support the refugees and helped some of them escape to Switzerland. The surrounding communities took in refugees, too, and remarkably, no one ever said a word about what they were doing. The residents felt it was their duty to help those being persecuted, as many of their own ancestors had been persecuted for their religion generations before. Time and again the Nazis would come and demand that the residents of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon give names and surrender the Jews who were living there, and every time they left empty-handed. Trocmè was arrested for his refusal to cooperate but later released. Eventually he had to go into hiding while his wife Magda continued the operation until 1944.
That anyone could have successfully hidden Jewish people during the Second World War was an achievement unto itself. That an entire town did so without one betrayal was remarkable. In recognition of their bravery, the Israeli Holocaust remembrance institution Yad Vashem designated Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the nearby villages as “Righteous Among the Nations.”