Publisher:HarperPerennial A Division of HarperCollins Publishers
303 pages, paperback
Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
As the title suggests, this is the story of a southern France Huguenot mountain village, Le Chambon, and how, under the inspiration and leadership of the Reformed Protestant pastor, Reverend André Trocmé and his colleague, Pastor Édouard Theis, saved the lives of Jewish refugees during four years of the Nazi occupation of France. The title is, of course, a portion of Deuteronomy 19:7-10: “Therefore I command you, you shall set apart three cities...then you shall add three other cities to these three, lest innocent blood be shed in your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, and the guilt of any bloodshed be upon you.”
In the context of Le Chambon, Jewish lives were in danger simply because they were Jews—not because they were seeking refuge due to any crimes that they had committed.
For Pastor Trocmé and Pastor Theis, their active nonviolent resistance and commitment to saving Jewish lives was rooted in their Christian faith and the biblical teachings of texts such as the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ higher teaching to love one’s enemies. One other Protestant, biblical belief of the priesthood of all believers most likely helped the whole village to see their role and calling to save the Jewish refugees.
One example of Pastor Trocmé’s commitment to saving the Jews comes across in his following words to the chief of police: “These people have come here seeking aid and protection from the Protestants of this region. I am their pastor, their shepherd. It is not the role of a shepherd to betray the sheep confided to his keeping.” (p. 108) Pastor Trocmé spoke these words, even though he did not wish to convert the Jews to the Christian faith. Rather, he and others protected them by hiding them in various safe homes, providing ration cards and false identity cards. In some instances, they helped them escape across the border into Switzerland.
Another factor in the villagers of Le Chambon saving the Jewish refugees may have been their Huguenot history. As a religious minority in France—only about one percent of the population—they were persecuted, andfaced a life of struggle to keep their Protestant faith.
Throughout this volume, the author emphasizes the passion and spiritual strength of Pastor Trocmé. Along with his passion and spiritual strength, he was willing to take risks and implement a lot of creative means to inspire his people and save the Jews.
It has often been said that opposites attract—this may very well have proven true in the case of Pastor Trocmé and his wife, Magda. She was ever the down-to-earth practical ‘doer.’ She was not much for high ideals, or moral praise. Her words spoken to the author make this quite clear: “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.” (pp. 20-21)
One of the practical lessons that the Trocmés and those who helped and saved the Jews in Le Chambon was that they had to keep secret from the authorities and those citizens unsympathetic towards the Jews the details of where and how they were risking in love their lives for the Jews. In other words, they had to lie in order to do the right thing.
The Jewish refugees in Le Chambon made their contribution to the villagers. For example, the two who spent the war in the Trocmé presbytery Madame Grünhut and Monsieur Kohn cooked and repaired and constructed furniture; others helped with the Red Cross and at the Cévenol School; yet others helped with practical household chores like looking after the children and teaching them a new language like German, and doing the laundry.
After the war, Pastor Trocmé became less interested in pastoring a country parish and more interested in nonviolence on a global scale—lecturing throughout Europe and America for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The war had also changed him theologically and personally. When his son committed suicide, he no longer believed that God the Father would protect human beings from danger and harm. Instead, God suffered and was grief-stricken like human beings. He also grew more authoritarian personality-wise than he had been previously. For example, in his autobiographical notes, he stated: “A curse on him [sic] who begins in gentleness. He [sic] shall finish in insipidity and cowardice, and shall never set foot in the great liberating current of Christianity.” (p. 266)
According to Hallie: “André Trocmé was a man of character, a violent man conquered by God, a passionate man whose respect for the Christian law of love controlled his powerful passions.” (p. 279)
In his 1934 essay, “The Opposite of Evil,” Trocmé expressed his belief that in times of crisis, theories and predictions are a refuge for cowards. He chose to do without intellectual systems and without fear-filled predictions. He decided simply to “help the unjustly persecuted innocents around me.” (p. 285)
Pastor Trocmé and his son Daniel were both awarded the Medal of Righteousness, and two trees were planted in their memory in the Holocaust Memorial of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
In addition to the five parts of the main body of text, this volume includes: Acknowledgments, Introduction to the HarperPerennial Edition, Prelude, a Postscript, a few Notes, helpful Sources with commentary, an index, as well as some photographs.
Those interested in Jewish-Christian relations will find this volume a significant reference.