Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chambon-sur-Lignon (France, I)

Sorry for the delay after England. I thought I should give you some time to digest and read all the little stories. Hope you enjoyed them! After I finished my internship in Brussels, I took a whirlwind tour of four other countries (France, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark). My adventures follow.

Saturday evening (26 July), after a long day of two trains and one bus, I arrived in the little village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in the Haute Loire region of the South/Central part of France. This tiny village that my French professor had never heard of was the central part of a massive underground resistance movement during the Holocaust. The village barely had a population of 2,000 people in the early 1940’s, but they were somehow able to organize the rescue of over 5,000 Jews, mostly children, through connecting them to friends in Switzerland or simply housing them in the village and refusing to turn them in to the Vichy, and later German, officials.

On my way to the little village and during my first day I there I read the book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed about the history of the town. While the history is fascinating and moving, I don’t suggest the book at all. The author is a seemingly atheistic-Jew, or at the very least some strange blend of mystic, who also works as a professor of ethics somewhere. His last two chapters are absolute rot and nonsense as he is forced to admit that his ethical beliefs and worldview demands him to believe that what these people did was no more good than what Hitler did. Yet he does understand that this view simply doesn’t make any sense with any normal human being, so he gives some nonsense about the Chambonais being good because he and others feel them to be good. Nonsense and double talk. He, sadly, isn’t helped by the leader’s (André Trocmé) own apparent lack of theological conviction.

But the story is no less inspiring. God did a work here that no one can really fault or doubt. What drove the Protestant Chambonais to do what they did while their few Catholic brethren, and even other European Protestants, refused to get involved? I can’t say that I really know. Neither do they. Most of them, when asked years later why they had done what they did, simply responded that it had to be done. For them there wasn’t any other choice. They knew what was right and couldn’t fathom the idea of doing any less anymore than they could fathom they idea of turning in their own children to the Nazis. It was natural for them to give of themselves to protect helpless people.

At the risk of sounding terribly judgemental, I think this can probably be contributed, at least in some tiny way, to their Huguenot beliefs. The Catholics of the village didn’t help. For them it was a choice, as any action always had to be. Their choice was thus influenced by the risk to their own personal safety, their own dislike of the Jews, or whatever other reasons there might have been. To be sure, Catholics across France and other parts of Europe were instrumental in resisting Nazi oppression against Jews and others. But for the Catholic it was a choice. They made their decisions because they felt that doing what was right was ultimately more profitable than doing what was wrong. That’s where they differ from the Huguenots of Le Chambon. The Chambonais simply didn’t think about it. There was no option for them. It wasn’t a choice. Many Jews look back and thank their lucky stars that certain European Catholics made the right choice, but no one can do that for the Chambonais. This has important ramifications to the modern Evangelical church in the United States, indeed to any Church anywhere or anytime.

Enough history and talking. These are several pictures of important landmarks in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon:

Le Temple Protestant
Inside the Temple
A memorial plaque from Israel
The Presbytery

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