Saturday, November 1, 2014

Does ‘Village of Secrets’ Falsify French Rescue During the Holocaust?

Tablet Magazine    The dust jacket of the upcoming American edition of Village of Secrets, a new book by British author Caroline Moorehead—recently short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize, the richest and most prestigious award for nonfiction in the United Kingdom—claims that the book “sets the record straight” about what happened in and around the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon during the Nazi occupation. Village of Secrets was recently published in the U.K. and in Canada, receiving rave reviews and making appearances on best-seller lists. (It was published in the United States by HarperCollins this week.) Publishers Weekly hailed it as “deeply researched” and “the definitive account” of the rescue effort, while Kirkus Reviews has praised the author’s “knowledge of the people, the area and the history,” saying that it made the book “one of the most engrossing survival stories of World War II.” [...]

The key question has always been why. What, then, is the central truth that Moorehead claims to have uncovered? The author ends her introduction by stating that what “actually took place … is also about [sic] the fallibility of memory.” In a British radio interview recently, Moorehead boiled down her great discovery most succinctly: “The Protestants [of the Plateau] had always taken the line that they had done the saving. But in fact, so had the Catholics, so had people who weren’t religious at all.” (The notion that these Protestants trumpeted their deeds is absurd.)

Moorehead concedes, as part of her concluding statement, that the pastor of Le Chambon and his family deserve “much honor” for the rescue effort. But, she quickly adds, no more than “all the modest Catholics, Protestants, atheists and agnostics” who joined in. [...]

That there are indeed tensions on the plateau becomes obvious to anybody who visits there and discusses local history. It is certainly true that many Jews did indeed find shelter here and there throughout the small Protestant enclave. (My parents themselves rented a room in a hamlet on the outskirts of Le Chambon.) There may well have been a few atheists and agnostics too on what was then known as the Protestant mountain, and it is possible that some of them may have joined in the rescue effort—though they have not been identified as yet by Moorehead or anybody else. And yes, some Catholics in the area were also admirably active in rescue; Moorehead specifically cites just one such rescuer, Marguerite Roussel—whose existence the author happens to have learned about from the very film she attacks.

But to equate Catholic, atheist, and agnostic efforts with the role of pastor André Trocmé and the role of the other Protestant pastors of the area and the role of the French Protestant population as a whole is to deny what virtually every single Jew who went through there then would tell you: That this was fundamentally a Huguenot undertaking, centered in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, and deriving much of its initial momentum and energy from the pastors of Le Chambon, André Trocmé and Édouard Theis—and their historic call to resist through the “weapons of the spirit. [,,,]

Of course, Moorehead is entitled to disagree with me as well as with virtually all the people who experienced that time in Le Chambon. Unfortunately, she does so in a book that is riddled with mistakes and distortions ranging from the relatively trivial to the major for a book with claims to historical scholarship by an author who allegedly drew on “unprecedented access” to unspecified “newly opened archives in France, Britain, and Germany.” Even the photograph on the cover of the book, under the title Village of Secrets, is not of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon! The stand-in is the tiny village of Borée, miles away. [...]

1 comment :

  1. My father and his brothers were saved by a villager in Le Chambon. A Catholic villager.


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