Le Chambon: A Potential Teaching from the Past

Surfing the Net the other day Tim, my son, ran into the Travel website of the BBC which to his surprise contained an article on the little town of Le Chambon in the Cevennes mountains of south central France where my family spent five years. The article whose address I’ll share with you at the end of this blog is worth your reading because it is enlightening with regard to the immigrant crisis that we have been living with in this country for months under Mr. Trump’s regime.

While I must have shared with our congregation Beth Israel, here in Asheville, some of the highlights from our five year long adventure there, let me share some of this with you here in trying to whet your appetite for purchasing the new book about Le Chambon or reading the older classic one that tells the story best. Here are the authors and titles I am referring to, respectively: Peter Grose, A Good Place to Hide and Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed.

The BBC Travel article by Anita Isalska (August 7, 2018) reports about a small museum recently built in Le Chambon, commemorating the town population’s heroic anti-Nazi non-violent resistance during WW II. Naturally, I was thrilled to see this article, having known the Chambon Christian heroes personally, most of whom are no longer among the living.

The Chambon story deserves to be read because of the unprecedented migrations nowadays of people fleeing their own countries in huge waves in search of safe havens from deadly dangers and horrible living conditions. While a good many relatively small countries in Europe initially opened their doors to refugees, the huge influx of these people on the run and their human needs turned out to be overwhelming and necessitated reconsideration. The enormity of the modern migration problems impacting the globe will only be solved by joint international action. Whether such action will be agreed and acted upon remains, of course, a big question.

The US shameful response to refugees from Latin America is familiar to us Americans. Trump’s border cruelty of separating children from their parents in order to discourage illegal immigration and force our financing of “his southern border wall” construction, is a moral outrage. While the disgraceful children-parent separation was eventually canceled under pressure from the population after having caused terrible suffering to thousands of parents and children, the act itself and the following incompetent and to this day only partial reunification of families remains a test of our national character. The damage was done and probably became irreversible to all these innocent folks. Shame on us who did not stand up united as a nation early enough to prevent this president’s ordered sham action!

And this is precisely where the lesson from Le Chambon confronts us. When during WW II refugees in large numbers from Germany and Nazi occupied countries arrived in Le Chambon, the small town of approximately 3,000 people offered these Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution and death, food, clothing and shelter in terms of a hiding place. By so doing, the Chambonais jeopardized their own lives. How so? Because they themselves lived under Nazi occupation both under the Vichy German puppet government, as well as under later direct German rule. There were German soldiers and para-military units in and around Le Chambon when under their very noses Jews lived in hiding.

The heroic behavior by the Chambonais, primarily members of their local church affiliated with the Eglise Reformee de France (Reformed Church of France), as well as a few Roman Catholic households and a group called Darbistes (named after a British missionary by name of Darby), saved approximately 3,500 Jewish lives on the run from Hitler.

The story of these heroic very humble women and men deserves to be remembered, retold, celebrated and learned from. This is the story of persecuted people under pressure, helping and saving the lives of women, men and children even more vulnerable than they.

It is shameful that we, a country of immigrants who live in a safe country of vast unpopulated expanses behave so shamefully.

I often wonder whether Mr. Trump, a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian, ever read the Bible and its mandate to welcome the stranger. I often wonder whether Mr. Trump ever read the US Constitution and its Amendments. I wonder whether Mr. Trump understands the meaning of the torch in the hands of the Statue of Liberty in the New York harbor.

And I wonder whether he will get away with it all. A test of our national character!

Finally, please go to http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20180806-a-french-village-committed-to-deception.