Editor’s Note: A two-day conference on Jewish survival in occupied France, organized by the Consulate General of France in New York, was held at the Museum on March 4 and 5. Watch the conference speakers here >
In Nazi-occupied France, nearly 75% of French Jews were able to survive the Holocaust despite the complicity of the Vichy government with the German authorities, due to rescue networks implemented by the Jews themselves, with the help of the population in certain refuge regions. One such place of refuge is the town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, which is noted in the Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. exhibition:
Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is a village in southeastern France. Since the 17th century it has been the home of French Protestants whose own history has included religious persecution. They were known for their pacifism and belief that Jews were God’s chosen people. In 1940, the village—led by pastor André Trocmé, his wife, Magda, and his colleague Edward Theis—became a refuge for Spanish Republicans, anti-Nazi Germans, young Frenchmen seeking to avoid forced labor in Germany, and Jews.
In 1941, villagers worked with the American Friends Service Committee and the Secours Suisse aux Enfants (Swiss Aid to Children) to take Spanish, Roma, and Jewish children from French internment camps. Two of these children were Hilda and Hannah (Anny) Krieser. After escaping Belgium for France, they’d been interned with their parents, Solomon and Perla, in the Rivesaltes camp. A Secours Suisse nurse, Friedel Reiter, arranged the girls’ release. They found haven in an orphanage run by August Bohny, a Swiss citizen who, with Trocmé and Secours Suisse, set up such facilities in Le Chambon and the surrounding area.
When deportations from the French internment camps to Auschwitz began, Le Chambon became an important gateway for escape to neutral Switzerland and also the center of a hiding network. The Krieser girls were among 3,500 Jews saved. Their parents, however, were killed in Auschwitz.
Le Chambon was not impregnable. In June 1943, Nazis raided the village’s secondary school, arrested nineteen Jewish youngsters, and deported them to Auschwitz. They also arrested their teacher, Daniel Trocmé, André Trocmé’s nephew. He was murdered in the Majdanek camp in early 1944.
On September 3, 1944, the Free French First Army liberated Le Chambon. All of its inhabitants, and those of nearby villages, along with Friedel Reiter and August Bohny, are recognized by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, as Righteous Among the Nations.
Below are images taken in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in the early 1940s. The photographs on loan to the Museum from the collection of Jack Lewin. Jack Lewin lived in Le Chambon (specifically in La Guespy, a children’s home run by the Swiss Red Cross) and kept a photo album of his time there.