In 1940, the Nazis occupied the northern half of France and its Atlantic coast. The unoccupied or “free” southern part of the country was led by Marshal Pétain in the central town of Vichy. It was in fact a puppet government that collaborated with the Germans. By 1942, the Jewish population realized that there was real danger. People needed a place to hide or a way to get out of France. A remarkable group of French Protestants in the isolated upper Loire Valley helped thousands of Jews and resistance fighters escape deportation to the camps. André Trocmé, a Protestant minister and pacifist, and Édouard Theis, headmaster of the New Cévenole School, organized the village and surrounding areas of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to help refugees fleeing the Nazis. The villagers asked no questions and welcomed these newcomers, providing food and shelter when both were scarce. Oscar Rosowsky, an eighteen-year-old Jew living in Nice, was one of those refugees. He spent the war forging documents to save others.
Peter Grose, a journalist, tells this story well. It reads like a thriller, but it is a well-researched book with a bibliography and notes as well as an update on what happened to the major participants. Two appendixes provide information about the Huguenots, the French Protestants who originally settled in the Le Chambon area to escape persecution, and the text of the sermon that Trocmé and Theis offered on June 23, 1940, inspiring their congregants to resist the enemies. Both men are honored as Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem.