Vil­lage of Secrets: Defy­ing the Nazis in Vichy France

Car­o­line Moorehead
  • Review
By – March 30, 2015

Fol­low­ing on the heels of her Train in Win­ter (2011), a mov­ing por­trait of French women, most­ly mem­bers of the Resis­tance and the pre war Com­mu­nist Par­ty, who were deport­ed by the Gestapo to con­cen­tra­tion camps in Poland and Ger­many, Car­o­line Moore­head, the Eng­lish biog­ra­ph­er and jour­nal­ist, has pro­vid­ed us with anoth­er sto­ry of the French Resis­tance in Vil­lage of Secrets: Defy­ing the Nazis in Vichy France. As in Train in Win­ter, Moore­head focus­es on the so-called Ten Per­cent,” the small per­cent­age of French­men, includ­ing native and natural­ized Jews, who refused to accept the French sur­ren­der in June 1940 and con­tin­ued to strug­gle against the Ger­mans until the final lib­er­a­tion of France in late 1944. While A Train in Win­ter con­cen­trates on the role played by French Com­mu­nists in large­ly rur­al and small town north­ern France, Village of Secrets deals with the res­i­dents of Le Cham­bon-sur-Lignon and the near­by vil­lages of Mazet Saint-Voy and Tence. Locat­ed in the moun­tains of south cen­tral France, these vil­lages had the dis­tinc­tion of being close to the Swiss fron­tier. Inhab­it­ed most­ly by devout Protes­tants, includ­ing a com­mu­ni­ty of Dar­by­ists, these farm­ers and towns­peo­ple were inspired by sev­en pas­tors and their spous­es, most notably Andre and Mag­da Trocme in le Cham­bon, Edouard and Mil­dred The­is in le Cham­bon, Daniel Curtet in Fay-sur-Lignon, Roland Leen­hardt in Tence and Mar­cel Jean­net in Mazet. 

Dur­ing the …war the inhab­i­tants of Le Cham­bon-sur-Lignon and its parish­es saved [sev­er­al] thou­sands want­ed by the Ger­mans: [mem­bers of the Resis­tance], Freemasons,Communists, and above all Jews, many of them orphans whose par­ents had been deport­ed to con­cen­tra­tion camps. There were no inform­ers and no denun­ci­a­tions.… After the war Le Cham­bon became one of only two places in the world to be hon­ored by Yad Vashem as Right­eous Among Nations.” 

Although care­ful­ly writ­ten, sev­er­al errors creep into the text. In sev­er­al places Moore­head refers to Israel” when she means British-con­trolled Pales­tine. More­over, one of the major archives that Moore­head con­sult­ed was the YIVO Insti­tute for Jew­ish Research in New York, not YIVA.” This is no small error con­sid­er­ing that YIVO holds the major col­lec­tions of the Jew­ish Organ­i­sa­tion de Sec­ours aux Enfants (OSE), a long stand­ing chil­drens relief orga­ni­za­tion that worked close­ly with the res­i­dents of Le Cham­bon to smug­gle Jew­ish orphans to Switzer­land and Spain.

Relat­ed Content:

Carl J. Rheins was the exec­u­tive direc­tor emer­i­tus of the YIVO Insti­tute for Jew­ish Research. He received his Ph.D. in Mod­ern Euro­pean His­to­ry from the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York at Stony Brook and taught cours­es on the Holo­caust at sev­er­al major universities.

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