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.
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.