When my mother reminisced about her time living in Europe in the 1950s and 60s, the name Trocmé came up periodically. My parents knew Jacques (mom called him “Jack”) Trocmé at that time. She told me that during World War II, Jacques’ parents Andre and Magda had helped Jews in France avoid capture by the Nazi authorities.
I didn’t stop to think too much about how extraordinary it was that people put themselves at great personal risk to shelter those whose lives were in danger, and I never took the time to dig further. What happened only several decades ago felt distant and remote. And my mother’s stories became routine; it can happen to the most extraordinary stories.
Years later, when I began working at The Fellowship, I was doing some research on “Righteous Gentiles,” non-Jews who prior to and during World War II made efforts to save Jews and others from the horrible fate that awaited them in concentration camps. The name “Trocmé” came up more than once, so I finally dug deeper. What I found was anything but routine — in fact, it was extraordinary.
Andre Trocmé was the leader of the Protestant congregation in Le Chambon sur Lignon, a village in southeastern France. During World War II, when the region was occupied by Germany, word came that the Nazis would soon begin deporting the area’s Jews. Pastor Trocmé urged members of his congregation to protect them. His wife Magda and other family members were an integral part of this effort, as were members of his congregation and other townspeople.
On Sunday, June 23, 1940 – the day after France signed an armistice capitulating to Germany – Pastor Trocmé delivered a sermon to his congregation that spelled out their duty. “We shall resist whenever our adversaries demand of us obedience contrary to the orders of the Gospel,” he told them. “We shall do so without fear, but also without pride and without hate.”
The residents of Le Chambon took the message to heart. Over the course of the war, they saved several thousand people, sheltering them in homes, hiding them in the wilderness outside of town, and sometimes taking them across the border into neutral Switzerland. It was a collective effort by Christians to save Jewish lives. Years after the war, Andre and Magda Trocmé were honored by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, as “Righteous Among the Nations,” and the entire population of Le Chambon was granted a special diploma of honor.
“Go Practice It”
The story of Le Chambon makes me grateful and humbled by the courage of people like the Trocmés. They not only proclaimed their faith; they lived it out even though doing so put their own lives at great risk. And it makes me grateful to my mother, who thought it was important for me to know about both the horrors and the heroism of this pivotal time in history, and told me this story often enough that it stuck in my mind. I wish I had paid closer attention sooner and asked more questions – but better late than never.
It is said that Pastor Trocmé concluded his sermons with words that echo both the Hebrew Bible and Jesus’ words in the Gospels: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Go practice it.” The Trocmés, and the people of Le Chambon, did indeed “practice it,” and in doing so gave us a profound and heroic model of faith in action.Tags: Christians France History Holocaust Le Chambon Righteous Among the Nations