If you don’t know the story of ordinary French villagers saving an estimated 2500 Jews under the noses of the Vichy police and Gestapo, check out “Weapons of the Spirit” on YouTube. Over and over, those interviewed describe how the innocent were protected by people who simply called it the “right thing to do.” Word spread on the grapevine that Jews could find shelter in the village, and they arrived there hungry, tired, frightened and desperate.
Against all odds, they found safety—not a single Jew was taken; a betrayal never happened in Le Chambon. Children could continue their educations, and they were fed as nutritiously as was possible, given strict rationing. (One French family named their pig “Adolf,” for Hitler.)
The leader of the resistance was Andre Trocme, a Huguenot pastor whose tradition knew persecution first-hand. He and his wife Magda had four children, but when the 1942 order came to deliver all Jews for deportation, he took the enormous risk of refusing to participate in fear and hatred. Read more of their story in All Saints by Robert Ellsberg.
Why does this seem so relevant today? Of the million children orphaned in Syria, the US has taken a miniscule number. Children of immigrants, even those who’ve been here 20 years or more, are afraid to go to school because their parents might be gone when they return. Deportations of even those with no criminal history who are gainfully employed have skyrocketed, splitting countless families. ICE agents lurk outside churches.
Former President Obama praised the “quiet, sturdy courage” of people who’ve risen to the occasion no matter what the crisis. In the current circumstances, each will find a unique way to resist the administration’s vicious activity, their anti-Muslim bans on travel as well as the clubs taken to environmental policy, health insurance, Medicaid and protection of the poor. Five years ago, Walmart heirs (ONE family, the Waltons) owned more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans, and they’ve been getting richer ever since. These are the folks Trump seeks to protect with tax breaks? It makes one want to rant like the prophet Amos. More positively, the time is ripe for the US to develop its own, unique pockets of resistance like Le Chambon.