Protection of the Jews in France By the PBCC During Nazi Occupation – Part 1/4
Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a small village in the Haute-Loire region of France, has experienced religious persecution dating back hundreds of years. With a history of taking in refugees, in World War II the village and the rest of the Vivarais Plateau united in their resistance to the Vichy regime and Nazi Germany.
Two protestant pastors in Le Chambon co-ordinated the campaign to save the lives of as many people as possible, inspired by the scripture ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’. The area became a ‘City of Refuge’, opening the doors of the school, hotels, farms and private homes. Whilst one school and a number of boarding houses were funded from outside Le Chambon, a great number of private homes were used to hide refugees from the occupying and Vichy Governments. Forged identities, passports and ration cards were created, and many people were guided to freedom across the Swiss Border.
As part of that community, the Plymouth Brethren in the region helped with this effort. One researcher noted at the time that ‘a great number of private homes on distant farms were owned by the ‘Darbyists’. (as all followers of Mr. Darby were known) ‘Believing that the Bible is the inspired word of God, they had a thorough knowledge of the history of the Jews in the Old Testament and considered it a privilege to have a ‘representative of the Chosen People in their home’.
One PBCC family, the BLACHONs, hid a Jewish doctor. They renovated the stable, with a hole in the floor where the doctor could hide. The entrance to this hiding place was concealed by a cupboard with no floor. The man was able to observe the comings and goings in the stable from this vantage. Daniel BLACHON, who was five at the time, recalls that the doctor never left the house, and returned to his hiding place even when the postman visited. Mr BLACHON was very relieved to find out many years later their visitor had survived the war, when he sought them out to thank them again for their care for him.
The BLACHON family also hid and provided for another Jewish family with two children. They organised with other brethren in the Rhône Valley to hide them in a remote farm in the woods at Famore. Daniel and his sister Marthe regularly delivered milk to the farm and would remember in future years the Jewish mother always dreaming of Jerusalem “When we were at Jerusalem” …. “When we go back to Jerusalem…” After the war, they never heard if this family survived.
In August 1942, Lamirand, Minister of Youth, undertook an official visit to Le Chambon. He found a sombre village, with no flags in the windows. The school students even petitioned him on behalf of the Jews. However, he was unimpressed by the attitude of resistance displayed in the village, and his visit resulted in threats and repression.
The head of the police in the Haute Loire region was the next to visit. He demanded a list of the Jews in hiding and required that they should present themselves for a census. Buses were lined up on the market place, ready to deport them, but the many Jews had ‘vanished’, with only one unfortunate Austrian half-Jew (who was later released) and one woman arrested.