Protection of the Jews in France By the PBCC During Nazi Occupation – Part 2/4
One day, the pastor asked another PBCC member –Mr. Gustave PELISSIER- if he would shelter a Jewish couple.
They arrived at PELISSIERs at 3:00am, and were given a room where they stayed for three weeks. They were afraid that as a young schoolboy, Mr PELISSIER’s son Léon would give them away, but he had been warned not to say anything to anybody about them – he knew how dangerous it would be not only for the Jews but also for those who were sheltering them.
The couple hidden by the PELISSIERS had a devoted non-Jewish servant, who followed them at a distance. After three weeks, she came to fetch them. Léon remembers her saying, “Get up; we must go, we are counting on God’s protection”. They took only the clothes they wore. A few days later, the PELISSIERs received word that they had been taken at the Swiss border, and sent away to a concentration camp. Remarkably, a few months later the servant sent another letter saying that the Lord had preserved their lives.
Paul RUSSIER’s family hid a Jewish family for over a year at their farm near Le Chambon. The couple, with their two children, lived in three rooms at the back of the barn never coming out during the day. The father had been a doctor in Austria, and although the neighbours knew that a doctor was hidden somewhere in the area, they did not know where. With the help of trustworthy accomplices, he was able to visit patients at night.
In August 1942, the police organised a roundup, which greatly affected the village. There were twenty-four thousand inhabitants on the Plateau so it was relatively easy for the five thousand Jews sheltered there to remain clandestine; they went by night from one farm to another, hiding in the valleys and wooded hills. If there was an alert, they dispersed. The police knew there were Jews being hidden but could not root out the “Jews’ nest in Huguenot country”, as they called it.
Marcel PELISSIER remembers how his family hid some Jews in their house. An eleven year old boy at the time, Marcel used to listen to them singing hymns in a language he didn’t understand. Samuel & Léonie PELISSIER (Marcel’s parents) were awarded the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ medal for their efforts – Samuel had constructed a box which, placed under the mattress on the bed, could effectively hide two people. One day the Gestapo came right into the yard of the PELISSIER house, but didn’t actually enter and never returned. Marcel’s simple explanation is “God protected us.”
Eventually the masterminds and co-ordinators of the whole effort – two pastors and the headmaster of the Le Chambon public school – were arrested. The Vichy policeman who orchestrated their arrest was moved to tears by the solidarity of the village; the villagers, lined the street singing ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’ as one pastor was escorted to the police van. Thankfully all three were released from prison later.
If all the French people had been as hospitable as those in Le Chambon, one million European Jews could have been saved.