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4.4 out of 5 stars
Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
At a time when 12 more ex Nazi thugs who helped to murder thousands of men, women, children and babies are about to be tried for their unspeakable crimes, this excellent book by Caroline Moorehead is very weicome.

The author tells the remarkable story of the inhabitants of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon a village in south central France. It is, as she explains, located in mountainous and very inhospitable terrain. Her story is about the inhabitants of this village who sheltered thousands of people from the evil Gestapo who were willingly aided and abetted by the Vichy government and its many supporters. Other villages in the area also sheltered those escaping from the Gestapo but to a lesser extent.
As the author explains, the location of the village, often cut off for months in the harsh winters, aided its ability to protect the innocent. Deep forests furtherance enhanced this ability.

Moorehead has written biographies of Bertrand Russell, Freya Stark and Martha Gellhorn. She is heavily involved in human rights, and has written a history of the Red Cross. Her book 'Human Cargo'was well reviewed. At present she resides in London.

The village is high up in the Massif Central, and very remote. The story of how Le Chambon came to save so many has never been fully told before. Several of those involved are still alive, as are some of those saved. They have been interviewed by the author as part of her research. She also had access to archives hitherto unavailable. The result is a riveting account of what can be done to oppose tyranny. The village was in a region where many generations of Protestant Huguenots had hidden away from Catholics. Those saved, however, were not in fact saved by non violence but by 'imagination and cooperation'. It was not the only place in France that helped the threatened but its work was quite remarkable and in some ways unique.

The saved were, of course, mainly Jews (36%). The decision to do this was the result of a meeting between Andre Trocme, the pastor of the village and some Quakers in Marseilles. Trocme was a pacifist. He was half French, half German. He was instrumental in saving some 5000 ( this figure is disputed) communists and Freemasons as well as Jews. Trocme and many others helped to take hundreds of children to the safety of the farms on the plateau. Some were smuggled to safety in Switzerland. Trocme was a firm believer in the power of non-violence, and hence a supporter of Gandhi's beliefs. He died in 1971. Not everyone subscribes to the view he was a hero. The author explains why. A remarkable aspect was that several recuperating German soldiers were in the area for weeks yet they never realised who was being sheltered near them.

Moorehead points out that many others, teachers, scouts, Darbyists, Ravenists, doctors and agnostics all played key parts in the saving of lives. The vows of silence taken by the Darbyists made it easy for them to avoid inadvertently giving away what they were doing.

Those that were caught doing this were tortured and murdered. The decision to risk their lives for the sake of Jews had also a religious base; the area had a reputation over centuries for resisting. The Bible was at the core of their beliefs. Moorehead writes that this meant the villagers 'were alive to the fate of the Jews, the chosen people, whose salvation was implicit for their own'.

At the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, which all ought to visit, some 70 people from the plateau on which Le Chambon is located, are listed as 'Righteous Among the Nations'. Only one other place has been given this honour.

It is frequently forgotten that Vichy France had concentration camps. Many thousands of Jews were incarcerated in them. The villagers rescued many of the children in these dreadful camps. Those who could not be rescued ended up in
Auschwitz; many were aged under 4. Their fate, and that of many thousands of others, never ceases to provoke horror and hatred of their willing executioners.

After France was liberated, Moorehead tells how those children who had been saved suffered again once reunited with their parents. It is a harrowing tale she describes. Many parents were 'simply unable to behave like proper parents again'. All involved were deeply scarred.

As the author reminds us, the Vichy period, from June 22nd 1940, was not erased from the memory of the French once liberated. To this day it is a wound very easily reopened. Memories of collaboration with the hated Germans still linger and fester.

One of the great virtues of this book is the way Moorehead destroys much of the myth surrounding what went on. As she says, the truth is much more interesting.
She points out that the myth has caused feuds, jealousies, hearsay and prejudice, pitting Catholics against Protestants, pacifists against resisters, and those who seek glory against those who prefer silence. To this day the whole topic is heated. In 2004, President Chirac called le Chambon: 'la conscience de notre pays'. Moorehead says what took place on the plateau during the terrifying years of German occupation is not only about bravery and morality, it is also about 'the fallibility of memory'.

This book is a reminder that brave people risked their own lives to protect those of all ages who were threatened by a murderous and evil regime led by Hitler. They should never be forgotten.

The illustrations are very good. They include maps and photographs. The detailed list of the principal characters is very useful.

Highly recommended.

Readers may like to note that another book covering the same topic has just been published: 'The Greatest Escape' by Peter Grose. An unfortunate piece of timing- for the authors that is, as his book covers virtually the same ground as Moorehead's. The book is also based on interviews with some of the survivors.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2015
In wartime occupied France, Jews are being rounded up and packed on to transport to concentration camps and an almost certain death. Villagers of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon took in many Jews, hiding them from the Nazis, and enabling them to escape to safety. The bravery of many is heart-warming. Food supplies decline but somehow the villagers manage to continue to feed all the extra mouths. Helped by the Plateau being snowed in for several months each year and therefore not easily accessible during winter, but with a large influx of visitors during summer months, the villagers hid some of the Jewish children in plain sight, before moving them on.

There are many stories of bravery in the villages, and across France with passeurs who risk everything to bring Jewish children to the Plateau. Also some of those with power became increasingly disillusioned with the Nazis, and therefore at the least turned a blind eye to what they saw, and often gave advance warning of imminent Nazi visits.

The author certainly made this period come alive - thoroughly recommended.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 2014
My parents were among the Jews who found shelter in the area of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, during the Holocaust--the subject of this astonishingly inaccurate book--and I had the good fortune to be born there at that time. I thus care deeply about the remarkable rescue mission that profoundly affected my life.

It is thus dismaying that this account of those events preposterously asserts that the French Protestant (Huguenot) dimension of the rescue effort has been inflated into a myth, that the village's remarkable pastor can be plausibly charged with being a self-aggrandizing pathological liar, that nonviolence was only a small part of the story, that unnamed atheists and agnostics played an equal role in providing shelter, that indeed the religious beliefs of the rescuers deserve only passing mention...

Furthermore, in the author's eagerness to be able to claim that she is, at last, setting "the record straight" and describing for the first time "what actually took place" in and around Le Chambon, she feels it necessary to go out of her way to malign the late Philip Hallie and me--who have told the story before her. In my case, she goes so far as to fabricate the utterly false allegation that key figures in Le Chambon's wartime events branded my well-received feature documentary on the subject, "Weapons of the Spirit," as nothing less than a "mutilation of historical truth." They did not, and it is not, as viewers will be able to judge for themselves when the new, remastered 25th-anniversary edition of the film premieres at the JW3 Cinema in London on Jan. 24.

For more information, please see: http://www.chambon.org/moorehead.htm

Pierre Sauvage
President, Chambon Foundation
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 2014
I have given Village of Secrets one star to draw attention to the serious criticisms of it made by three people the author sought assistance from while researching her book, who feature significantly in it and who are well qualified to comment on its many inaccuracies. One of them, Pierre Sauvage, who made an award-winning 1989 documentary about the village in question, has given a very detailed critique of the book in a review at http://tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/186652/moorehead-le-chambon , supplemented by additional material at http://chambon.org/moorehead.htm (which also reproduces the one-star reviews by Max Liebmann and Nelly Trocmé Hewett on Amazon.com.)

It should also be pointed out that, apart from Sauvage's documentary, the story has been told in English at least twice before - first in 1979 by the late Professor Philip Hallie in Lest Innocent Blood be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There - which Ms Moorehead criticizes strongly in her own book - and latterly by Dr Patrick Henry, in We Only Know Men: The Rescue of Jews in France During the Holocaust (2007).

Like Moorehead, Henry discusses Hallie's book and the controversies it aroused among some local inhabitants who felt left out of his account, though unlike Moorehead, he sees criticisms of Hallie as unfair (see pp. 6-8 and p.18ff. at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=HhqLHRDB-WIC&q=hallie#v=onepage&q=ousby&f=false and 'Look Inside'). For whatever reason, however, Ms Moorehead does not refer to Henry's book in either the body of her text or her source-notes, and only includes an entry for the French translation, La montagne des Justes : Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, 1940-1944 (2010), in her bibliography.

Henry writes (p. 8): "The 700-page volume containing the proceedings of the three-day 1990 colloquium held in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon constitutes our greatest single source of knowledge regarding the extent and nature of rescue work on the plateau [Vivarais-Lignon]. [...] [T]his volume is our best source for moving beyond the legends into a true history of the plateau from 1939 to 1944."

These proceedings were published in 1992 by the Société d'histoire de la Montagne as Le Plateau Vivarais Lignon. Accueil et Résistance 1939-1944 (http://www.amazon.fr/Le-Plateau-Vivarais-Lignon-r%C3%A9sistance-1939-1946/dp/2950656609 ). Despite mentioning the colloquium on p. 334, however, Ms Moorehead does not refer to the published proceedings or include them in her bibliography. (The proceedings of a later colloquium, published in 2005, are attributed to Pierre Bolle, the editor of the earlier volume.)

By an uncanny coincidence, another retelling of the story was published in the same month as Ms Moorehead's, Peter Grose's The Greatest Escape: How one French community saved thousands of lives from the Nazis - A Good Place to Hide, which has been praised by the author of Schindler's Ark, Thomas Keneally. Either this or Henry's We Only Know Men would seem preferable to Village of Secrets, despite the favourable publicity and reviews it has received.

***

PS Here's just one example (but a particularly revealing one) of the weakness of Ms Moorehead's research. On p. 332 (viewable via 'Look inside'), she writes of the late Professor Philip Hallie's 1979 book Lest Innocent Blood be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There: "The Darbyists are nowhere to be seen. [...] Eyraud, the Maquis leader whose calm authority prevented many of the young men from performing foolish actions, never features at all' (p.332). It is supposed omissions like these that Ms Moorehead uses to bolster her claim that Hallie's book created a myth and that she is telling the full story for the first time.

But she obviously didn't bother to look in Hallie's index (also viewable via 'Look inside'), which shows references to (Leon) Eyraud on pp. 178, 185 and 188, and to the Darbystes on pp. 24, 32, 95-98 and 182-3. To quote Hallie: '[The Darbystes] would become an important part of the rescue efforts of the people of Le Chambon, constituting as they did almost one-third of the Protestant population of the region' (p.95).

And here's another example: on p.332, Ms Moorehead refers to a plaque in Le Chambon "honouring those Protestants who had `hidden, protected, saved the persecuted in their thousands', and unveiled at a ceremony in the summer of 1979. It carried the names of 144 grateful Jews.'

If you look on Google Images, however (eg at http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_ClYcSaPsLm4/TAUUeXIxKYI/AAAAAAAAFg8/blxOFHlKVf0/s1600/plaque-chambon.jpg ), you will see that there are NO names on the plaque in question, of Jews or anyone else. Nor does it just honour Protestants, but "all those, believers of all faiths and non-believers" who were "inspired by their example" (my translation). The dedication is from "the Jews who found refuge in Le Chambon sur Lignon and in the neighbouring communes". So much for the claim that non-Protestants and the other villages in the area have been ignored (remember the plaque dates from 1979).

The story (which is truly inspiring, hence the favourable reviews from those who didn't already know about it) is one thing; Ms Moorehead's retelling of it something else.

See also my additional comments at http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R3HWP0E4P5H59Z/ref=cm_cr_rev_detmd_pl?ie=UTF8&asin=0701186410&cdForum=FxR8WJIT2F4ROL&cdMsgID=Mx3KQW1JWDVOE5&cdMsgNo=1&cdPage=1&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx3UBGPDNW9TD5Q&store=books#Mx3KQW1JWDVOE5 .
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 May 2015
Very well researched and written in a style that kept my interest in the human stories, but also reminded me of the terrible persecutions that took place in WW2 and how the Vichy regime colluded with the Nazis. It as also a timely read given what is going on in Syria and other places where tolerance of difference is absence and cruely only too apparent.
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on 17 June 2015
I have read several accounts about the passive resistance of those living in Le Chambon sur Lignon and the surrounding villages and farms. Their quiet heroism shines like a bright star in the darkness of Nazi occupation and shameful French collaboration. Caroline Moorehead has carefully documented a wide range of aspects of the protection of children and adults being hunted down for transportation to the death camps, and has produced an interesting, balanced and very readable account of the many ordinary people involved. Clearly the initiative came from a few to whom perhaps too much credit has been given but so much was accomplished by the many warm hearted and sympathetic individuals and families who courted danger while mading considerable sacrifices to help others in need.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 30 November 2014
My parents were among the Jews who found shelter in the area of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, during the Holocaust--the subject of this astonishingly inaccurate book--and I had the good fortune to be born there at that time. I thus care deeply about the remarkable rescue mission that profoundly affected my life.

It is thus dismaying that this account of those events preposterously asserts that the French Protestant (Huguenot) dimension of the rescue effort has been inflated into a myth, that the village's remarkable pastor can be plausibly charged with being a self-aggrandizing pathological liar, that nonviolence was only a small part of the story, that unnamed atheists and agnostics played an equal role in providing shelter, that indeed the religious beliefs of the rescuers deserve only passing mention...

Furthermore, in the author's eagerness to be able to claim that she is, at last, setting "the record straight" and describing for the first time "what actually took place" in and around Le Chambon, Moorehead feels it necessary to go out of her way to malign the late Philip Hallie and me--who happen to have told the story before her.

In my case, she goes so far as to fabricate the utterly false allegation that key figures in Le Chambon's wartime events branded my well-received feature documentary on the subject, "Weapons of the Spirit," as nothing less than a "mutilation of historical truth" and that I am a "revisionist"! This is very malicious fiction indeed! When the new, remastered 25th-anniversary edition of the film premieres in London on Jan. 24, people will be able to judge for themselves if Moorehead's charges are credible.

For more information, please see http://www.chambon.org/moorehead.htm

Pierre Sauvage
President, Chambon Foundation
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on 29 April 2015
This ought to be unputdownable...but sadly it's a struggle to get through it. There are many individuals with immense courage and fortitude, and a sizeable proportion of them, alas, ended in Auschwitz and similar places: but the author never portrays any of them with sufficient clarity to do them justice. The scene and personalities continually change, but none of the individuals remains in the mind. Disappointing, as the people so well deserve commemoration.
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on 12 March 2015
Such a moving story of life in France during the Nazi occupation, beautifully written. This should be compulsory reading in schools for Fifth and Sixth form students. The courage of the inhabitants to save Jewish people, when a mistake or betrayal cost them and their families their own lives. For Holocaust deniers, they should be made to learn it by heart.
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on 29 December 2014
Interesting because I visited the village many years ago as a teenager and was totally unaware of this part of its history. Tries to be balanced . Covers the stories of too many of the participants. It would have been easier to read if the stories of fewer participants had been described in more depth. the characters would have had more life that way.
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