The secrets of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon are revealed in this account of the small French mountain town that served as a refuge for Jews during World War II. Hiding people in farms, woods, and private homes, the town was responsible for the salvation of thousands of Jews, many of whose parents had been sent off to concentration camps. The geographic isolation and religious convictions of the inhabitants served to make this remarkable story possible. The extraordinary lengths these individuals went to and the risks they took to hide and help adults and children to safety were unparalleled elsewhere and in direct opposition to the Vichy government that actively aided the Nazis. Many of those associated with this story may be familiar, including Andre Trocme and Albert Camus. In 1990, the town was honored with the “Righteous Among the Nations” award for its service to the Jewish people during the war.
The level of detail Ms. Moorehead is staggering, and unfortunately, that proves to be the book’s biggest weakness. The encyclopedic list of names, places, and acronyms is practically impossible to follow, and the author jumps back and forth between the stories, leaving many loose ends. All the stories are heart wrenching, dramatic, and awe-inspiring, but we never get to hear much about any one particular story. Furthermore, Ms. Moorehead has a habit of omitting translations from French to English, as well as the geographical locations of many towns, which often left me (someone not particularly knowledgeable about France during those years) in the dark. The emphasis on the female heroes of the town was enjoyable though.
If you read the reviews of this book on Amazon and Goodreads, you may be surprised to discover, as I was, that this book has stirred up much controversy. As I know little of the history of this part of France nor of the dispute between various authors, I’ll not attempt to wade into the fray, but did want to mention that there are many out there who do not support Ms. Moorehead’s version of events for various reasons.
This is a fascinating true-life tale but one that will leave your head spinning as you attempt to unravel it.
Amazon link is here.