Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is one of a cluster of largely Protestant villages on the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon in the Haute-Loire region of France, where thousands of Jews and political refugees found shelter during the Second World War. The residents of these villages heeded the call of Pastors André Trocmé and Edouard Theis and other local leaders to extend aid to the persecuted even at the risk of endangering their own lives. The movement of Jewish and non-Jewish refugees into the region began in earnest in 1940. Some had enough money to rent their own homes, but most lodged with local families or in the many boarding houses that dotted the region. Their numbers increased after the defeat of France and the decision of the new Vichy regime to incarcerate refugees in internment camps. The height of the Jewish influx came in the spring and summer of 1942. At this time Christian relief organizations, such as the Cimade, Secours suisse aux enfants and the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), and Jewish groups like the Oeuvre de secours aux enfants (OSE) and the Eclaireurs Israelites de France (EIF) began funneling groups of Jews to the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon. These organizations, which had been operating small teams of relief workers in the internment camps, began, in the spring of 1942, to establish refugee homes in the Haute-Loire and other regions to receive groups of Jews who were being released from the camps on condition that they be placed in the charge of an authorized agency. Pastor André Trocmé, in a meeting with Burns Charmers, head of the American Friends Service Committee in Marseille, readily acceded to Charmers' request to house refugees (most of whom were children and teenagers) in the vicinity of Le Chambon. Several refugee homes were set up under the auspices of different relief organizations including Coteau Fleuri (Cimade), La Guespy (Secours suisse), Faidoli (Secours suisse), Les Grillons (Secours suisse), L'abric (Secours suisse) and Maison des Roches (Fonds Europeen de Secours aux etudiants). Other refugees were placed in private homes and boarding houses in the villages, and on farms in the surrounding countryside. When the police round-ups of Jews began in August 1942, the heretofore legal assistance of refugees provided by relief workers and local residents abruptly turned into covert resistance activity. Refugees were hidden during round-ups; false identification papers, birth certificates and ration cards were produced; groups of Jews were secreted away at night to the Swiss border and smuggled across with the help of such international organizations as the Comites universels des Unions chretiennes and the Conseil oecumenique pour les refugies. It is estimated that 5,000 refugees, including 3,500 Jews, were aided by the people of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon. In January 1943 Pastors André Trocmé and Edouard Theis and school director Roger Darcissac were arrested by the Vichy authorities and interned at the St. Paul d'Eyjeaux camp for political prisoners near Limoges. They were released four weeks later. The rescue operation that took place in the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon was unique in that it involved the majority of the population of an entire region --Protestant, Catholic and non-religious-- who banded together to carry out what they viewed as their Christian, moral or political duty. Pastor André and Mme. Magda Trocmé and Pastor Edouard and Mme. Mildred Theis were among 34 residents of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon who were later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. Eventually, the entire population of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon was so acknowledged, and a rock garden was planted in their honor in Jerusalem.
[Sources: Hewett, Nelly Trocme, (interview, June 2000); Saville, Betty, "La plateau du Vivarais-Lignon," in Les Enfants caches, Bulletin No.29 (Paris, December 1999).
Merle d'Aubigne, Jeanne, et al., Les Clandestines de Dieu, Bethany Press, 1970.]