LeChambon-sur-Lignon: A Beacon of Hope in the Midst of the Darkness
By Janessa Piteo
Ft. Pierce, FL


 

Between 1940 and 1943, at a time when most Europeans were more concerned with protecting themselves against the Nazi ort slaught of Eastern Europe, the villagers of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, were concerned with the plight of the Jewish people. This small Protestant village provided a haven for approximately 5,000 Jewish people, mostly children, at the risk of the lives of its 3,000 residents (Hallie xiii). These brave people remained steadfast in their belief that the Jewish people were their brothers. They believed it was their Christian duty to protect the innocent from the death sentence of the Nazi regime. In a sermon on June 23, 1940, the day after France signed an armistice with Germany, the pastor of Le Chambon, Andres Trod, outlined his plan of nonviolent resistance to his congregation:

The duty of Christians is to resist the violence that will be brought to bear on their consciousness through the weapons of the spirit. We will resist whenever our adversaries will demand of us obedience contrary to the orders of the Gospel. We will do so without fear but also without pride and without hate. (Weapons of the Spirit)

Not one person in Le Chambon ever refused, gave up, or denounced a single Jewish refugee ("Le Chambon-sur-Lignon" 1). The humanity that the Chambonnais showed the Jewish people can be well served in today's society, challenging modem man to take up such weapons of the spirit.

Many Jewish families and survivors of the Holocaust relate to their children the atrocities faced during World War II. They tell their stories not to scare the children, but to impress upon them the fact that future generations are the only ones who can prevent another Holocaust from occurring. Survivors become public speakers, sharing their experiences with students and anyone willing to listen. They remind listeners again and again, "It is up to you ... it is up to you" (Feigl). The hope of the survivors is to touch one life with their stories, to impact the way that person thinks and feels. They hope the changed individuals will tell others the lessons they have learned from the Holocaust, and then they, in turn, will tell others. If this endless cycle is repeated throughout generations, possibly world prejudice and violence could decrease. Violence, discrimination, and prejudice are major concerns in the world today. People do not have to look far to see an act of hatred being committed. Le Chambon is an example of the goodness that each community has the potential to achieve. A villager of Le Chambon during World War II explains this altruistic concept:

Humanity is fundamentally good with the possibility to be fundamentally bad ... It does not mean that bad people are all bad or that good people are all good. It does not mean that in Le Chambon there are no people with faults and failings. It is a community like any other community, and I think that means that any community anywhere has the choice to make and to choose right. And that people who seem very ordinary people can do great things if given the opportunity. (Weapons of the Spirit)

Each generation is confronted by evil. My generation must confront the darkness of prejudice, discrimination, and hate so prevalent in our world, and each person must choose to be a beacon of hope to brighten the world in which we live, as did the villagers of Le Chambon. If we as individuals show tolerance to ideas we do not understand, respect people who are different from us, and fight for peace in our world, then other people will be so moved by our stand that they will choose to become beacons as well. If one person becomes a spark for an ideal society, then this spark will grow into a flame until it catches the goodness in humans on fire, until the whole world is ablaze in a quest for peace.

When I first started to learn about the Holocaust, I was overwhelmed by the shocking number and magnitude of people who died as a result of the Nazi regime. It is hard to imagine eleven million dead when all around there is life (Feigl). After listening to Peter Feigl, who was harbored by the villagers of Le Chambon as a child, recount his experiences there, this colossal number seemed to dwindle just a bit. Here in front of my eyes stood someone who survived even though his fate seemed to be sealed. The Holocaust can be too complex to understand with the numerous facts, statistics, and global implication. Understanding the story of one survivor made this terrible time more personal. Reduced to tears, I looked around the room full of students listening and realized I was not Cie only one personally affected. His story touched me in a way I have never been touched and awakened a part of my soul I never knew existed: my humanity. He inspired me to change the town in which I live. While Fort Pierce is not as small as Le Chambon, it is a small southern town that is somewhat set in its ways. I think it was this new understanding for nonviolent resistance that led me to question fiercely someone with a Confederate flag on her book at school. Ill stand firm against blatant displays of racism and prejudice at my school, perhaps other students will be encouraged by my actions and change their actions. If I can successfully change my school environment, if I start small, then I can work my way up toward a larger goal of an ideal society. This new perspective has changed me greatly. I hope that the actions I take and the quest I seek for world peace as an individual will spark a fire that is never extinguished. In the words of Helen Keller, "I am only one but still I am one. I cannot do everything but still I -can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do" ("Helen Keller" 1).


Works Cited

Feigl, Peter. Lecture. 11 March 2003.

Hallie, Philip. Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

"Helen Keller." [Online] Available:
http://www.cyber-nation.com/victc~rv/iuotations/authors/auotes`keller helen.html

"Le Chambon-sur-Lignon." [Online] Availlable:httD://www.auschwitz.dk/Trocme.htm.

Weapons of the Spirit. By Pierre Sauvage. Friends of Le Chambon, 1989.
 


 

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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