by PATRICK HENRY
IN MEMORY OF PHILIP HALLIE
"There are stars whose radiance is visible on earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose [goodness] continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living."--Hannah Senesh
Let me begin by giving a couple of reasons why a nominal Catholic might be interested in speaking about the Holocaust. Fifty-two years ago, when I was six years old, I walked with my mother into a candy store in my neighborhood in New York City. The neighborhood was half Jewish and half Catholic and composed partly of immigrant homes like mine, mostly of first generation families. When the woman at the cash register reached down to give me my change, I saw the tattooed number on her arm. Today, I see that tattooed arm just as clearly as I did 52 years ago. This is remarkable because I can now never even remember the previous night's dream and have no memories of my childhood that pre-date this event. Even though I had recurring nightmares in which I would see the tattooed arm detached as if in a surrealist painting of the Holocaust, my mother would never explain to me how the number got on the arm. How could she have done so? What could she have said to her six year old son that would not have been worse than saying nothing? In the beginning, then, for me, there was no word; there was only the tattooed arm.
I still don't know when or how I discovered how that number got on that arm, but what I know for certain is that during my youth in that neighborhood, no matter how much time I spent with my Jewish friends, in their homes, in mine, in the Hillcrest Jewish Center and in the street, no Jew ever spoke to me about the Holocaust. Not once! When I left that neighborhood for the first time in 1960 to go into the Army, I could not say that the
Holocaust was the unspeakable (certainly some Jews must have spoken about it among themselves) but, in my experience, between Christians and Jews, it was the unspoken.
Indeed, the Holocaust was the unspoken in many ways. After the war trials were over in the mid- 1940s, the new Germany rejoined the international community and became our ally in the Cold War against Russia. During the Korean conflict, the renewed Cold War, and throughout the war in Vietnam, little was heard about the slaughtered six million. Only after American soldiers left Vietnam did the Holocaust come fully into our nation's public consciousness. For thirty years, the survivors did not speak publicly about the Holocaust. In the mid-1970s, however, a deep sense of moral obligation to bear witness would break that silence and result in massive documentation (survivor video tapes at Yale, scores of books, and a museum in Washington, D.C.) made by the survivors in a world that now, incredibly, contained thousands of Holocaust deniers who seemed determined to convince generations to come that the Holocaust never happened.
At the top of the citation awarded by the state of Israel to all those who "at the peril of [their] lives, saved Jews during the epoch of extermination" is written the Jewish proverb "In remembrance resides the secret of redemption." This is why so many of the surviving victims and their children have come forth to tell their stories. Doesn't it seem mildly absurd, however, that only the victims speak of the atrocity? That only Jews hold Shoah remembrance ceremonies? If we know one thing that the Holocaust was not, we know that it was not a Jewish problem. It is, furthermore, absolutely germane in a world containing deniers that non-Jews speak publicly about the Holocaust--even more so since we will soon be remembering the Holocaust in a world where no one will have any lived memories of it. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 13% of persons interviewed said that the Holocaust "probably happened" while 4% said either that it "did not happen" or that they had "no opinion". More troubling still is the fact that in the same poll 22% of adults and 24% of students did not know that the Holocaust happened when the Nazis came to power in Germany.1 In the face of the deniers who, in the name of credible historiography, practice nothing but anti-Semitic ideology and, given the imminent death of the remaining survivors, we must begin to teach the Holocaust effectively and demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that to say the Holocaust was beyond belief is hardly the same thing as saying that it didn't happen.
A post-Holocaust ethical community shares the burden of remembering and, as a personal friend and intellectual colleague of Philip Hallie, I consider it an honor to continue the narration of the story he first told of the people in the area of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon who rescued Jews during the Nazi Occupation. To remember these rescuers is to acknowledge the magnitude of the horrors of the Holocaust and the humanity of its victims, and to garner some reasons by which we can subvert a tendency toward despair.
My narration will include a good deal of knowledge Hallie didn't have in 1979 when he published Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, a book severely criticized of late because of factual errors, historical inaccuracies, and various lacunae in its account. Hallie never saw himself as an historian: "I knew that I could not tell the story," he writes in the original "prelude" to his book, "as thoroughly as a careful historian might tell it."2 Hallie wrote as an ethicist trying to grasp the phenomenon of nonviolence and the ethics of rescue in Nazi-dominated France. Also, in writing about the rescuers, Hallie was a definite pioneer. Very little was known about the rescuers at the time Hallie did his research and writing. Like Holocaust survivors, the rescuers hadn't yet come forward to tell their stories. For one thing, most of them didn't think what they had done was exceptional. As a result, Hallie was exploring uncharted waters.
In addition, by speaking only of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, Hallie unwittingly gave the erroneous impression that this village on the plateau alone rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Just as many camp survivors did not come forth until the deniers had spoken, so too many of the rescuers in this area did not speak of what they did until it was somehow implied that they had done nothing. The three-day colloquium held in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in October 1990 underscored a thirty-five year silence by the people on the plateau Vivarais-Lignon regarding rescue efforts during WWII. Speakers also alluded to the "Chambonisation" of the phenomenon of rescue in this geographical area and aimed at setting the record straight a half-century after the events in question. The 700 page proceedings attempts to replace the legend of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon with the history of the plateau Vivarais-Lignon and, as such, constitutes our greatest source of knowledge regarding the extent and nature of rescue work on the plateau.3
Without denying that Protestant pastors André Trocmé and Edouard Theis were the catalysts for much of what happened in the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon between 1940 and 1944, the proceedings demonstrates unequivocally that nonviolent rescue activity involving thirteen Protestant ministers and their followers took place in all twelve Protestant parishes on the plateau with Darbyists, Catholics, Swiss Protestants, Jews, American Quakers, Evangelicals, non-believers, students, underground railroad workers, and simple people from all walks of life participating in these rescue efforts.
This example of collective nonviolent resistance against the Nazis is an important event that took place in the midst of extensive collaboration. In what follows, without relinquishing Philip Hallie's brilliant and still pertinent analysis of the ethics of nonviolent rescue, I will take into account all that we now know in 1998 about the widespread rescue efforts on the plateau Vivarais-Lignon. To confront this phenomenon in all its agonizing complexity will force our students to think ethically in the classroom and to grapple with deep moral issues that were not only crucial to those who lived this terrible moment of French history but remain essential to the ethical dilemmas we continue to face in our own times.
What, then, did these rescuers do? At a time when the gates of compassion were locked, when, except in Denmark and Bulgaria, almost all churches remained silent, when most people either looked the other way or actively facilitated the work of the Nazis, this mainly Protestant area in south-central France stretching along the plateau Vivarais-Lignon and including a village called Le Chambon-sur-Lignon happened to resist. While throughout Europe an immense bureaucracy, perhaps in the tens of thousands, from local police and railroad clerks to lawyers, soldiers, and physicians, was involved in the rounding up, transportation, confinement, registration, deportation, and extermination of six million Jews, from 1940-1944, approximately five thousand mountain people risked their lives and those of their children by welcoming and housing thousands of refugee Jews. No other communal effort on this scale ever occurred for this length of time anywhere else in Occupied Europe.
It occurred too, not in a country like Denmark, where it was not a crime to hide a Jew and where 95% of the Jewish population was saved, but in France whose Vichy government, on its own, without any pressure whatsoever from the Nazis, alone among all occupied Western European nations, wrote its own anti-semitic policies, extending the definition of Jew beyond contemporary Nazi practice and imposing a quota system to limit the number of Jews in certain spheres of life, while it interned foreign Jews in camps throughout the country.4 The Vichy government created a climate in which anti-semitism and informing on Jews was not only acceptable but patriotic. Its legal system cooperated with Nazi goals to a greater extent than any other Occupied nation. In addition, not only did 3,000 foreign Jews die in French-run internment camps, but we should recall that it was Pierre Laval who, when the Nazis required that Jewish males (aged 16-60) and females (aged 16-55) be deported, further requested that Jewish children also be deported along with their parents. When these forced deportations to the death camps began in the summer of l942, the French police cooperated readily with the Nazis, joining only Bulgaria among all Occupied nations in rounding up Jews not only from the Occupied Zone but eagerly evicting them from the Unoccupied Zone as well, and ultimately turning over 76,000 Jews, roughly 25% of the Jewish population--l/3 of whom, astonishingly, were their fellow citizens and l0,000 of whom were children--to be exterminated.5
Until the deportations began during the summer of 1942, the French Catholic hierarchy didn't make a single public objection to Vichy's treatment of the Jews. When public objections were made, after the deportations began, for a variety of reasons, they died down quickly. The Church had a lot to gain by remaining silent and practicing loyalty to Marshal Pétain. The Vichy government brought God back into the classroom, provided funds for private Catholic schools, taught "family values," and fought Communism and freemasonry. This does not mean that hundreds of Catholics and members of the lower clergy didn't actively oppose deportations and risk their lives to save Jews. But the French Catholic Church itself was so tied to the Vichy regime and the Church's hierarchy so discredited that when General DeGaulle had the Te Deum offered at Notre Dame, in thanksgiving for the liberation of France, he refused to allow the Cardinal of Paris to attend.
The earliest sustained Christian voice of opposition to Vichy's anti-semitism came at the outset from individual French Protestants--members of the hierarchy, lower clergy, and laity--throughout the country. Whereas Pope Pius XII never spoke out clearly and publicly against the atrocity, while the Allies never bombed the railroad lines leading to the death camps even when they knew what was taking place there and the French Resistance never derailed or otherwise impeded even one of the eighty-five convoys containing the 76,000 Jews that left Drancy from the summer of 1942 through August 1944, while this abandonment of the Jews would later prompt Elie Wiesel to write "What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander,"6 the villagers on the plateau Vivarais-Lignon, armed only with the strength of their beliefs, in full view of the Vichy government and neighboring storm troopers, refused to accept the invincibility of evil and brute power and succeeded in saving the lives of about five thousand refugees, approximately 3,500 of whom were Jewish, many of them children.
How did they do what they did? In l940, the area of Le Chambon had a population of about 8,000 people, half of whom were peasants living on farms or in small hamlets scattered over many square miles around the center of the village. Although throughout France less than one percent of the population was Protestant, here Catholics constituted only ten percent of the people living in the area. This was indeed a Protestant enclave on a high plateau with less than forty inhabitants per square kilometer whose twelve parishes covered an extremely isolated area of small villages and remote farms. One of the most inspiring leaders of the nonviolent rescue mission was André Trocmé, the pastor of the Reformed Church of France in Le Chambon who, with assistant pastor, Edouard Theis, founded a private coeducational school, the Ecole Nouvelle Cévenole, on the principles of nonviolence, conscientious objection, internationalism, fellowship, and peace. Trocmé and Theis were certainly catalysts in the rescue mission but, once begun, that mission developed on its own with numerous individuals working independently. Each of the twelve parishes on the plateau, for example, had its own minister and rescue operation.7
During the Nazi Occupation, Trocmé and Theis preached from the pulpit resistance against the hatred and naked destruction for which the Third Reich stood. They mobilized their flock against appeasement, violence, and hatred of all kinds. Whereas the official handbook of the Hitler Youth organization states that "The foundation of the National Socialist outlook on life is the perception of the unlikeness of men" (p. 273), Trocmé and Theis taught the absolute equality and dignity of all human beings. Their aggressive nonviolence and active pacifism helped to make the plateau the safest place in France for Jewish children, even during the last year of the Occupation when, sought by the German police, they were forced to go into hiding.
Alone, though, the pastors could have done very little. Fortunately, their congregation and others living on the plateau were up to the task. The very same scattered groups formerly created for Bible study in the distant areas of the parish of Le Chambon became one of the important communication networks to locate hiding places and guide the terrified foreigners to safety. Not everyone in Le Chambon hid refugees, but a great majority of the village was actively involved in the rescue mission. Indeed, after the summer of 1942, sheltering Jews on the plateau was the norm, not the exception. The pastors established houses of refuge to feed, clothe, protect, and educate young children who had been removed from internment camps in southern France, sometimes just before their parents were deported. By the middle of the Occupation, there were seven funded houses in Le Chambon, mostly located outside the village. They were financed by Quakers, American Congregationalists, the Swiss Red Cross, even national governments like Sweden. In addition, there were more than a dozen pensions, or boarding houses, toward the center of the village that housed adolescent refugees of both sexes. Finally, in addition to the many private homes that sheltered Jews, some keeping children for years, others for only a short period of time, there was the Ecole Nouvelle Cévenole where a good portion of the student population was Jewish and whose enrollment grew annually from 18 in 1938 to 350 in 1944.8 Whereas others have spoken perceptively of the "banality of evil" during the Holocaust, we can speak of the "banality or ordinariness of goodness" on the plateau. Based on simple notions of common decency--strangers who came to the door were housed and fed--goodness spread from farm to farm, from person to person, from one act to the next.9
In addition to sheltering Jews, most Huguenots on the plateau practiced total noncooperation with the Vichy government. In Le Chambon, they refused to take an oath to Maréchal Pétain and the ministers disobeyed orders to ring the church bell in honor of the chief of state. At the Ecole Nouvelle Cévenole, they refused to put a picture of Pétain on the wall and would not enforce the mandatory salutation of the flag. In the summer of 1942, students formally protested the rounding up of Parisian Jews in a letter that insisted that the people on the plateau made no distinction between Jews and non-Jews, a fact that Trocmé made clear to a Vichy official who threatened him regarding the sheltering of Jews: "We do not know what a Jew is," Trocmé told him. "We only know men" (p. 160).
While there were some overtly collective actions undertaken on the plateau, much that happened there was done under a cloak of secrecy. People in the area often did not know about the rescue efforts of their neighbors. They suspected that others must have agreed to shelter the latest arrivals but did not know who or where. They didn't talk about it very much either during the war, when they used passwords and codes to do so,10 or after the war when the refugees had left. And no permanent records were kept. The entire project seemed to be an original mixture of candor and evasiveness. The people on the plateau did not conceal the fact that they felt compelled to shelter Jews but when the Vichy police came looking for them, the refugees had already disappeared into their hiding places. The silent nature of these isolated mountain people was a definite asset in a system of privacy and consensus, candor and concealment, that worked well in the village known to the Germans and the Vichy officials as "that nest of Jews in Protestant country" (1994; p. 10), a successfully ecumenical village, where no villager ever denounced a single refugee or a person concealing refugees.
It is important to know something about Protestantism and its history in Catholic France to understand not only why the Huguenots, in particular, would identify with the persecuted Jews, but why they would be so successful in sheltering them. Protestants themselves were persecuted in France from the 1530s until 1598 when Henri IV passed the Edict of Nantes giving them the right to practice their religion openly. Louis XIV revoked that edict in 1685 and Protestants were again persecuted until the revolution in 1789. During these long periods of persecution, those who could not flee to foreign countries and who hid in the most inhospitable areas of the country survived on cunning, secrecy, and silence. Living clandestinely, they cultivated a strong distrust of governments. Protestant pastors had been hidden on this plateau throughout all periods of persecution from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. As daily readers of the Bible, Protestants knew the Hebrew Bible well, were familiar with Jewish history, and were comfortable with the idea that the Jews were "the chosen people." The history of their Huguenot ancestors made the inhabitants of the plateau feel close to the persecuted. When these resisters led Jewish refugees on the 300 kilometer journey from Le Chambon to Switzerland, they were following the same route taken by refugee Protestants hundreds of years earlier.
Why did they do what they did? The simplest answer seems to be that, although this could not have been the case for most Christians, these particular people believed that to do otherwise would have been to act against their conscience. In the winter of 1940-41, André Trocmé went to the offices of the American Friends Service Committee in Marseilles because he wanted to work with them to bring desperately needed supplies and consolation to Jews being held in internment camps in southern France. This began his relationship with a leading Quaker named Burns Chalmers who told him at a subsequent meeting in Nîmes: "We can get people out of the camps but nobody wants them. It is dangerous to take them. Is your village prepared to do such a thing? Do you wish to be that community?"11 Trocmé assured him that Le Chambon would be willing to serve in that capacity. He returned home where, indeed, the elders of the church voted immediately to commit the parish to this action. Thus Le Chambon-sur-Lignon was designated as "a place of refuge primarily for children" (p. 134). Things happened the way they did in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon because of Trocmé and Theis, but elsewhere on the plateau others were harboring refugees on their own. Since the plateau Vivarais-Lignon had been a place of sanctuary for hundreds of years, it was only normal that once again the deeply-held inner values of the inhabitants would result in the offering of shelter and passage to persecuted refugees.
The idea of a city of refuge originates in the Hebrew Bible and is described in some detail in Joshua 20(1-9), Numbers 35(9-31), and Deuteronomy 19(1-13), where the Jewish people were commanded to set up cities of refuge to which anyone who killed a person unintentionally could flee so as not to die by the hand of the avenger of blood until there was a trial before the congregation. Perhaps because the situation in Le Chambon was somewhat different--in that a city of refuge was set up for those being persecuted for no other crime than that of being Jewish--the pastors and their followers took most seriously the command of Deuteronomy 19:10: "I command you [to protect the refugee] lest innocent blood be shed in [your] land...thereby bringing the guilt of bloodshed upon you." Once Le Chambon became "a city of refuge," for Trocmé, Theis, and their villagers, it was not enough simply not to do evil, it was also necessary to keep others from doing harm to those who came within the city gates.
The ministers and their followers had accepted the negative commandments of Exodus 20, the precepts that require us to avoid doing harm (thou shalt not kill, steal, commit adultery, etc.). Most people feel that, most of the time, this ethic of the non-doing of evil is all that is required of them. The people of Le Chambon, however, heard in the Hebrew Bible other voices, that of First Isaiah for example, urging them in addition to perform positive actions. Responding affirmatively to Cain's question--"Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9)--First Isaiah lets the Jewish people know who their brothers and sisters are: "seek justice/rescue the oppressed/defend the orphan/plead for the widow" (1Isaiah 1:17), while Second Isaiah urges them "to share [their] bread with the hungry [and] bring the homeless poor into [their] house (2Isaiah 58:7). The Huguenot population understood these commands and it became known that refugees could find shelter on the plateau.12
The Protestants of the area found no difference between the practical ethic emanating from the Hebrew Bible and that of the Gospels. When asked, after the war, why they did what they did, many would invariably refer to the gospel of Luke (10:25-37) where the Torah is cited with Christ's approbation as containing the two great commandments which require obedience in order to gain eternal life, the second being to love one's neighbor as oneself. Christ is then asked "Who is my neighbor?" and he responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan in which the Jew "who has fallen into the hands of robbers" is helped by the Samaritan, that is to say, by a foreigner not expected to show sympathy to Jews.
Theologically, then, the Huguenots of the plateau believed that faith without works is dead. They felt compelled to act for others, to diminish suffering, and to put into action the principles in which they believed. Although a good number of villagers were in fact part of the violent resistance, Trocmé, and Theis conscientiously objected to all violence, and told their flock from the pulpit, as Pierre Sauvage records it in his brilliant documentary, Weapons of the Spirit: "The duty of Christians is to resist the violence that will be brought to bear on their consciences 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".13 As Christian pacifists, they justified no violence whatsoever, not even the violence needed to defeat Hitler. Killing Germans, for whatever reason, and being a Christian were absolutely incompatible.
Trocmé and Theis did what they did because they believed that hatred of other human beings brought only destruction. What they hated was war as a means of resolving conflict. They did not hate the so-called enemy. They were trying to prevent the Germans from doing more evil and were always ready to forgive them. In the last weeks of the war, when Frenchmen were finally getting revenge and Germans were being assassinated everywhere, Trocmé, still preaching the absolute uselessness of all hatred, began working with the German prisoners of war, trying to give them the opportunity to repent, hoping to end all cycles of vengeance. On Sundays he gave the same sermon twice--in the morning in French in the pulpit of his church and in the afternoon in German in the prisoner of war camp. His parishioners would say: "Why don't you preach that to the Germans"? The Germans would ask: "Why don't you preach that to your parishioners"? He assured them both that he was doing just that.
The Huguenots of the plateau did what they did because they believed in the dignity of all human life and the integrity of every individual. Never did they try to use their position to coerce refugee children to embrace their religion. As a survivor named Rudy Appel attests: "With the help of Pastor Trocmé, we held our own religious services on Jewish Holy Days, either in the Protestant temple or in the school."14 Other survivors too have noted that Jewish children were encouraged to have their own services and that sometimes Protestant services would consist only of readings from the Hebrew Bible so that Jewish children could take part without betraying their own faith. These people were fully cognizant of and perfectly comfortable with the Jewish origins of their faith. Being a Christian here had nothing to do with not being Jewish and whether the Jews accepted the Gospels or not, they were still considered the chosen people of God. The only real distinction that mattered on the plateau was between those who believed and those who did not believe that people "who had fallen into the hands of robbers" were as precious as themselves.
Although the basis for this ethical community was biblical, there was an enormous amount of diversity among its members.15 Daniel Trocmé, for example, the second cousin of the pastor and a professor of language, history, and geography in charge of two funded houses in Le Chambon, Les Grillons and Des Roches, was not a religious man. In the summer of l943, in the only successful raid by the Gestapo in Le Chambon, 18 young adult refugees were rounded up and put on a bus to be deported.16 Daniel Trocmé, who could easily have escaped, insisted on standing by these refugees and was arrested with them. In a letter he wrote to his parents a year before the raid, he told them that he had no deep theological views and was strongly suspicious of organized churches. "I have chosen Le Chambon," he wrote, "because I will thus be able not to be ashamed of myself."17 Daniel Trocmé died in a gas chamber at the Polish extermination camp in Majdanek on April 2, 1944.
Magda Trocmé, the wife of André Trocmé and an equally important catalyst in the rescue operation, was raised a Catholic and became a Protestant, but was never deeply religious. Unlike her husband, she rarely spoke of God or even of love. "But I never close my door," she told Hallie, "never refuse to help somebody who comes to me and asks for something. This, I think, is my kind of religion." Hallie concluded that "despite her secularism, she was an effective gatekeeper for a city of refuge" (p. 153). Many other persons, integral agents of the rescue mission, when asked after the war why they did what they did, also responded outside of any religious context.
Unlike his wife's "horizontal" ethic of humanitarian conviction, André Trocmé's was a "vertical" ethic emanating directly from God's commands. Yet Trocmé had no doctrine of hell and was absolutely uncertain about the existence of an afterlife. "Faith works on earth; I do not know about heaven" (p. 37), he told the inmates of the internment camp where he was held after his arrest in February 1943. In the final analysis, a "common union" brought together a variety of people who differed politically and religiously to achieve a mutual end. It was a group of people who embodied the ethic of Scripture, whether they were believers or not. In all that they did, Trocmé, Theis, and their stubborn and independent-minded mountain people demonstrated that, for them, the kingdom of God meant the complete and definitive elimination of every form of vengeance and reprisal in relations between human beings on earth.
Certainly we must continue to heed the Jewish voices urging us to remember the atrocities committed against the Jewish people by the Nazis in the hope that by remembering what was done we will prevent it from ever happening again. In order to "mend the world," however, we must also listen to other Jewish voices, those of Philip Hallie, Pierre Sauvage, Eva Fogelman,18 Gay Block, and Malka Drucker,19 voices of those who have unearthed and celebrated the actions of courageous persons who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Here we want to remember precisely so that such acts of compassion will be repeated again and again in the future. The verb "re-member" has its surgical sense of putting things back together again and these acts of solidarity, although accomplished by only a fraction of the 700 million people who lived in Nazi-Occupied countries during World War II, were part of the picture. Indeed, these lights that shone only here and there in the overall darkness enable us to see and to find our way out of the labyrinth of blind hatred within which they were performed.
Although they would undoubtedly object on the double ground that what they did was perfectly natural and that they themselves were absolutely ordinary people, in the war against the Jews, these mostly Christian rescuers represented the "Lamed Vav," the thirty-six unknown Just Persons whose task is to do good for their fellow human beings and who, the Talmud says, are required for the survival of the world. Without them, the Holocaust would have marked the death of Man.20 Certainly this is why the Yad Vashem medal they receive contains the Talmudic saying, "Whoever saves a single life is as one who has saved an entire world." By doing what they did, at the darkest hour in the twentieth century, they saved the concept of the human being as a being capable of goodness, the very concept that allows the human species not only to hope but to do the next good thing.
My generation was not called upon to rescue Jews during the Holocaust but to restructure the world after Auschwitz. The question to which we must respond is not the excruciatingly unknowable: "What would I have done had I lived in Occupied Europe?" but the more urgently concrete "What can we do now to help build a world where another Auschwitz would be unthinkable?" In attempting this monumental endeavor, we do at least have a model to work with--the rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, those persons whose courageous self-transcendence destroys the axiom that human beings can only act out of self-interest. Who, then, were these people and how might we begin to become more like them.
The findings of Block and Drucker, who interviewed 105 rescuers from eleven different countries, and Fogelman and her staff, who interviewed over 300 rescuers and the Jews they rescued, are similar. On the whole, neither gender, nor age, nor nationality, nor education, nor profession, nor economic class, nor religious leaning, nor political persuasion played a determining role as to who would be a rescuer. Whereas most people surrender personal responsibility for their actions when those actions are dictated by an authority figure,21 the rescuers of Jews obviously did not. Why not? Block, Drucker, and Fogelman would say because, as children, in a significant number of cases, they were raised in homes where love was in abundance, where parents were altruistic and tolerant and where children were disciplined by reason and explanation, and because in these homes they were taught five essential principles: that human beings are basically the same and differences between them are to be respected; that the world is not divided into "us and them" but rather contains a common bond of humanity; that they should have a clear sense of right and wrong, should stand up for their beliefs, have moral integrity, self-confidence, and self-worth; that kindness and compassion toward others should be practiced;22 and that they should be of independent mind, self-sustaining, and never follow the crowd.23
This type of family life and the five principles mentioned do not constitute a necessary cause nor a sufficient one regarding rescue work during the Holocaust. Rescuing was basically a function of character but also depended upon external circumstances. It was not absolutely necessary to have been taught in this manner nor was it in all cases sufficient. Some people rescued Jews without this background; others failed to do so despite it. While it does not mean, then, that all who received this training rescued Jews, too many rescuers have repeated the same story for us to ignore these significant points that appear in virtually all accounts of the rescuers.24 Oliner and Oliner, who interviewed 406 rescuers, 126 nonrescuers, and 150 survivors, point out that not all rescuers developed their altruistic tendencies from good family relationships. Their "composite portrait" of the typical rescuer, however, as well as that found in Nehama Tee's study, closely resembles the one to be gleaned from Block, Drucker, and Fogelman.25 Kristen Monroe, whose study is a powerful indictment of all those, including Hobbes, Freud, and Darwin, who would read altruism--especially in the case of rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust--in terms of self-interest, finds one common trait among all altruists: "[They] see themselves as bound to all mankind through a common humanity."26 While Oliner and Oliner did not find this universally among rescuers, they nonetheless make the revealing observation that: "Knowing whether someone was characterized by an extensive or a constricted orientation enabled us to predict who would be a rescuer or a nonrescuer in 70 percent of the individuals we studied."27
I end, finally, where it all began--in that candy store in Queens at the cash register with the tattooed woman who, fifty-two years ago, unwittingly, passed on to me a great deal more than my change. In The Drowned And The Saved, Primo Levi speaks about the tattoo in the chapter on useless violence. Invented at Auschwitz, the indelible tattooed number was the ultimate humiliation. Forbidden by Mosaic Law (Leviticus 19:28), it meant that you are like cattle; you will never leave Auschwitz; you no longer even have a name.28 In the face of this violation of the human person, and in memory of all those who were subjected to the Holocaust, the victims who died and those other victims, the survivors, we really have no other choice, I believe, but to emulate and embody, as parents, teachers, and simply as people, the values of those who, rising to their defense, performed at the very summit of human potential. As a non-Jew growing up in a secure, Catholic home in New York City in the 1940s and 50s, I had little preparation for the world to which the tattoo would introduce me. As a teacher of the humanities at the other end of the country in the 1990s, I am still bound to this memory and choose to reintegrate my own history to the history of which the outstretched arm of my childhood is so powerful an extension.
I am deeply indebted to Nelly Trocmé Hewett, the daughter of André and Magda Trocmé, for her careful reading of my manuscript and her many important suggestions. I also want to thank Sandor Goodhart, Tess Gallagher, Dan Gordon, Steve Rendall, and Roger Shattuck for their insightful and helpful comments, and Wendy E. Chmielewski, curator of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, for forwarding me documents from the Trocmé papers. Finally, I would like to thank the Washington Commission for the Humanities for sponsoring this talk as part of its Inquiring Mind lecture series, thereby enabling me to give it throughout the state of Washington during the 1996-97 and 1997-98 academic years.
1. Deborah Lipstadt, Denying The Holocaust. The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York: Penguin, 1994), p. xii. All these statistics are found in this illuminating and important study where the author also notes that: "In 1990 only 45 percent of Alabama high school seniors knew that the Holocaust was the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews" (p. 216n).
2. Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There (1979; New York: Harper & Row, 1994), 1979, p. 7. All future references will be inserted parenthetically. While the pagination of the text is the same in both editions, each edition has a different preface. Page references to the preface therefore will be preceded by the date of the edition to which they refer.
3. Le Plateau Vivarais-Lignon: Accueil et Résistance 1939-1944, ed. Pierre Bolle et al (Le Chambon-sur-Lignon: Société d'Histoire de la Montagne, 1992). All issues, of course, have not been resolved. It is difficult to find all the pieces to the puzzle fifty years later, particularly when most of the participants are dead. Several issues at the colloquium, including statistical ones, produced impassioned debates.
4. On Vichy and its treatment of the Jews, I have read with profit Robert O. Paxton's Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972); Memory, The Holocaust, and French Justice: The Bousquet and Touvier Affairs, ed. Richard J. Golsan (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1996); Susan Zuccotti, The Holocaust, The French, and the Jews (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993); Richard H. Weisberg, Vichy Law and the Holocaust in France (New York: New York University Press, 1996); Philippe Burrin, France Under the Germans: Collaboration and Compromise, trans. Janet Lloyd (New York: The New Press, 1996); Ian Buruma, "The Vichy Syndrome," Tikkun 10 (1995): 44-50; 92-93. I have relied most heavily on Michael R. Marrus and Robert O. Paxton's Vichy France and The Jews (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1981).
5. It is disheartening to learn that "Until 1983, French textbooks declared that the Jewish deportations had been an entirely German affair" (Buruma, p. 47).
6. Elie Wiesel, "Introduction," The Courage To Care. Rescuers of Jews During The Holocaust, ed. Carol Rittner & Sondra Myers (New York: New York University Press, 1986), p. 3.
7. For an in-depth account of what actually took place in the entire area of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon from 1940-1944, one must peruse the essential 700 page proceedings of the three-day colloquium held there on October 12-14, 1990: Le Plateau Vivarais-Lignon: Accueil et Résistance 1939-1944.
8. See François Boulet, "Quelques éléments statistiques," Le Plateau, p. 288.
9. Along these lines, see François Rochat and André Modigliani, "The Ordinary Quality of Resistance: From Milgram's Laboratory to the Village of Le Chambon," Journal of Social Issues 51 (1995): 195-212.
10. See Daniel Curtet, "Témoignage d'un ancien pasteur," Le Plateau, pp. 54-67.
11. Magda Trocmé, "Le Chambon," The Courage to Care, p. 103. See too Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, p. 135 and Georges Menut, "André Trocmé, un violent vaincu par Dieu," Le Plateau, p. 399.
12. Some pastors made precise reference to these passages in Isaiah. See in particular André Bettex, "Témoignage d'un ancien pasteur," Le Plateau, p. 68. See too in the same volume pp. 12 and 434.
13. Pierre Sauvage, Weapons of the Spirit (Los Angeles: Friends of Le Chambon, 1987).
14. The Courage to Care, p. 119. On this same issue, see Olivier Hatzfeld, "L'Ecole Nouvelle Cévenole: nouvelle approche," Le Plateau, p. 164 and François Boulet, "L'attitude spirituelle des protestants devant les Juifs réfugiés," Le Plateau, p. 407.
15. For an analysis of the Catholic participation in the rescue mission, see Henri Dubois, "Les communautés catholiques du plateau," Le Plateau, pp. 82-85 and François Boulet, "L'attitude spirituelle des protestants devant les Juifs réfugiés," Ibid., pp. 412-413.
16. This raid was perhaps not specifically directed at Jews. Only five of the 18 persons arrested were Jews. All five died at Auschwitz. On this incident, see Jacques Poujol, "Les victimes," Le Plateau, pp. 639-647. Statistics vary, however, according to the account. In the same volume, see Léon Chave, "Eléments de chronologie," p. 101 and, most recently, Gérard Bollon, "La Raffle occultée Des Roches," Le Journal du Chambon-sur-Lignon (July 8, 1996). Regardless of the dispute over how many and who exactly were arrested and deported, one wonders why there is still no plaque to mark the sight of this tragedy.
17. Pierre Sauvage, Weapons of the Spirit.
18. Eva Fogelman, Conscience and Courage. Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust (New York: Doubleday, 1994).
19. Gay Block and Malka Drucker, eds., Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1992).
20. In this vein, see the remarkable discussion between Marek Halter and Pope John-Paul II, La Force du Bien (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1995), pp. 262-264.
21. As we know from the Milgram experiments. See Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (New York: Harper & Row, 1974).
22. In Face à L'Extrême (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1991), Todorov makes the important point that compassion is not normally a virtue of either children or adolescents. Therefore it must be a part of each child's education. Since I subscribe to Albert Schweitzer's dictum--"Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing."--compassion must be practiced by each child's role models. This truth is brought out repeatedly in Robert Coles's The Moral Intelligence of Children (New York: Random House, 1997) where, to choose but one example, its author writes: ". . . the most persuasive moral teaching we adults do is by example: the witness of our lives" (p. 31).
23. See Block and Drucker, pp. 4-18 and Fogelman, pp. 253-270.
24. As Leonard Grob points out, in his probing existential reading of the phenomenon of rescue in Nazi-dominated Europe, these teachings had to be activated in time by each individual. His article is equally insightful regarding what the rescuers have to teach us about ourselves as rescuers. See his "Rescue During the Holocaust--and Today," Teaching Jewish Studies 46 (1997): 98-107.
25. See Samuel P. Oliner and Pearl M. Oliner, The Altruistic Personality. Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe, pp. 183-185; 249-250; and Nehama Tee, When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), quoted in Gay Block and Malka Drucker, eds. Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, p. 6.
26. Kristen Renwick Monroe, The Heart of Altruism. Perceptions of a Common Humanity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 5; 184.
27. Oliner and Oliner, p. 253. On the issue of the motivations of the rescuers, see David P. Gushee's original study, The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust. A Christian Interpretation (Minneapolis, Mn: Fortress Press, 1994), pp. 117-148. Here the author attempts to show precisely what in the Christian faith led some Christians to rescue Jews when, not only did most Christians do nothing to help them, but many found justification for doing nothing to help them in that same Christian faith.
28. Primo Levi, The Drowned And The Saved (New York: Random House, 1989), pp. 118-119.