In honor of Yom Hashoah, please read about the sacred work of Pastor André and Magda Trocmé, the courageous pacifist Christians who saved 3,000-5,000 Jews from certain death in South Central France. May their memory be for a blessing.
The biography below is reposted from the Swarthmore College Peace Collection:
André and Magda Trocmé are perhaps best known for their work in the small French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon where, during World War II, they inspired the villagers to help protect and sometimes to assist in the escape of Jews and other poltiical refugees. This quiet and courageous assistance was given without resorting to violence. Historians estimate that about 3,500 Jews were harbored in the area in and around Le Chambon.
André Trocmé (1901-1971) was born in St. Quentin in the north of France to Huguenot parents. After seminary in Paris and graduate work at Union Theological Seminary in New York, he was ordained into the French Reformed Church and served for eight years among the coal miners and steel workers of Maubeuge and Sin-le-Noble, two small towns in the north of France. He preached nonviolence at a time when such views were unpopular in France. In 1934 André Trocmé accepted a call to be pastor in the remote Huguenot village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon on the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon in South Central France. These parishioners were more sympathetic to his views on nonviolence.
Magda Trocmé (1901-1996) was born in Italy to an Italian father and a Russian mother. She graduated from the University of Florence with a degree in literature and earned further degrees in French. She and André Trocmé met in the United States while she was attending the New York School of Social Work, and they were married in 1926. The couple had four children, Nelly, Jean-Pierre, Jacques, and Daniel.
In 1938, André Trocmé, and his pacifist colleague Édouard Theis, founded L’Ecole Nouvelle Cévenol in Le Chambon, a Protestant, co-educational secondary school. In addition to the usual French secondary school curriculum, tolerance, honesty, and nonviolence were taught as well. L’Ecole Nouvelle Cévenole soon gained an international focus, and after World War II the name of the school was changed to Collège Cévenol. Magda Trocmé taught Italian at this school which is still in operation today.
During the first part of World War II Le Chambon was located in the “free”( unoccupied) zone of France. By 1942 the Germans had occupied the entire country. However, the population of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon continued to aid an increasing number of refugees. In 1943, André Trocmé, Édouard Theis, and the head of the public school, Roger Darcissac were interned in a camp by the Vichy police. These men were arrested for their part in assisting the refugees of the area. Trocmé, Theis, and Darcissac were released from prison after one month, but Trocmé and Theis went into hiding for the next ten months.
In the late 1940s André and Magda Trocmé traveled as European Secretaries for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR). After their move to Versailles (France) in 1950, the Trocmé’s founded La Maison de la Réconciliation. The Maison de la Reconciliation became an international peace center and the headquarters of the French and Continental Secretariat of the IFOR. During travels in the United States, under IFOR auspices, André Trocmé delivered the Robert Treat Paine lectures which became the basis for his book The Politics of Repentance, published in 1953. During the strife between France and Algeria, André Trocmé helped start Eirene (International Service for Peace), located in Morocco, which provided alternative service for conscientious objectors. He was also active in the movement against atomic weapons, becoming president of the French Federation Against Atomic Armaments in 1959. In 1960, André Trocmé accepted a call to become one of the ministers of the Saint-Gervais Church in Geneva, Switzerland. Many of the sermons he preached at Saint-Gervais were broadcast. His book, Jésus-Christ et la Revolution Non Violente was published in French in 1961 and subsequently in other languages (Orbis Books edition, 2004). In 1965, André Trocmé accompanied a peace mission to Vietnam.
After World War II André Trocmé was awarded the Rosette de la Résistance by the French government. The story of the Trocmé’s pacifist leadership inspired Philip P. Hallie, a professor at Wesleyan University, to write the book Lest Innocent Blood by Shed, published in 1979. Eleven years later Pierre Sauvage produced the documentary Weapons of the Spirit (1988), explaining how his family survived Word War II, through the efforts of the people of Le Chambon.
André Trocmé died in Geneva on June 5, 1971, just a few weeks after he had been scheduled to receive the Médaille des Justes from the government of Israel. As more and more people were recognized as “Righteous Gentiles,” the Yad Vashem honored all the residents of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the surrounding area. In their memory an engraved stele and rock garden were installed in the park of Yad Vashem (Israel).
After the death of her husband Magda Trocmé moved to Paris with Alice Reynier (“Jispa”), a close family friend who had lived with the Trocmé family since 1942. Alice Reynier shared their family life and their work. Magda Trocmé received an honorary degree from Haverford College in 1981 in the name of the people of Le Chambon and the surrounding area She died in Paris in 1996. André, Magda, their sons Jean-Pierre and Daniel, and Jispa, are all buried as a family in the cemetery of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon.
Another example of collective mass action’s capacity to save lives. The Trocme’s effort saved 5000 Jewish lives during World War II. They mobilized 24,000 people to do it. They were members of The Fellowship of Reconciliation, an organization that still teaches and practices nonviolence in behalf of social transformation. Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence, an affiliate of the FOR is also committed to The Torah of Nonviolence.
I had never even heard of this couple before. I nearly fell out of my chair with excitement when I saw the title of that book, ‘The Politics of Repentance’ – I’ve been thinking about the political role of theological/moral concepts such as repentance and reconciliation for ages now and I wanted to read something that is born out of practical experience of peace work, rather than something purely theoretical. This sounds like the thing. Thanks for posting this!
As for FoR, they do beautiful work.
Nonviolence is only effective when it is applied to real world situations, where we live, struggle and strive. Repentance and Reconciliation are part of the process of restorative justice, the last step toward peace. F.O.R. is a wonderful org. You can become a member. Lots of opportunities to make a difference in the world through an org. committed to intergenerational, multifaith and multicultural community organizing and nonviolent practice.
“Nonviolence is only effective when it is applied to real world situations” The Nazi regime in Germany was a real world situation. Here in the U.S. Charles Lindbergh, Father Charles Coughlin and Henry Ford were preaching nonviolence by the United States towards the Nazi regime. These 3 gents were sympatico with the Nazi regimes policy towards Jews. So, how could have nonviolence towards the Nazi regime been the correct policy of the United States and the allies?
No way these guys were preaching nonviolence. Nonviolence occurs within an anti-racism, human rights framework, so no, these three people do not represent nonviolence as it is and was practiced by people who promote restorative justice. Promoting anti-semitism removes the ability to make a claim that one is promoting nonviolence, obviously. Nonviolence is first and foremost a system committed to human dignity, restorative justice and freedom from harm. Avoidance or passivity is NOT nonviolence. Look at the whole picture Steve, not a fragment-for that obviously led you away from understanding what nonviolence actually is.
I just want to be clear, Rabbi. Are you saying that the U.S was correct in declaring war on Germany and Japan in December of 1941? Should the U.S. have entered the war instead when Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939? Or, is it or was it wrong for the U.S. to enter any war? You are correct that Father Charles Coughlin, Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh were haters of the Jewish People. They helped make it almost politically impossible for the U.S. to enter the war earlier. I would put Mahmoud Abbas, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud Morsi, Khaled Mashal, Ismael Haniyah and Hassan Nasrallah in the same terrible category. Wouldn’t you agree that these other gentlemen are also haters of the Jewish People?