Sunday, February 26, 2017

From teenage Jewish refugee to anti-Nazi saboteur: Peter Feigl

Okay, my title isn't quite accurate: Peter Feigl did acts of sabotage against the Nazis while he was a teenage Jewish refugee. Which is what makes his story fascinating to me. He's an illustration of a fact that sometimes gets forgotten when talking about the Holocaust: Jews resisted plenty. Jews rescued other Jews and resisted the Nazis in both nonviolent and violent ways. He's also an illustration of the fact that even in wartime, even doing very serious things, teenagers were teenagers. You'll see what I mean.

I've drawn his story from Hidden on the Mountain, a book of testimonies of children and young people who were hidden in or around Le Chambon.

Peter Feigl grew up in Vienna. His parents were both Jewish but did not practice Judaism; they were nominally Catholic, baptizing Peter at the age of 8 partly as a precaution since they believed at the time that the Nazis would only pursue religious Jews. When he was 9 they fled Austria, pretending they were going on a vacation to Belgium and not returning. Belgium was safe for the next two years--but in 1940 the Germans invaded. Peter's father was promptly arrested by the Belgians on suspicion of being a German spy.

Peter and his mother and grandmother, like thousands of other people, fled south on foot ahead of the approaching German army. The roads were filled with fleeing refugees--and the Germans strafed and bombed them. They were trying to create roadblocks to slow the French army as it rushed to the defense. Peter and his family survived this, made it to Paris right before an air raid started, said "Let's get out of here" and found a train that was still running, all the way to Bordeaux down south. As they made their way to a town near the Spanish border, thinking a border crossing might become necessary, they were picked up by the French police, probably because they were both "illegal" refugees and Jews, and sent to the Gurs internment camp.

Gurs was an awful place, perhaps the worst of the internment camps, a place of rats and disease and inadequate food and cold, where a trip to the overflowing latrine held a very real danger of getting stuck in the deep clay mud. Luckily for Peter, his mother was a bold woman; a couple months after they were interned, she saw some Nazi officers come to inspect the camp, and she marched up to them and said "Heil Hitler! I am a German citizen and I demand to be released from this stinking hole immediately." She knew her family's passports (German ones, since Austria was Germany now) were just old enough not to have been stamped with a J for "Jew." Finding everything in order, the Nazis ordered the French to release the family--and called them a taxi.

They found a way to make a life for themselves in the south of France, and things started looking up for a little while--Peter's mother got a job with Swiss aid, his grandmother got a visa and departed for the U.S., and they actually located his father who was in another internment camp and got him released. But it didn't last.

Peter spent August 1942 at a summer camp. He was 13. I think they may have sent him there for safety's sake. There were rumors of roundups, of deportations to Poland. Near the end of the month Peter's father, still in poor health from his internment, rode 40 miles round-trip on his bicycle to visit Peter and bring him a little homemade bag made out of a handkerchief. After the visit it suddenly occurred to Peter just how far his father had come for this. He looked in the bag. It held all his mother's jewelry, and his father's watch. He started to cry, and thought, "I'll never see them again."

He was right. The huge roundup of August 26th, 1942 came a few days later, and his parents were caught in it and deported.

A few days later police came for him too, but the summer camp director had had a tip-off. She put Peter in bed and fed him bread balls soaked in vinegar which gave him a temporary high fever, because the French were not deporting people who were very ill. The police came back twice and each time she did it again.

Peter was sent to a children's home in Marseille while an aid agency tried to get him a visa to leave, but the Germans took over the southern zone of France and stopped all traffic from the ports before he could go. Then he got in trouble for talking to SS soldiers. Yes, he really did. Like I said--he was a teenager! He spoke fluent German, and was quite successful at getting extra food and chocolate out of them, so why not? The children's home director told him why not in no uncertain terms and sent him to Le Chambon.

In Le Chambon he lived in a children's home directed by Daniel Trocmé, the younger cousin of Pastor Andre Trocmé. It sounds like a pleasant time. Peter fell in 14-year-old love with a young Spanish refugee, and made friends with housemates from all over--even one who was a German army deserter. They went to school, shared chores at the home, went out into the woods "to look for mushrooms" whenever they were told to--even when mushrooms weren't in season if you know what I mean. He was given new papers and a new last name.

He was also still a teenager. His diary was confiscated and hidden because he had written down real names of people who had helped him illegally. (It surfaced in a French flea market years after the war.) When friends gave him photos of themselves, he wrote both their real name and their fake name on the back. Thankfully nothing came of these things.

At 15 he was sent, with some fellow students, to another boarding school in a town called Figeac, north of Toulouse. (I'm not sure why, but I know Le Chambon was full to bursting, so if they found an ally who offered to take some kids I can see why they would have said yes.) Figeac was a bigger town, more on the main roads than Le Chambon, and it was 1944. With the Germans facing the prospect of an Allied invasion, the local Resistance was starting to fight them in earnest with some hope of success. (Some areas of France actually did liberate themselves before the Allied armies arrived.) Peter and his new friends at the boarding school wanted to lend a hand.

It started with some freelance sabotage--Peter and his friends going out at night to slash the tires of German army trucks. He almost got expelled over that one. But he also made friends with the Resistance men, who saw the potential in his fluent German. He translated stolen Germany army documents for them, and when the Germans commandeered the yard of his boarding school to park equipment in, he spied on them and reported their conversations to the Resistance. He and his friends also started pouring sugar into German gas tanks, a classic way to shut down a vehicle hard.

An SS division arrived in Figeac. When they started trying to arrest all the men of fighting age (16 and up) to keep them out of the Resistance ranks, Peter hid in a bell tower for 24 hours to elude them. But soon afterwards the Germans discovered that his boarding school was the source of their information leakage. It was only a matter of time before they found out it was him.

It was time for him to go.

He was sent with a group of kids to meet some passeurs near the Swiss border. They didn't have a guide with them on the train, they'd just been told where to get off and also to pretend not to know each other. When they got to their stop the others stayed in their seats and Peter didn't know what to do. He ended up jumping from the train as it started to move again. He found the passeurs, and another group that was slated to cross with them, and they hid in a field till the others joined them.

The crossing itself was a nightmare. Crossing in large groups was terribly dangerous, but it wasn't uncommon in 1944--people were truly desperate. The group got lost in the woods but finally made it to the border and hid in the soaking-wet grass waiting for the changing of the guard. At the signal to go they ran and slid under the barbed-wire fence and ran as fast as they could across no-man's-land. Suddenly a girl screamed "We're running the wrong way!" She had seen an armed soldier behind the barbed wire they were running towards. Peter saw him too and didn't think he held his rifle like a German. He yelled "No, keep going!" and ran on. He heard shots and screams behind him. He ran, and got under the barbed wire, and the soldier said, "Quick, get behind the buildings." He was a Swiss border guard.

Peter had made it out.

He ended up emigrating to the U.S. As of 2007 he lived in Florida. It's quite possible he still does. He would be 88 this year.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Here's some of my reading for A Flame in the Night

Well, I said I'd do Holocaust rescuer stories every other week for awhile, and this is an off week, and I'm just coming off a huge push on the novel. (I now have three weeks to revise five chapters and a secondary storyline, much better!) So for something a little easier on me this week, I want to share some titles from my research reading.

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: the original source text for everything, the first book written about the Le Chambon story. It's not a history book, it's by a philosopher of ethics (the late Philip Hallie), and it spends a lot of time exploring and analyzing the moral choices involved. It's been criticized as offering a narrow or incomplete view of what happened (especially identifying Le Chambon as if it had been the place of rescue, whereas actually the whole plateau around it was involved), but if you take it as simply Hallie's perspective (and by extension the perspective of the Trocmé and Théis families whom he got to know well) it's extremely valuable. I do wish it was in chronological order though. Very readable, definitely recommended as an intro to the story.

We Only Know Men: a set of essays on the rescue of Jews in southern France during the war by (if I understand correctly) another ethical philosopher, Patrick Henry. The title (a little awkward out of context if you ask me) comes from what André Trocmé said when a government official asked him to hand over a list of Jews and threatened him: "We do not know what a Jew is. We only know men."

I'm extremely grateful for the information offered in this book, especially more details on the story of the Maison des Roches, the boardinghouse in Le Chambon that suffered the only successful raid. Nineteen people were arrested and deported, including the director, who was André Trocmé's cousin. Now here's the thing: this story gets told over and over in the places on the Internet where the Le Chambon story is told. And almost every time, Trocmé's cousin is the only one named and the only one whose final fate is actually told. (He died of illness in a concentration camp.) I have always felt this was not right. Those eighteen Jewish young people had names. And yet I couldn't find them out! This book lists the names of each of them and identifies which ones survived. Thanks to Henry I can honor the victims properly in my historical note to A Flame in the Night. (In which I tell this story, because it's relevant to the novel. I shouldn't say more.)

Lyon Contre Vichy (Lyon versus Vichy): This history thesis in French tells in great detail the story of how a group of Catholic and Protestant aid orgs (and a Jewish one, secretly) rescued hundreds of recently arrested people from the Vénissieux "sorting camp" near Lyon--including all of the children under 16. It was a bureaucratic rescue, accomplished almost entirely through manipulating red tape, including the theft of a crucial telegram.

This story is in A Flame in the Night, from the point of view of a rescued 15-year-old. It's the part of my research that moved me the most deeply and I've worked hard to present it accurately in every way. It's a story that deserves to be told.

Hidden on the Mountain: this is actually in some sense a children's book, and it's one of the ones I'd recommend for anyone who wants to learn about this story--young or old. It's full of true testimonies of Jewish children and young people who were hidden in Le Chambon, written from interviews with them later in life. They're written up in a very simple, direct style, in the present tense, dated as if they were diary entries, I think to help child readers enter into these young people's experience. These stories gave me a sense of the atmosphere of the sponsored children's homes like the one Magali works in in Defy the Night, and for this coming novel they offered new insight on a very important true story... that I shouldn't even summarize here, because it would give too much away.

Paroles de Réfugies, Paroles de Justes: This translates to "Words of Refugees, Words of the Righteous [among the Nations, aka Holocaust rescuers]". It's another book of testimonies & personal stories, in French this time--over 25 of them. Jewish families hiding in the countryside, Jewish young people in the boarding school and the children's homes, the pastors in the rescue movement and those involved with them, and the Maquis (armed resisters based in the countryside)--it offers all these different voices. This one has been incredibly valuable to me--I got a fuller picture of the town with each story I read, and many of them contained facts or insights that went into the book.

moignages de Résistants (Testimonies of Resisters)
More testimonies, mostly of armed resisters far from Le Chambon. I'll read those someday, but so far I've read just one testimony in here--and it has shaped the novel fundamentally. The testimony of Pierre Piton not only offered a ton of information on what it was like to be a young passeur (refugee smuggler) but also opened my eyes to the fact that Pastor Edouard Théis--the man whose counterpart in the novel is the main character's father--was heavily involved in organizing secret passage to Switzerland for Jews. This let me put the father at the heart of the novel.

Résister: Voix Protestantes
(Resist: Protestant Voices)
A collection of anti-Nazi or anti-Vichy sermons by various Protestant pastors in France during World War II. It includes a sermon by André Trocmé and a sermon by Edouard Théis, as well as another sermon preached in Le Chambon that was in a sense related to them. For awhile I read this during my devotional times, actually. One of the sermons is summarized in the book.

And maybe that's enough for now! I may share more in a week or two.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The border people: refugee-smugglers of WWII and today

In French they're known as passeurs. People who "pass" others from one country into another. I've been studying them for the novel I'm working on, A Flame in the Night. Like I mentioned last week, the story starts in 1942, which is when the roundups started in France. People need to flee the country; people you've met, if you read the first two books. Julien's best friend Benjamin. Magali's kids at the Les Chenes children's home, especially troubled and troublesome Marek. And also people you haven't met yet. Many eyes turn eastward for hope, to Switzerland.

It's the time of the passeurs.

For my research, my mother sent me a video, a little low-budget documentary of reminiscences about "les passeurs du Risoud," a group of smugglers in the Jura mountains, the smaller, older mountains north of the Alps. The people in this video struck me--their youth, their sense of adventure, their lively cross-border friendships with each other. Of the group of people described, half lived in France, half in Switzerland--and it's hard to keep them straight. Jean-Francois' career started when he went down from Switzerland into Occupied France just for an adventure ("You're crazy," said the friend he tried to bring along,) made a friend there, and promised to come back. For Bernard it was more serious: food was running out in France after the invasion, so he snuck into Switzerland and asked the woodcutters he met in the forest whether there was anything to spare here. They brought him to a store and filled his knapsack with bread, asking nothing for it. There were young women on both sides of the line as well--Victoria and Anne-Marie, whose mother "kept open house--people were always ending up there"--and Georgette, Jean-Francois' sister, a friendly, open young woman who was once arrested because a German patrol found her skis propped beside Victoria's door a tad suspicious, but released when the Swiss managed to convince them she was harmless.

Some of them smuggled food and tobacco for barter. For some of them, that was a cover; they also carried information for the Swiss intelligence service. All of them smuggled Jews--anyone who asked. And people came and asked pretty regularly. Word got around: ask so-and-so. They'll help.

And they helped.

Here are Georgette and her brother, and I think possibly Bernard:

I based three characters on them. It started with the woman in the center, because her uninhibited laughter was so striking to me--but looking at this again today I find I can name them all by sight! From the left: Maurice and Jeannette Berger--brother and sister--and their friend Clément.

I set the fictional Bergers and their friends in the Alps instead of the Jura, because it made more sense in my story. And I won't tell you what they did in the story--that would truly be a spoiler. It was a true pleasure writing about the Alps, which I was lucky enough to live near as a child. It came back so vividly. I could smell the pine and woodsmoke and the thin mountain air. I could remember seeing for miles, the world laid out before me in its hugeness, its vast slopes and valleys, green pasture and rock, pine and snow, the far slopes blue with distance. The small cold streams running over rocks, the air so clear you could hear them long before you saw them. And the houses, too, pine beams and walls that are stone outside, white plaster inside, and rough; comfort is seen differently, comfort is a good fire in the woodstove or the wide stone fireplace and thick walls against the cold. I thought of alpine homes like those--ones I'd seen in the video, and ones I'd slept in a night or two as a girl--when I described the Berger's home, where their mother also holds "open house" for those who need it.

And then the other day I saw this picture on a French news website, and it reminded me of the Bergers' house so sharply I could smell it:

Which is strange, because it's not actually in the Alps.

Or maybe not so strange. Because it's the open house of a passeur.

It's been in the French news recently: the people of the Roya river valley, a river that runs down from France into Italy, are smuggling migrants. Cédric Herrou, a Roya valley farmer turned passeur, recently went on trial for his activities and was given a suspended fine of 3000 euros, a light sentence seen as sympathetic to his cause. He must pass people into France, he says, because Italy currently has no provisions for welcoming refugees who are minors. "The Roya valley represents a human Europe," he says, and makes no distinction between its French northern half in France and its southern half in Italy, "because the Roya valley, that's our home."

(Before I accidentally mislead you, that's not Herrou's house. It's the house of one of his allies, a lawyer who regularly hosts over a dozen refugees or migrants at a time. She and Herrou are featured in this photo essay, which is in French but worth viewing just for the pictures. I'd like to translate one caption for you: in the photo with the priest in white, he's comforting a man who's just learned that his wife has died in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean.)

This got me thinking, because it was said about my World War II passeurs as well. They knew and loved their mountains; that was their home. "Look at the houses on either side of the border," a local says in the video, "they look exactly the same, the slates, the shutters; it's the same civilization." I've been told this before about people who live near borders; the ones who are most familiar with borders regard them least. They live within sight of places they're not allowed to go, though they resemble their own home in many or most ways; they meet people from the other side and find they are not so different either--languages and cultures mingle, on a border. And yet the difference is a huge one: rights. I was born in this house; I have a right to free healthcare. You were born in that house; if you disappear, no government will care.

I can see how living with that in your face every day would make you rebel.

I'll be honest here. I would like to make a cogent moral argument about this. I would like to research the places the people in that picture came from and what is happening there, and speak with certainty about the morality of what Cedric Herrou and his friends are doing as compared to what Georgette Meylan and her friends did. But I simply don't have time. I'm working under deadline to finish A Flame in the Night and I've hit the moment of momentum now, the story's final form is blossoming in my hands, but I have just over a month to perfect 12 chapters and a secondary storyline and that is--I hope--barely enough. So I can't give you my considered judgment. But I can give you my gut feeling.

My gut feeling is, if someone took to the Mediterranean in a rickety boat, I'll believe them when they tell me they're desperate. My gut feeling is, it means very little before God that they were born in this house and not that one. My gut feeling is, when we grow so self-protective that we throw up walls against the needy and treat the open begging hand as if it held a gun, we ought to at least admit that we're doing so according to ancient and fallen human instinct, and not out of some notion that Jesus, who said Give to everyone who asks of you, would have us act like that.

(If you think we are foolishly letting in large numbers of potential terrorists, please read this. It would be one thing if we really were. But we're not.)

My gut feeling is--when I read these stories--a deep tightness in my gut as I wonder where these people are now, whether they made it to America, whether they will be allowed to stay. I haven't even read these stories yet but I expect to feel it again when I do. (If you can only read one or two, please read the ones titled "They are too young now..." and "One day, Aya, you will be the voice of refugees." Those are the ones that made me stop & pray.) My gut feeling is, if I lived on a border and those people came to me, I would not even have to stop and think.

We have a strange relationship with borders, as Christians. We can be as triumphant about beating the system as any anarchist when it's a matter of smuggling Bibles or missionaries--but it begins to feel a little different when it's our own border. The stories of Brother Andrew shaped my view of just how much borders mean, and I think his is the more Christian tradition. My gut feeling is that God's call to welcome the stranger is not less a reason to question human laws.

Basically when I look at these border people, these people who know borders and do not respect them, I see people who see faces and not lines. Who are uninterested in the systems created by powerful people and interested in whether their neighbor is all right. And if the people of the Roya valley run the risk of being a little naive, of helping someone who doesn't deserve it, so did Georgette and her friends. I'd rather make a mistake, I'd rather err on the side of mercy, than refuse to be like them.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Crème de marrons

This might not be very obvious yet, but this isn't meant to be exclusively a WWII history blog. Although there will be plenty of that. But I also hope to share some thoughts on wilderness and garden, some spiritual thoughts, some thoughts on writing. And not always 100% super-serious. It's just that I happened to start this blog at the same time that a certain person got elected, doncha know.

I mean I really, really want to do a little bit of nature writing. It's just that it's winter and everything is gray out there right now--the sky, the bare trees, even the dirt is gray. (Well, the dirt is gray because I keep scattering ashes from our woodstove on it, because did you know wood ashes are packed with plant nutrients? That's why slash-and-burn works so well despite being such a lousy thing to do to the rainforest. But anyway.) Actually it was warm enough to take my little guy out today; he pretended to be a bear and walked along logs. I know that's not really a good sign. (The weather, not the bear thing.) I told him the other day the world was getting warmer, and immediately felt like a character in the kind of book that ends with the character wistfully remembering what it was like back when we still had plants. (Little guy wasn't impressed though. He's three. As far as he's concerned last winter was the Ice Age.)

Anyway, since it's winter, I'm going to share a recipe instead. This is how I stay connected to the earth & the garden in the winter, and actually it's no small thing. I think cooking from scratch is the first step to saving the earth and a bigger step than people think, and if you do it or are learning it, kudos, because modernity doesn't make it easy. And then cooking from the root cellar, from the pantry, from the freezer; I've been learning this since I moved to the country and started living, to a certain extent, off the land. An art that we're losing, the art that since the time of the caves has made traditional women and other cooks so necessary to their people's survival, the art of saying "What has nature/God provided, and how do we make it into food?" Because you don't place orders, with nature or with God. Probably you've noticed. You get what you get.

What I'm trying to say is, I have chestnuts. A LOT of chestnuts. Why's a long story beginning with someone planting about ten chestnut trees, but anyway, they are here. And I have to figure out what to do with them.

So I looked up something from my childhood: crème de marrons. It means chestnut cream. If you're American you might want to think of it as chestnut butter, like apple butter only browner. And sweeter. It's a traditional local product in south central France where I grew up--a traditional kid food, actually. And turns out my little guy loves it too.

So here's the recipe, for fun, or, you know, in case you have a ton of chestnuts too. Because that's likely.

Crème de Marrons

2 lbs unpeeled chestnuts
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup to 1 cup water
2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Peel the chestnuts. This is tedious. Although, if you've got a three-year-old and a floor you're going to vacuum tomorrow anyway, this is actually fine; just sit there and peel them for an hour with a knife while the kid pretends to be a bulldozer and pushes the unpeeled ones around the floor. If you don't have a kid of the appropriate age, you could try the recommended methods I didn't try: score an X in each chestnut with a knife, then boil them or roast them at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, which makes the skin start to peel off, then cool them and peel them.

Boil the chestnuts till they're soft. This takes 15 minutes, maybe 20 at the outside. Stick a knife in them, it should go through easily.

Make a syrup with the sugar and water. Boil it on high heat not only till the sugar dissolves, but till the syrup foams up & starts making slightly larger bubbles. There's a technical term for this but I forget what it is. I don't think it has to be super precise, but I think the more you boil this syrup the thicker your crème will be.

Puree the chestnuts and the syrup together. Use something heavy-duty. I was lucky enough to have a blender they made in the good old days. Add the vanilla and salt at this point. Add more water if your food processor or blender's getting stuck.

Heat the crème de marrons in the pan again till it's thick enough. You're basically just boiling the extra water out of it, but when boiling a thick puree you do need to stir constantly. You can be the judge of how thick you want it, but it's good if it's spreadable rather than pourable. Get a spoonful, see if it falls off the spoon. If not, you're done.

Enjoy! & share it with the kids. It's pretty sweet, so it tends to be a hit--and also very nutritious.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

If they hadn't welcomed refugees, they would never have hidden Jews

I wrote my first two novels with my mother, Lydia Munn. I'm glad I did. If I hadn't I might not understand one of the things I most want to tell the world today.

I was a kid when she started the first one--I don't know, twelve or so? She and my dad were missionaries in south central France, and she wanted to tell the world a true story not enough people knew--the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, the little French town* that hid and saved thousands of Jews during the war under the leadership of Pastor André Trocmé. I remember reading her early drafts--the first book began in 1939, which, if you know WWII, saw exactly zero shots fired in France--and complaining there wasn't enough action. I explained to Mom what I thought the reader wanted instead of a teenage boy eyeing distant shadows of war while struggling to gain acceptance at a new school, and my Dad, listening, nodded sagely and said, "Ah, she thinks you need more jackboots at the door."

I suppose Mom must have explained to me that there were no jackboots at the door in 1939, and that for that she would need to start the novel in 1942. Because that was really the rub, and, I realized eventually, the reason Holocaust novels don't typically start in 1939. It was a problem I came up against in a more practical way when, twenty-two years old and launching out of college into a hoped-for writing career, I said yes to my Mom's request to rewrite her book and stand as co-author with her. Because Mom stuck to her guns, and that book--the book that eventually became How Huge the Night--still starts in 1939.

I'm so glad it does.

Because here is how the World War II story works, the story of hiding Jews in occupied Europe, the story we were told as children: the Nazis wanted to kill the Jews. They would kill anyone caught protecting a Jew. A few heroes protected them anyway. Would you have risked your life to save another person from death? Moral of the story: you should.

The people who told us this story forgot to mention something. No-one was ever presented with that choice.

Yes, the rescuers probably realized this eventually. It probably dawned on them at some point that the people they were protecting were actually going to be straight-up murdered (and not just unjustly incarcerated) if they were caught, and that they themselves might be too. But that's not the choice they made. Their choice had been made long ago. At least I know it was that way in Le Chambon.

I learned what kind of choice they made when I wrote that first book with "not enough action" in it. I made it the center of that book, adapting my version from the true story of one of the first Jewish refugees to arrive in Le Chambon. The choice was this: it's a rough time in your country. The economy's destabilized, there are food shortages, the cities are crowded with homeless refugees, eating and not working, you can barely feed yourselves, you're just trying to get back to normal. A couple of dirty, ragged people get off the train. They have nowhere to go and it quickly becomes clear they have no papers, no ration cards, they're completely illegal, they're from an enemy country while we're at it and from a group publicly condemned by the government--they are in fact (and you're not wrong about this) the first trickle of what will become an avalanche of refugees entering your already stressed town, each one another mouth to feed. Do you want them here, eating up your family's already meager supply? Are these sketchy strangers, in fact, your problem?

That's the choice. The 1940 choice. Without it, the 1942 choice is not possible.

If the people of Le Chambon had not welcomed refugees, they would never have hidden Jews. There would have been no Jews to hide.

What I learned from writing that book without enough action in it is that we are too obsessed with action. With life and death stakes. We've all read so many hero stories we believe we would sacrifice our lives like Harry Potter--and maybe we even would. What I learned is that that doesn't matter. If I throw myself on a grenade to save a crowd of orphans, and have not love, I am nothing but a clanging cymbal, and that's not just a spiritual metaphor. The fact is I'm not going to do it if I have not love, because I will not be there. If we don't care about others' simple needs for food and shelter and dignity, we are simply not going to be around when it's time to save their lives.

I also learned that we better freakin' welcome refugees.

The book I'm writing now, the third in the series, is the fulfillment of that childhood criticism I made. I'm writing it alone, because Mom was ready to step back and put the series into my hands. It starts in 1942, because the story's gotten there by now. And there are most definitely jackboots at the door.

But I'm grateful, so grateful, that I was not allowed to start there. Because I needed to learn those things. Because that novel is out there now with those things in it, in the Trump age I had no idea was coming. For what it's worth. It's not much, and I wouldn't have come up with even that much on my own.

So thank you, Mom.


* I'm giving the simplified version as we knew it at the time here. In actual fact, as we've learned since then, all the towns in the immediate area participated. (It's known as the Vivarais plateau and was historically a Protestant stronghold during religious persecution, which definitely had something to do with its people's reception of persecuted Jews.) Le Chambon was more of a hub than a town acting alone, and Trocmé was merely the most visible among many leaders.