Gratitude in French Village

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I have already written about Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a large French village but I had never been there. Driving south last week, we decided to stop there.

Unfortunately it was pouring with rain so all we saw was the Protestant temple where the people who protected the Jews during WWII worshipped and across the road the plaque that was put up to thank these righteous citizens.

“a farming village called Le Chambon-sur-Lignon made history by harboring some 5,000 refugees, most of them Jews, many of them children. A good deal of sacrifice was involved. The village basically doubled its size. Families took in children and their parents, making them feel as though they were fellow “Chambonnais” (citizens of Le Chambon), going to school, working on the farms, sharing meals, and so forth. There was great risk involved. The village became a center for the forgery of documents. It was obvious that Jews had virtually doubled the population of this remote village. The Nazis were not entirely stupid. Occasionally they would raid the village and interrogate the people, asking them about the children. But the Chambonnais stood firm.

The story gets more interesting. Almost all of the Chambonnais were Huguenot Christians. France had persecuted Protestants heavily, especially during the eighteenth century. Those who did not flee, and those who were not put to death for their faith, survived in particular pockets of the country. They kept the memories alive by meeting in worship, hearing the Bible preached by their pastors, and singing the psalms as well as folk songs that recounted their story. They felt a special affinity for the Jews. Le Chambon became the safest place in Europe for refugees from the Nazi horrors.”

The Germans knew something was going on. They had lists of the citizens, and some of the names were demonstrably Jewish. But a number of their soldiers were tired of their own disturbing tactics. At least one of them, fairly high up, decided to ignore the names on the lists. The comment in the documentary says of him, “You just never know who might get caught up in a conspiracy of goodness.”

excerpted from A Conspiracy of Goodness by William Edgar

The text of the plaque reads: “The memory of the just will always be remembered.” Psalm 112:6.

Alternate translation: “For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered for ever.”

“Tribute to the Protestant community of this Cevennes ground, and to all of those who followed its example, believers and non-believers who, during the Second World War, 1939-1945, united against Nazi crimes, in peril of their lives under the occupation hid, protected and saved all the oppressed by the thousands.

The Jewish refugees in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the nearby communities.”

More posts on the topic on this blog:
Righteous Among the Nations
Oasis of Peace

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Looking for a Jewish Hero

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Those of you who follow me on Facebook may already know that I am looking for ideas concerning a new project for my 10th graders.

The students will have to name a newly-built school (in the US) after someone famous. Each group will present their choices and the class will vote. I’d like to include at least one Jew in the examples we’ll work on before they do their own research. Because of their History curriculum I’d prefer those heroes to have been born in Europe prior to migrating to the USA.

All suggestions are welcome.

Jewish History in Hamburg (part 2)

A number of illustrious people and families lived in Hamburg over the centuries and are buried in the Jewish cemetery.

When I visited, Inga, a young German student who works as a guide at the cemetery, mentioned one in particular. Thus the famous Glückel of Hameln (1646-1724) was born, grew up and lived in Hamburg until 1700 when she remarried and moved to France. She is called of Hameln (and not of Hamburg) as it is where her husband came from. Although Glückel herself is buried in Metz, a number of her relatives’ tombs can still be seen today.

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Mordechai’s tombstone in the middle

Mordechai, her maternal uncle, who died of the plague is interred there and his tomb is easily identifiable as it faces the other way so that people could see what he died of.

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Mata, Glückel’s grandmother

Glückel’s grandmother’s tomb – this lady was called Mata – stands near Mordechai while her own daughter’s tomb is just in its front.

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Little Mata’s tombstone, with Glückel’s grandmother’s behind on the left

Here is what Glückel wrote in her memoirs about her daughter’s death:

My daughter Mattie, peace unto her, was in her third year, and a more beautiful and clever child was nowhere to be seen. Not only did we love her, but everyone who saw her and heard her speak was delighted with her. But the dear Lord loved her more. When she entered her third year, her hands and feet suddenly swelled. Although we had many doctors and much medecine, it suited Him to take her to Himself after four weeks of great suffering, and left as our portion heartache and suffering. My husband and I mourned indescribably and I feared greatly that I had sinned against the Almighty by mourning too much, not heeding the story of Reb Jochanan, as will follow. I forgot that there were greater punishments, as I was to find out later. We were both so grieved that we were ill for some time.

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Glückel’s husband tombstone

Her husband – Chaym – died in 1689, and Glückel, who had already been involved in his business, took over and managed it by herself.

More about Glückel and her family here.

Jewish History in Hamburg (part I)

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Pottery that belonged to Sephardic Jews

Like in Amsterdam, the first Jews to settle in Hamburg were Portuguese and Spanish conversos in the 1580s. They were merchants and at first were welcome because of their commercial connections in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, where other conversos had settled.

When it became clear that they were Jews who practised their religion, some of the citizens demanded their expulsion, but the city council, pointing to the economic benefits increasing from their presence, opposed the measure. Some of these settlers took part in the founding of the Bank of Hamburg in 1619.

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Sephardic tombstones

In 1611, the Jews of Hamburg acquired a plot of land in Altona (jst outside the city bounds then) to be used as burial grounds. This cemetery was closed in 1869 along with all the cemeteries in the inner city of Hamburg. Because of its hstorical significance this burial place was officially classified in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1960 and is open to visitors three afternoons a week.

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Ashkenazic tombstones

Sephardic Jews as well as Ashkenazim are buried there. The Sephardic tombs are easily identified as the tombstones are lying flat and the epitaphs are in Hebrew and Portuguese or Hebrew and Spanish. Ashkenazic tombstones on the other hand stand erect and the epitaphs are in Hebrew only.