Plateau Vivarais-Lignon: Refuge in the Mountains
The Vivarais-Lignon plateau is located in the Massif Central in southern France. The people in this remote region harbored up to 5,000 individuals persecuted during the war, mainly Jews. Most of them had ﬂed there from the German-occupied north of France or from other countries. The majority of the local population belonged to the Protestant minority in France. Their ancestors had also been subjected to persecution on religious grounds, which is why they were especially open and helpful toward the refugees.
Christian and Jewish aid organizations sup-ported the relief efforts of the local population. They set up quarters for refugees in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the surrounding villages and sent money and food. When in November of 1942 German troops also occupied the South of France, more and more refugees arrived. Thanks to the local support, most of them survived. During a raid by the German military police in June of 1943, however, eighteen young men were arrested, six of them Jews.
Persecution of the Jews in France
In June of 1940, German troops occupied northern and western France. Deportations to the extermination sites in eastern Europe started in the summer of 1942. The French government in the non-occupied South of France initially spared French Jews. Stateless and foreign Jews were interned in camps, and many were transferred to the German-occupied zone. When in late 1942 German troops also occupied the South, all Jews in France were threatened with deportation. In all, one in four—about 76,000—were deported and murdered.
Tradition of Helping
Persecuted Huguenots had once settled in the remote rural region of the Vivarais-Lignon plateau. Their descendants provided protection to Jews facing persecution. Protestant ministers such as André Trocmé and Édouard Theis called upon their congregations to help refugees. Relief organizations provided support on the ground. They obtained the release of Jewish children from internment camps and brought them to the plateau.
“We do not know what a Jew is. We know only human beings.”
André Trocmé to the prefect of the Haute-Loire Departement, August 1942
“I had to take notes because I could not remember everything about the children for whom I found lodgings here and there! Or else what I had to bring with me the next time I came: underwear, bread ration cards. You see, these farmers asked for very small sums: five francs for each child. That was really cheap. They certainly were not making a profit with that.”
Madeleine Dreyfus in an interview, 1980s
Raid in Les Roches
As of the summer of 1942, there was also a danger of raids in Le Chambon. The community generally received a warning, presumably from someone working for the police department, which made it possible for the Jews to hide in time.
On June 29, 1943, however, German military police arrested eighteen young men in the Les Roches student residence. The six Jews among them were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, and Daniel Trocmé, the housemaster, was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp.