Review of Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France – Caroline Moorehead

Posted: January 2, 2015 in history, nonfiction, war

village of secrets

The story of Protestant Pastor André Trocmé, the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon was first told in the American pacifist magazine Peace News in 1953. It stirred up a bit of a debate that snowballed over time, overshadowing the contribution of others in the hiding and saving of about 800 Jews and up to 3000 others in both temporary and permanent capacity from the depredations of the Nazis.

Moorehead, in this social history, explores the complex story of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon and the village of Le Chambon. She has found a complex tale of resistance to central authority stretching back to the Reformation at least in an area of France that easily isolated from its surroundings by the weather. Moorehead picks apart some of the more obvious myths, such as the lack of concern of the Catholic Church for the Jews, fairly quickly, before moving on to the plan and execution of hiding Jews among the mainly Protestant inhabitants of this small plateau in the Upper Loire. The dramatis personae are more varied than one might imagine, with Protestant Pastors, English spinsters, rural doctors and the Melice all making appearances.

Moorehead also explains how this small plateau, and the village of Le Chambon and its environs, was able to conduct a rescue of the oppressed on relatively large scale. It was remote, there were no really large urban areas nearby, and the Protestant inhabitants had a habit of silence, both domestically and with regard to gossip. While the latter helped, the former was sometimes a barrier to communication between the locals and the refugees.

Moorehead has written a worthwhile contribution to the history of the Second World War. If I were to categorise it, it would a tale of resistance, both to a local regime as well as to the Nazis. Stylistically I have a few complaints and would like to have seen the story of the area developed first, but this is a minor quibble. Within the horror of WWII, this may put a smile on your heart.

Chatto & Windus

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

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