Albertine Honors Chambon-sur-Lignon, Righteous Among the Nations

May 10, 2016 | By French Culture

During World War II, the citizens of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France and surrounding areas risked their lives to save Jewish refugees from the occupying Nazi forces. In 1990, the entire town was recognized by the Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations” for their humanitarianism and bravery under extreme danger, and in 2004, French President Jacques Chirac officially recognized the heroism of the town.

On Thursday, May 5, Albertine hosted a discussion with Hanne and Max Liebmann, Nelly T. Hewett, Renée K. Silver, Patrick Cabanel, Peter Grose, and Paul Kutner on how the Righteous of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the surrounding villages lived and rewrote history through civil resistance and rescue. Deputy Cultural Counselor Thomas Michelon and Eliane Wauquiez-Motte, Mayor of Le Chambon-Sur- Lignon, opened the evening with the following remarks. 

View the entire event via Livestream here

Deputy Cultural Counselor Thomas Michelon:

Madame Le Maire,

Ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Thomas Michelon, I am Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the United States.

It is a great pleasure to greet so many of you tonight. I want to thank Mme Denise Vallat, Deputy Mayor, and Mme Catherine Courrier, who several months ago had the excellent idea of organizing an event on the incredible history of Chambon-sur-Lignon with Albertine.

I would also like to extend a special welcome to Mme Hanne Hirsch Liebmann and Mr. Max Liebmann; Mrs. Renée Kann Silver and Mrs. Nelly Trocmé Hewett. We are honored to have you all among us. Your presence gives great meaning to our event this evening. And thank you, Madame Le Maire, for being with us tonight.

As you know, here at the French Embassy and Albertine we host conversations and events that enable us to contribute to a dialogue between France and the United States. We strive to tackle important current issues, topics that are of mutual concern for both of our countries and may benefit from this kind of cross-cultural discussion. But we also share a common history. And just as we look to the future, we must look to the past. We must assume our role as protectors of memories of past events and guardians of their sometimes complicated legacies. We must allow ourselves to evoke both the joyful and dark moments in history, to give them due justice, even as Time sways away from the anchors of Truth and Reality.

There could not be a more appropriate occasion than today for this conversation. As you know, today and yesterday, during the days of  Yom HaShoah, we pay homage to the six million Jews who were killed during World War II at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.

The history of Chambon-sur-Lignon is both tragic and radiant. It allows us, by reflecting on these model men and women, the chance to think deeply about the meaning of our actions when we’re confronted with history as well as the definition of a “heroic figure.” Our hearts naturally incline toward these modest people who chose to stay in the shadows, who favored humility over egoism, and did justice to the nobility of human nature. We are struck by the discretion and selflessness that they demonstrated in saving so many threatened beings.  The inhabitants of Chambon-sur-Lignon and the « Plateau » risked their lives each day, each night, to protect men, women, and children who were threatened by Nazi extermination and relentlessly pursued through all corners of Europe. Their extraordinary actions were summarized when the title of “Righteous Among Nations” was bestowed upon them: they “put their own lives in danger in order to save the Jews.”  

How many people in France dared to act, braved the greatest perils, to save their fellow men and women? Three thousand nine hundred and twenty five French citizens have been honored in France with the title “Righteous Among Nations”. And there are certainly more French people who hid families, sheltered children, and dared to disobey both French and German authorities to protect innocent victims.

We should recognize these people from Chambon-sur-Lignon by name—these pastors, doctors, school directors, farmers, teachers, political officials, hotel managers—who were united by the silent engagement, solidarity, and revolt, that allowed thousands of Jews to escape death.

Ladies and gentlemen, the history of the welcoming place and refuge that is Chambon-sur-Lignon is one of similar stories that took place in other villages and cities. These stories are too often overlooked. We must make it our mission to bring them to light and make them known. The story of Chambon-sur-Lignon shows that History is, above all things, the sum of many different paths and trajectories, many facts, each of which we can name and describe individually. The “Lieu de mémoire” (Memorial Site), which opened in 2013, aims to do just that: to share with current and future generations the actions, decisions, and values that shaped the destiny of this village. In welcoming you tonight, we hope to make our own small contribution to your very special legacy.

I will now give the floor to Mrs. Wauquiez-Motte, Mayor of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon.

Thank you for your attention.

Mayor Eliane Wauquiez-Motte: 

Dear friends,

I am Eliane Wauquiez-Motte, Mayor of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon, a small village in the center of France, which along with his inhabitants were honored by the YadVashem Institute declaring them "Righteous Among there Nations." 

Firstly, I would like to thank Thomas Michelon and Francois-Xavier Schmit for hosting this event tonight at Albertine, the members of the benefit Committee of the American Friends of the Chambon Memorial, Marie Lippman, Laura Azaria, Jane Ross and Paul Kutner, Elie Cohen, the panelists of this evening's talk, Patrick Cabanel and Peter Grose, Nelly Trocmé Hewett, Renée Silver and Hanne and Max Liebmann who were hidden at Le Chambon, and all of you for coming to meet the American Friends of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon.

What exactly brings us here tonight during the days of YomHaShoah? 

Well, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon has been a long held secret. We all know about the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust, but most of us do not know the role of the Righteous in France nor the story of stubborn resistance, hospitality and rescue--all carried out with the quiet courage of the people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the surrounding villages who risked their lives to save thousands of Jews.

While there were many Righteous non-Jews throughout Europe who risked their lives to save others, Le Chambon remains unique in the critical mass of hiders and the hidden in one small place. 5,000 people risked their lives to save as many.  Some say they made a choice, but they will say it was in fact their only choice.  

A Memorial was built in the village to transmit to future generations the history of these men and women who united against the unacceptable, and send a message of peace and tolerance embodied by the story ofthe Rightheous. 

We want to ensure that this legacy flourishes not only with the future generations of lives saved, but through a universal lesson in humanity, goodness and grace before evil.  

When students, adults, people of all backgrounds visit Le Chambon they learn about the history of these events through an amazing permanent exhibit of testimonials but they reflect upon the limitless capacity of humankind to help and love one another regardless of differences.  There is perhaps no greater lesson in life.  

As all museums need support, our Memorial does too... To enrich and provide fresh exhibits, to welcome school groups, to maintain the facilities, and to let people around the world know that we exist as a precious resource for all.  

So any support you can offer to make sure that the legacy of Le Chambon lives on and teaches others these important lessons would be so appreciated.  

We have pledge cards at the front if you are interested in making a gift and documentation about our projects for the next 5 years.

Thank you.

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