Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France

by Caroline Moorehead

Book, 2014

Barcode

123460664

Call number

736 MOO

Collection

Publication

New York, NY : Harper Collins Publishers, 2014

Description

Relates the story of Le Cambon-sur-Lignon, a small, remote mountain village whose inhabitants banded together to save thousands from the Gestapo during World War II.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jessibud2
This is the true story of how a small village in the mountains of France (one of many in the resistance network) helped to hide and save thousands of Jewish people during World War II, many of whom were children. That area of Vichy France were collaborators with the Nazis between those years of
Show More
1940-44. The author has done extensive homework to uncover the real stories of who was involved, how, and exactly what happened. She is a very good writer and although I have read a lot of literature (both fiction and non-fiction) of this era, I learned a lot of the history and politics of that particular part of the world that I hadn't known before.

On some level, I almost felt that there were too many characters to follow, but then, every single one of them had a story, and every one of them was important to the overall big picture. As well, each person truly deserved this recognition, at long last. Moorehead used archives, interviews with survivors and their descendants, and her own meticulous research to tell this story. It is good - and important - to read about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help their fellow humans, in times of great need. As timely today as ever.
Show Less
LibraryThing member baswood
Caroline Moorehead - [Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France]
During the second world war some villages in unoccupied France sheltered jews from Nazi persecution. The Vichy government in collaboration with the Germans ruled the unoccupied area which covered roughly half of France. The
Show More
Village of Secrets is really a collection of villages on the Plateau Vivrais-Lignon which succeeded in frustrating some of the Vichy government's attempts to round up jews for deportation to the German death camps. The villages unique position in the mountains of the central massif and the religious culture that was prevalent inspired the inhabitants to do more than most frenchmen to save Jews from the holocaust. The Vichy government were intent on carrying out the bidding of their German masters and some might say they were overzealous. Although the Vichy government were ruling their country in collaboration with the Germans they saw themselves as protecting the nation of France. It is not difficult then to understand why French officials and the police force fearing occupation and the loss of their identity as a nation would carry out, and in some cases encourage the persecution of minorities who were not french. Unfortunately there are many examples of racial hatred as a tool used by politicians to cling on to power.

After the end of the war while France was busy taking revenge against the collaborators it was also trying to move on from some actions regarded as shameful during the occupation. There was a collective denial of the events surrounding the rounding up of the Jews to placate the voracious Nazis final solution. Moorehead's book was published in 2014 when France had belatedly admitted to the role of the Vichy government in the holocaust. It was therefore not as controversial as it might have been, but would have added to the unease of many inhabitants of villages and towns in rural France that were in Vichy territory, because many were far more compliant with the Nazis aims. It should also of course stir up unease in many readers who might well ask themselves what action or non action they would have taken in a similar situation. This was a horror story that happened in living memory.

I found Village of Secrets a well organised book. The first few chapters fill in the background to the Vichy Government's policies and the setting up of the French internment camps, from there we learn of conditions inside the camps and start to meet some of the individuals who will feature in the story of the 'Secret' villages. We follow the lucky ones who made the journey up into the mountains and are with them when they meet the people who will be responsible for trying to save their lives. Chambon the most important village is described along with the characters who will play an active part in the story. The unique protestant culture is explained with the pacifist pastor André Trocmé being an inspirational preacher, but in surrounding villages there were Darbyists and Ravenist; protestant cults who new the price to be paid for being different. When the first of the Jewish children arrived in Chambon it was not too difficult to find safe houses for them with the reclusive religious families. On to 1942; it is the Vichy officials who are the main threat with a system of informers and collaborators, more children arrive through an unofficial network and by 1943 conditions have become so desperate that a network of people smugglers is set up to get children and Jews on a wanted list across to Switzerland. In 1944 it is the Germans who are the enemy, facing defeat they desperately try to complete the extermination programme themselves, while the Vichy armed police fight it out with the maquis. Morehead tells her story through incidents in the lives of the refugees during the four years of German control. We follow their stories and the stories of the villagers that helped them. Characters emerge and just as tragically disappear as Moorehead chillingly documents numbers of the convoy train carriages that take them to the death camps. Some just disappear, but many are kept alive through the hard work and risks taken by the villagers. The liberation of France while stopping the immediate threat to life and limb did not solve the long term issues for children who have lost their parents and adults who have lived in fear for four long years and Moorehead provides some living testimony to this.

There is an after-word that ties up some loose ends, but also questions the veracity of some of the stories. It is still not clear who among the Vichy officials lent a helping hand when they could. There were double agents and some acted pragmatically, but by the very nature of clandestine actions it will never be known who were the good guys and who were the traitors. Publications and films made of the events have tended to cloud the issue. A book by Philip Hailie an American historian published in 1979 based on an autobiography by Andre Trocmé, which seemed to claim that the pacifist views of the pastor were the main reason the villages were successful: caused much distress amongst the villagers. Moorehead has tried to let the villagers and the jews speak for themselves when she can, but their stories are couched with her own research of the events. It is probably even more difficult to arrive at a true version of events when people are still alive to give their versions; relying on a memory that stretches back 70 years or the stories of their parents.

Caroline Moorehead's book is a sobering account of life in an area of France where people had sometimes to make life or death decisions. At the time the German extermination camps were not common knowledge, but the evidence was everywhere to be seen of the ill treatment of the jews, identified by the Nazis as an inferior race. The people of the Plateau Vivrais-Lignon did better than most areas of the country in the preservation of human dignity, by taking risks to save others. Moorehead provides a lively background to her history and the events are described in a style that bends towards journalism, which makes it an enthralling and realistic read. The lists of primary sources and secondary sources at the back of the book is evidence of her research. Perhaps not the last word on the treatment of jews in Vichy France, but being tied to a relatively small area with characters brought alive by their stories it makes for a good book and so 4 stars.
Show Less
LibraryThing member SusieH5
In wartime occupied France, Jews are being rounded up and packed on to transport to concentration camps and an almost certain death. Villagers of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon took in many Jews, hiding them from the Nazis, and enabling them to escape to safety. The bravery of many is heart-warming.
Show More
Food supplies decline but somehow the villagers manage to continue to feed all the extra mouths. Helped by the Plateau being snowed in for several months each year and therefore not easily accessible during winter, but with a large influx of visitors during summer months, the villagers hid some of the Jewish children in plain sight, before moving them on.

There are many stories of bravery in the villages, and across France with passeurs who risk everything to bring Jewish children to the Plateau. Also some of those with power became increasingly disillusioned with the Nazis, and therefore at the least turned a blind eye to what they saw, and often gave advance warning of imminent Nazi visits.

The author certainly made this period come alive - thoroughly recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member LuAnn.Braley
The Village of Secrets is not a book that you can sit down and read in an afternoon. It is a recounting of courage and hope in the face of danger and evil in one of the darkest periods of history

I am amazed at the amount of research that Ms. Moorehead had to do for this book. Of course, the
Show More
underlying story is interesting, but when it first breaks into widespread attention, fond memories have a tendency to color the truthfulness of reports. I appreciate that Ms. Moorehead acknowledges this fact, and seeks to give us a fuller picture.

Certainly, an amazing enterprise was undertaken in Le Chambon during the years in question. And I would not discount the individuals', or the village's contributions towards saving people fleeing Nazi terror. But there were other villages in the area doing the same things, and Ms. Moorehead gives them props for their contributions to the resistance.

Anyone interested in this era in general, and in the persecution of the Jews in particular, needs (!) to read The Village of Secrets. Ms. Moorehead's book would do quite well as assigned reading in college courses in history.

As a mother and a human being, the scenes depicting families torn apart, literally and figuratively, the descriptions of emaciated detainees, and children arriving at the plateau with barely the clothes on their backs were heart-rending. My children have gotten many extra hugs while I was reading this book.

The Village of Secrets is at once a recounting of history and a call to action. Get it. Read it. Do it.

(I received a print copy of this book in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Icepacklady
This book is very, very well researched and it gives a very good history of the events in France and beyond during WWII. Right at the beginning of the book we are given a cast of characters and a historical timeline of events.

What killed me though was that there was SO MUCH background. I guess
Show More
that's what you need to do when you write a book like this but I wanted to hear about the village defying the Nazis. I wanted to hear about the people saving lives. Instead what I heard was "well they only saved a few lives. It wasn't really that great...." That's the message I got.

In the end I ended up skipping sections of this book and jumping around. As it is a very detailed and vivid book, as most good WWII books are, the imagery is pretty horrific. If you are a sensitive reader this book may read like a horror story which I didn't expect. Again I was looking for the heroes and the good guys. Not the recounts of the mothers and children dying.

(sorry if this review is choppy. I got interrupted by phone calls and family 3 times while trying to write this.)
Show Less
LibraryThing member SusieH5
In wartime occupied France, Jews are being rounded up and packed on to transport to concentration camps and an almost certain death. Villagers of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon took in many Jews, hiding them from the Nazis, and enabling them to escape to safety. The bravery of many is heart-warming.
Show More
Food supplies decline but somehow the villagers manage to continue to feed all the extra mouths. Helped by the Plateau being snowed in for several months each year and therefore not easily accessible during winter, but with a large influx of visitors during summer months, the villagers hid some of the Jewish children in plain sight, before moving them on.

There are many stories of bravery in the villages, and across France with passeurs who risk everything to bring Jewish children to the Plateau. Also some of those with power became increasingly disillusioned with the Nazis, and therefore at the least turned a blind eye to what they saw, and often gave advance warning of imminent Nazi visits.

The author certainly made this period come alive - thoroughly recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member stephengoldenberg
Of all the European nations torn apart by the 2nd world war and its aftermath, France is the one that has had the longest and greatest difficulty in dealing with it. It went through the immediate aftermath of dealing with a long list of collaborators and 'alleged' collaborators, then focusing for
Show More
many years on the role of the 'resistance'. It was only in the 1970s that the country was forced to come to terms more fully with the extent to which the Vichy regime had not only co-operated with the Nazis but gone beyond what they were asked to do in relation to the jews and other 'undesirables'. Compared to other occupied countries, it did the least to protect its jewish citizens.
More recently, there has been a return to recognising the role that many ordinary French citizens played in protecting both jews and ooponents of the Nazis, coinciding with the naming of a wide range of individuals as 'Les Justes'. Caroline Moorehead's book concentrates on these citizens and tells the individual stories in grest detail and, at times, with almost thriller-like suspense. However, what is most interesting about the book is her analysis of why this particular area of the Central Massif and these particular people behaved in the way that they did. In passing, she also tells the other side of the story - the complicity and more than subservience of the Vichy regime in rounding up jews and others and sending them to the death camps.
Despite the fact that all this happened 70 years ago and there have been endless books written about it, ti is still a subject that fascinates and appalls.
Show Less
LibraryThing member 2wonderY
Authors need to do lots of research for historical stories. However, they shouldn't feel compelled to share all of it with their readers. The first 6 chapters gave us life stories of a few of the children rescued to the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon. The next couple of chapters details the rescuers and
Show More
their organizations and then moves onto the plateau and gives us the local history. I threw up my hands when we got detailed histories of each of the Protestant groups that have found shelter there. Too much! Can we just tell the story, please? I have encountered this story before, in [Lest We Forget] and this book does afford a better picture of why this spot was particularly ideal. It's not just geography and independence. The infrastructure was already in place. This spot next to the Alps was already a summer spa destination for sickly children.
Show Less
LibraryThing member PattyLee
Excellent, illuminating, very well researched, inspiring and scary how much Trump resembles the Nazis.
LibraryThing member Susan.Macura
This is a wonderfully researched look at how a community in one section of France protected a number of Jewish people, especially children, from the Nazis during the occupation. Their heroism is something they themselves did not acknowledge; to them they were simply doing the right thing. To do the
Show More
right thing they often risked their lives. What is most troubling about this book is the fact that too many French people used their anti-Semitism to identify and round up members of the Jewish faith, making it easier for the Nazis to deport them and massacre them. The author points out that other countries, even Italy, did not do so, despite Hitler’s threats. While the German people should remember this time period with shame, so should France. Excellent book.
Show Less

Original publication date

2014

ISBN

0062202480 / 9780062202482
Page: 0.2021 seconds