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What follows is a slight adaptation of the original message in French, July 7, 2004
Welcome, Mr. President, to Le Chambon!
President Jacques Chirac of France will be in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon on July 8 to make what is being billed as an important speech on the "values of the Republic."
I had hoped that we might receive a presidential message for the Liberation Reunion (Journées Mémoires du Plateau) that we just held in Le Chambon June 11-13. But this visit by the President himself is, of course, more than we could have wished for. It will fill with pride and gratitude all those, whether residents of the area or former refugees there during the war, who care deeply about this tiny corner of the world that never ceased to be free!
I myself was born and protected in Le Chambon in March 1944, to parents who benefited from the extraordinary welcome to the Jews that took place in the area. As President of the Chambon Foundation and director of the documentary Weapons of the Spirit, which chronicles the unique conspiracy of goodness that has made of Le Chambon a unique place of pilgrimage in the world, I wish, at a distance, to extend a warm welcome to the President of the Republic.
French responsibility in the "Final Solution" was considerable: a quarter of the Jews of France, some 80,000 people—including more than 10 000 children—were handed over to their murderers. "On that day," President Chirac acknowledged at last in 1995 on behalf of the state, "France committed the irreparable."
But it is also true that many Jews of France received help here and there from the French people; some 2,000 French Righteous Among the Nations have been recognized to date. Sixty-five of these Righteous did their work in the area of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon—forty of them in that old Huguenot stronghold, the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. Most importantly, the area is the only place in France—and only one of two throughout Europe—where the entire population has been collectively recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
I hope that in his address, President Chirac will have the boldness to acknowledge that it is not the narrowly defined secular values of the French Republic that motivated the Righteous of Le Chambon. Everybody who knew the area then agrees that what was accomplished there was a response to more ancient and intimate personal priorities, rooted in Christian faith and in the population’s distinctive sense of identity as descendants of once persecuted Huguenots.
My friend Joseph Atlas, invited by the Mayor of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to speak in front of the President on behalf of the former refugees of the Protestant plateau, may not hesitate to bring up the religious and even communal dimensions of the action to which we owe our lives.
Furthermore, while it is true that the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust is increasingly and understandably considered by historians to have been a form of resistance to the Nazis, must Le Chambon-sur-Lignon nevertheless resign itself to becoming misleadingly celebrated, as it is on the official website of the French President, as a "landmark of the Resistance" ("un haut lieu de la Résistance")?
The French Resistance, such as it was, was in fact a patriotic movement; it was not notably concerned about the plight of the Jews. The population of the area of Le Chambon, on the other hand, resisted mainly "through the weapons of the spirit," to quote the exhortation of the two pastors of Le Chambon the very day after France signed the armistice with Nazi Germany.
"The memory of the righteous shall be everlasting," it says on a plaque placed by Jews right opposite this temple. Yes, if we work on it! By honoring Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the area by his presence, the President of the Republic allowed us to hope at last for official French participation in the creation of the planned museum complex which the area needs. This did not come to pass.
In 1986, Pope John Paul II was the first pope to enter a synagogue. I hope that the President of secular, republican France will not fail on this occasion to enter the Protestant temple in the village. These were the headquarters, to the extent that there were any, of people who practiced what they preached. When it comes to values, the French Republic may still have much to learn from the people of Le Chambon.
With great awareness that his visit could thus be a turning point in the future of the memory of the French Righteous Among the Nations, I take the liberty of expressing to President Chirac, along with my gratitude for this happy initiative and my best wishes for a memorable and eloquent visit, my resolutely Judeo-Chambonnais regards.
President Chirac Visits Le Chambon
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© Copyright 2004, Chambon Foundation. All rights reserved. Revised: May 20, 2010