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Nelly Trocmé Hewett, Hanne Liebmann,
and Pierre Sauvage
CBS This Morning, April 24, 1990, 8:10 a.m.
We have just marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, a commemoration of 6 million Jews killed by Nazi Germany during World War II. This morning, the U.S. Senate has a remembrance of its own. It will watch a documentary called Weapons of the Spirit, which remembers not the monstrous evil of the Holocaust but the "conspiracy of goodness" in one small French village which at great risk sheltered 5,000 Jews.
Clip from Weapons of the Spirit: how Le Chambon became a center for the manufacture and distribution of false papers.
And joining us now are three people who knew that small town, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon: Pierre Sauvage, who made the documentary—he was born in that town; Hanne Liebmann was of the Jews who were hidden there; and Nelly Trocmé Hewett is the daughter of the town's Protestant pastor, who inspired the rescue efforts. Good morning to all of you. [To Pierre Sauvage:] You didn't even find out you were Jewish until you were 18 years-old.
That is true.
How did this film come about?
Well, I think the film met a real need for me, because having been raised with no clear sense of identity, in making this film about these people, these villagers of the area of Le Chambon, who acted out of such a strong sense of identity, I learned something that I really needed to learn very badly.
How did you end up there?
My parents went there in the fall of '43, my mother being pregnant at the time. And it was a singularly fortunate place for a Jew to be born at that time in Nazi-occupied Europe. There was truly no other place like that, where the whole community conspired, yes, one might say, to rescue anybody who needed help.
Hanne, tell us about the people who reached out, to take you in.
The people who reached out in Le Chambon were the most fantastic people in the world. Pierre's documentary brings this across in a most marvelous way, in a very true way, without false sentiments if you will. It is really the story of this village. It was, I think, the best effort of mankind. It was really man's humanity to man, and a total counterpoint to whatever else was going on in the world.
Nelly, I think what strikes me as you watch the documentary, is that these people had a real sense of selflessness, many of us would call them heroes and heroines for taking in these refugees, and yet the folks in the town just didn't see it that way, your father being one of them.
NELLY TROCMÉ HEWETT:
No, the people in the town were ordinary people. They were going about their business of living, selling, buying, eating, sleeping. And when the period of the refugees started, they looked back upon their past as Huguenots and they had this surging of a sense of duty and humanity which made them really want to protect the people who needed protection at the time. It didn't matter who they were.
Tell us about your father's role in sheltering the Jews who came to Le Chambon.
NELLY TROCMÉ HEWETT:
My father was not the one who really sheltered them, although we had four Jewish people in our own house. But he was one of the people, one of the leaders of the community, who inspired the population and kept giving the people courage and kept putting them in front of their duty, to give them the strength it took really to do that kind of thing.
Pierre, tell us about the townspeople's reaction to the film, once you went back and tried to talk to them about some of what they did.
They were wary. They were reluctant, as you can imagine. They were concerned that I might somehow dramatize their story or sentimentalize it. They still haven't seen the completed film, but they saw a work print and they were relieved to see that that wasn't the case.
This is one of the few pieces about the Holocaust that really has a hopeful message. What is it that you want to leave people with as they watch it?
I think it's really the fundamental message of the Holocaust. And that is that we are all, each and every one of us, individually accountable, individually responsible for what we do and what we don't do. These people had an inescapable sense of responsibility. They didn't talk about it. They didn't worry about it. They just acted. And it's important to know that we all can do that. And that these were ordinary people.
Pierre, Hanne, Nelly, thank you so much.
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