15th February 2021

Two years ago at worship in Tyndale I told the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, the French village which Margaret and I had visited while on holiday, and which during the German occupation 1940–45 had given refuge to Jewish children in danger from the Nazis. The children lived with local families and were mingled with other children in  school, even though a German garrison was nearby. No-one betrayed them. The area of Le Chambon was, and is, strongly Protestant and many of the children were smuggled to Switzerland for reception by the churches there. In face of endless fear, an amazing story of courage and generosity undergirded by simple but deep Christian faith. Le Chambon is about the only community, as distinct from individuals, to be honoured as “Righteous Among the Gentiles” at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre in Israel.

It was highlighted again just recently with the news that Erich Schwam, an Austrian Jew whose family had fled to France in hope of escaping the Nazis and who was himself sheltered at Le Chambon, had died on Christmas Day aged 90. He has left a fortune of some 2 million euros to Le Chambon, in gratitude for saving his life and those of so many others in danger. He asked that the fund be used on educational projects for the young.

We may not be heroes like the people of Le Chambon, or as wealthy as Erich Schwam evidently became. But who can calculate what difference it would make if, for the benefit of the next generation, we were each generous in proportion to kindnesses we have received?

Keith Clements