Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Village of Secrets. (2014)

     Caroline Moorehead. Village of Secrets. (2014) Subtitle: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France. Not so much defying as deceiving. The people of Le-Chambon-Sur-Lignon were able to save an astonishing number of children from deportation to the death camps. A handful of pastors and other community leaders were able to lead this effort partly because of the collusion of officials outside the region, the deliberate sloppiness of the police, and because external agencies (nowadays called NGOs) could operate until the USA entered the war, but mostly because this part of France is remote and in those days was ignored as of no economic or political account, whose inhabitants were ignorant and backward. That gave them a certain anonymity; they could hide behind their stereotypes. When you are fooling people who think they are smarter than you, it pays to play up your supposed inferiority.
     Nevertheless, the risks were real. The deprivations suffered by the Jews were terrible. Their self-delusion that as citizens of France they were safe are pitiful to contemplate: when thugs are in power, legal and cultural protections are meaningless.
     This is one the few books I did not finish. After reading two-thirds of it, I decided I didn’t need any more details. The people did what they did at great risk to themselves. Not a pleasurable read: the knowledge that so many children were saved from death is offset by the knowledge that they suffered from the loss of their families, most of whom died in the gas chambers.
     The book is well-written. Moorehead is one those historians who can write a story As a record what good people can do when they follow their conscience and use their wits, a story worth reading. It’s also a semi-comforting account of how the Nazis weren’t nearly as efficient as we have come to believe. You may be able to finish the book. ***

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