A Good place to Hide: How One French Community Saved Thousands of Lives During World War II by Peter Grose is quite an interesting account. This French Community, mainly of Le Chambon but also other communities around the same area, was made up of various unique people, many (perhaps most) of whom helped saved Jews in one way or another. One of the most intriguing things about this rescue operation is that it was apparently not organized into one big operation, and no one was ultimately in charge.
Generally, I have focused on reading biographies, and have found that focusing on the life of one person was more interesting to me than general history. But more recently I have become very intrigued with histories that deal with historical events from the perspective of many of the people who experienced and participated in those events. Take a group of people and stick them in a particular tragic event or perilous time and what do they do? How do they act? Will they be brave or cowardly? Will they be selfish or selfless?
This book focuses on people living ,working in or through "the upper reaches of the Loire Valley", a plateau in France. The time period is that of world war ii, with Nazi Germany ultimately taking over France, at first, only ruling half of France (though in reality they ruled the other half by means of the French Vichy government which gave into Nazi ideals) and eventually ruling the whole. The people on the Plateau end up being known as those who would take in Jews and other people fleeing the ramifications of Nazi rule. Many of these people were not natives of that part of France (and some were not Frenchmen at all), but they all end up in that particular spot.
There are multiple characters in this history: Andre Trocme is a protestant pastor and ardent pacifist who ends up very involved in the saving of Jewish refugees, all while trying to keep the community from using violent means to attack the enemy. Simone Mairesse loses her husband in the war, and instead of giving in to grief and despair desires to be active in opposing the enemy. Andre Trocme and his wife provide her with an occupation (non-violent by the way): helping to save (particularly Jewish) refugees, which she agrees to do and becomes a key source in finding safe houses that would take in Jews. Oscar Rosowsky, a young Jewish man who wants to be a doctor but who is denied that occupation because of his Jewishness, and ends up becoming a document forger instead (doing his work while also having a false identity himself of course). These are just a few of the individuals who make up a part of this history.
There are joyful moments, such as when raids on houses are foiled in their attempts to round up Jews. There are funny moments, such as when a lady who is about to be arrested pretends to be insane, or when you find out that one of the methods used to disguise Jews and get them to safety was to dress them up as boy scouts…even older men! And there are also sad moments, and ironic moments, one of those being when you learn that a Jewish mother and her son are hidden separately in the same village without those who are hiding them knowing that they are related to each other. The neat thing about all of this is that this is that all of these things really happened, these were real people, not actors, these were truly scary times dealt with in real time, in real situations.
Reading history as a Christian makes it even more intriguing for me, especially as I am a premillennialist (believe that the Bible teaches that there is a future mass salvation of Jews and that all of those Jews will end up back in the promised land), and so I think that it is exciting to see how God sovereignty used various people, places and events to thwart Hitler's plan to exterminate all Jews. The people working on and through this French Plateau were some of those means, and their 'story' is quite enthralling.
Many Thanks to the folks at Pegasus Books for sending me a free review copy of this book! - My review did not have to be positive, I truly did like this book.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Just a quick note: Being a book of history, there is a little bit of foul language (as of course, people swore and blasphemed back then too). But it is easily scribbled out and/or passed over while reading out loud (as I did when I read it with my younger sister).