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Welcome back to Tenacious Genealogy! Today’s post is a little less genealogy and a little more history, but important nonetheless. Every once in a while, I like to post about the lesser known heroes in history. The people who don’t necessarily make it into most history books, but still did amazing things while they were alive. So today I’m going to talk about André and Magda Trocmé.
Back in October, I posted about the history of Huguenots in North America. I mentioned that after being expelled (for the most part) from France, Huguenots settled in a variety of places, including South Africa and Australia.
But that didn’t mean that there weren’t some Huguenots who stayed in France. There were some who stayed behind and their descendants continued to practice their French Protestant faith.
Today’s post is about a Huguenot couple (and their family) who lived in France during World War 2. It is estimated that they and their colleagues saved the lives of roughly 3500 Jewish refugees, including many children.
André and Magda Trocmé
André Trocmé was born in Saint-Quentin-de-Tourmont (a tiny village in the north of France, nestled on the coast of the English Channel) in 1901. As noted in the historical summary in the archival collection of their papers held at Swarthmore College, he was born into a Huguenot family and after graduating from seminary school in Paris, made his way to New York to do graduate work at Union Theological Seminary. It was in New York that he met his wife, Magda.
Magda (born Grilli de Cortona) was also born in 1901, but in Italy. Of both Russian and Italian heritage, she studied at the University of Florence where she earned a degree in literature and then later at the New York School of Social Work. They married in 1926 and over the next few years became the parents to one daughter and three sons.
Ministering in France
Around this same time, André graduated from Union Theological Seminary and was ordained a minister in the French Reformed Church. He and Magda returned to France where he ministered to his first congregations in Maubeuge and Sin-le-Noble. During this time, he became known for his pacifist views, which didn’t necessarily jive with the beliefs of his parishioners or higher leadership in the French Reformed Church. After eight years, he was sent to Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in the south of France. Le Chambon-sur-Lignon was more rural and in a remote part of France and the parishioners were more accepting of André’s message of non-violence. At the same time, it is believed that André was sent there to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ because of his unpopular pacifist views.
However, it is because of his actions in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon that André, his family, and his colleagues wound up in the annals of history. In 1938, as World War 2 was revving up in the northern parts of Europe (particularly Germany and its neighboring areas), Le Chambon-sur-Lignon was still, for the most part, removed from the escalating tensions. It was at this point that André and one of his colleagues, Reverend Edouard Theis started the Collège Lycée International Cévenol. Initially, a school to help local youth prepare for college, it became a center for both local students and Jewish youth wanting to continue their education. It also became a sort of refuge for fleeing Jewish refugees. Because of the emphasis that both André and Edouard put on ideals such as nonviolence, tolerance, and honesty, these became part of the curriculum, creating a culture in the school and surrounding communities that ended up helping protect many of the refugees.
Resistance against the Vichy Regime and Nazis
By 1942, Nazi forces had pushed into all of France, even the more remote areas such as Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon (where Le Chambon-sur-Lignon was located). Despite this, André Trocmé, Edouard Theis, their families, neighbors, and colleagues continued to support and hide Jewish refugees. They developed safe houses where refugees could hide and avoid Vichy informants and Nazi soldiers. These houses were supported by a variety of outside groups from the United States, Switzerland, and even other parts of France. Many of these refugees were then helped to escape to neutral Switzerland. Those who stayed in France, including many children, were housed with local families and put through the local schools under false names.
As word of what Trocmé was doing made its way to the Vichy government, increasingly ‘authorities’ from the government came to interrogate him and his colleagues. At certain points, they even demanded that Trocmé give them a list of all the Jewish refugees they were harboring. During one of these ‘confrontations’ Trocmé is quoted as saying ‘We do not know what a Jew is. We only know man,’
In February of 1943, Trocmé, Theis, and the public school headmaster Roger Darcissac were all rounded up and sent to an internment camp near Limoges, France. They stayed there for a month until they were released. Upon their release, they were pressed to sign a note stating that they would obey all government orders. Trocmé and Theis refused and while all three were released, Trocmé and Theis went into hiding, where they continued to assist in the resistance.
After World War 2
After World War 2, André and Magda Trocmé continued their efforts in peace, reconciliation, and non-violence. They were the European secretaries for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) in the late 1940s. In 1950, they moved to Versailles and founded La Maison de la Réconciliation. In the 1950s during the conflict between France and Algeria, the Trocmés created Eirene headquartered in Morocco, an organization that facilitated alternative service for conscientious objectors. In 1965, André also traveled on a peace mission to Vietnam.
During this time, he also published two books – The Politics of Repentance (in 1953) and Jésus-Christ et la Revolution Non Violente (in 1961).
In 1960, the Trocmés moved to Geneva, Switzerland where André became one of the pastors at the Saint-Gervais Church. They lived there until André’s death in 1971. After his death, Magda moved to Paris, living with family and friends until her death in 1996. She, André, two of their sons, as well a close family friend are all buried together in the local cemetery in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon.
Over the years, André and Magda Trocmé received numerous awards and accolades for their work in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. After the end of World War 2, André received the Rosette de la Résistance from the French government. In 1971, he also received the Médaille des Justes from the Israeli government.
In 1971, Yad Vashem recognized André as one of the ‘Righteous among the Nations’ – a recognition that he was a non-Jew who risked his life to save Jews during the Holocaust. 15 years later in 1986, Magda Trocmé was also recognized as one of the ‘Righteous among the Nations’. In addition, in 1981, Magda Trocmé received an honorary degree from Haverford College in the name of the people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the surrounding area, honoring the work they did during World War 2.
Along with these awards, at least one book and movie have been created about the Trocmés and the events in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. In 1979, Lest Innocent Blood be Shed was published, written by Philip P. Hallie after being inspired by the Trocmés’s leadership. In 1988, filmmaker Pierre Sauvage produced the film Weapons of the Spirit. The film details how Sauvage’s family survived World War 2 through the efforts of the people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon.
Curious to know more about the Trocmés and what happened in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon? There are several books that have been written about them and the situation as a whole.
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