Foreign Policy Blogs

Revisiting the Shoah

Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris

Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris

Traveling across France earlier this summer, I went back to one of my favorite childhood locations, le Chambon-sur-Lignon, in the middle of France, Haute-Loire. In between catching up with relatives and grand-parents, I had the time to go visit a new museum, lieu de mémoire, that received national attention at its grand opening earlier on in June 2013. This little French village holds an international aura and high respect from Israel considering its role in protecting Jews, especially children, during World War two. The commemoration of this ‘lieu de mémoire plays an important purpose in recalling the horrors perpetuated by the

© Gérard Rivollier

© Gérard Rivollier

Nazis and the regime of Vichy during World War two, but as well all the good that rose from this inhumanly hate.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon had earlier on received the prestigious title of “Justes,” for the role that its inhabitants played during World War

two in hiding Jews and their relentless role as résistants in fighting against the Nazis. According to recent research, between 800 and a 1000 Jews – according to the legend 5000 Jews would have been saved – were hidden in the region in farms and temples against the occuping forces. One of the rationales behind this popular movement to protect the Jews is directly connected to the collective memory of the Protestants. This region of France is mainly composed of Protestants – Lutheran and Calvinist –. The collective memory of French Protestants goes back to the period of the Edict of Nantes of 1598, granting the Calvinist Protestants of France substantial rights. A century later, in 1685, Louis XIV pushed for the revocation of this Edict and proclaimed Protestantism illegal. A massive exodus of French Protestants occurred and some of them went hiding in the

Atelier Fargette

Atelier Fargette

mountains of France, Haute-Loire, continuing their faith clandestinely. Until the 19th century, when Protestantism re-became legal, the inhabitants of the region kept alive this memory of prosecution. This remembrance played a considerable role during World War two and gave them a sense of duty.

In this small, but concise and interactive museum, one can reflect on the horrors of the war and the goods that emerged from this period. This museum reminds us that the French résistance, and indeed any other world résistances, are much more than a military one. It encompasses two additional aspects: civil and spiritual résistance. Civil résistance in times of war, or civil disobedience in time of peace, is vital in addressing the injustices and wrongs of our times. Without these two dimensions, armed résistance may not be as relevant and effective.  Several ministers led the spiritual resistance: André Trocmé, Edouard Theis and Roger Darcissac. They, not only, guided the resistance through their sermons, but as well contributed to the fight, point of liaisons, and organization of resistance. André Trocmé, one of the most famous of them, talked about his role as a résistant in simple words as seen below:

photo 3[1]

World War two is slowly fading away, but the memories must remain. The human costs, around 40 millions deaths mostly civilian, and material destructions attained a level almost never seen before. 25 percent of French Jews were killed or died in extermination camps. However, 75 percent of French Jews survived the war, making France one of the European countries after Denmark, Bulgaria and Italy with the high survival rate of its Jewish population. On a larger scale, the war and the use of advanced chemical and nuclear weapons between 1939 and 1945, changed the course of history and left a stain on human consciousness since then. A museum, like this one, plays a double role. It is not only a place of memory, but as well, a place of reflection onto human condition. According to Laurent Wauquiez, former minister, “it [museum] pedagogical function is extremely strong as it allows a reflection in order to understand these people felt quickly what was right or not.” This museum reflects only on the regional microcosm and shows how each region tackled their fights against the Nazis differently.

Reflecting on the Shoah and World War two may be seen in the 21st century as a futile exercise. Such statement could not be more wrong. World War two was in some sense the beginning of contemporary history, and it surely was the end of innocence. The international laws and organizations that still regulate world events all come from the after-World War two such as: the UN, the EU, and Human Rights Declaration among others. They certainly have lost some of their grandeur, but their meanings are still nobles. The work undertaken by Western politicians in order to dismantle these networks, ideas and organizations because they are perceived as reminiscent of an far past and an attack against national sovereignty is sickening. In the West, museums play this role of memory; in most part of the world, these ‘lieux de mémoire’ are not even projects considering the perpetual and enduring violence and war.


In case you are in France, I would recommend spending several days in this beautiful region of France and visiting this museum.

If a trip to France is not on your menu, but you are interested in learning more about this case study about the Chambon sur Lignon, you can purchase two excellent books – in French – :

1) Lieu de Mémoire au Chambon/Lignon. Le Plateau, terre d’accueil et de refuge aux Editions Dolmazon

2) La Montagne Refuge. Accueil et Sauvetage des Juifs autour du Chambon-sur-Lignonaux Editions Albin Michel 



Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.