Annual Holocaust Remembrance Essay Contest
1st place: Julian Wilson
School: Chapel Hill High School
Grade: 12th grade
Teacher: Holly Loranger
“I do not know what a Jew is. I know only human beings.” Pastor Andre Trocmé once said this when he was ordered by authorities to stop providing shelter to escaped Jews. In the small French town of Le Chambon sur Lignon, Trocmé served as spiritual leader to a congregation of Huguenots (French Protestant Christians). Although he could easily have sided with the Nazi regime when they gained control of France, Trocmé recognized the atrocities being committed and stood up for what he knew to be righteous by leading the town to become a refuge for Jews escaping the Nazis. He made no distinctions based on religion, because he understood the important lesson that our common humanity transcends religious differences. It did not matter that it was predominately Jews that were being targeted during the Holocaust, rather than Protestant Christians like himself, because Trocmé recognized that Jews were also the children of the God of Abraham, and his fellow human beings.
Seeing the horrors surrounding him, Trocmé looked for any way in which he could help. He sought out a Quaker friend who was part of an anti-Nazi resistance movement at first. Trocmé asked his friend if he could volunteer to help in the concentration camps by bringing food or helping people to escape. However, this friend gave him an even better idea to help. Trocmé was inspired to open his home as a refuge for escaped Jews, which eventually led his entire congregation to follow suit. After a while, the whole town of Le Chambon sur Lignon had become a safe haven. Inspired by Trocmé’s dedication, many villagers welcomed escaped Jews into their homes. Others helped to lead groups to the Swiss border and liberation. It is estimated that somewhere around 5,000 Jews passed safely through the town to freedom during the years of the Holocaust.
Trocmé saw it as his Christian duty to help any in need or distress, regardless of religious affiliation or risk of personal harm to himself. At one point, news of the refuge of Le Chambon sur Lignon spread to Nazi officials, and several were dispatched to the area in order to put a stop to the village’s actions. Trocmé was questioned extensively but never once relented to the demands to give up the names and locations of those hidden in the town. Although it would undoubtedly been easier for him to surrender the Jews they were harboring to the Nazis, Trocmé remained steadfast in his belief and did not relent. Due to his refusal to meet their demands, Trocmé was actually sent to a concentration camp himself for a period of time. Little is known about Trocmé’s time in the camp, but it is believed that he certainly did not cease his attempts to prevent the needless loss of so many innocent lives. For this reason, he was deemed to be even more dangerous to Nazi plans by being inside the camp than outside, and was eventually released. Shortly after his release, everyone at the camp was sent to a death camp to be killed. This experienced forced Trocmé’s operation to go underground, but it did not disappear. Even while Trocmé was in the camp, his wife and followers continued to save the lives of many and after his release they continued their work in secret. The small town of Le Chambon sur Lignon remained a safe haven for any fleeing the terrors of the Holocaust.
The story of Andre Trocmé teaches us that the most important thing is one’s humanity and compassion, even in the face of great adversity. He recognized that the most important thing he could do was help those suffering and so he organized those around him and saved thousands of lives in the process. Trocmé exemplifies what it means to do what is righteous even when that is the rougher path to take. Understanding that he would encounter many obstacles along the way and even endanger his own safety, he still did what he knew in his heart was the only humane choice. He reminded the entire village that no human being in good conscience could turn another human being away from their door knowing they would almost certainly die. Even today we often get caught up in what separates us from those around us, but Trocmé is a prime example of how we should focus on what unites us and how we may use our time here to help those around us rather than idly watch as others are hurt. His story demonstrates that it is not religious differences or political regimes, but our common humanity and the compassion of a heart aching for the suffering and pain of others that truly matters in the end.