This is part five of “City of Refuge.” To listen to earlier episodes, you can go here or subscribe on the platforms listed above. I highly recommend starting from the beginning.
In the last episode, we met some of the refugees sheltered in Le Chambon. In part five, we continue to follow their story — as new dangers force some to seek ways out of France and into neutral Switzerland. We also hear how Le Chambon and its surrounding communities defended refugees from Vichy raids and roundups.
In telling a story, it’s generally a good idea — if not good practice — to have main characters. And, without a doubt, Magda and André Trocmé are the main characters of this story. It would be hard to tell it any other way. After all, they are not only at the center of the action, but they left behind a paper trail. Their memoirs and interviews have made it possible to know as much as we do about the events in Le Chambon during WWII. But I would be doing a disservice to them and everyone else on the plateau if I left you with the impression that the amazing rescue operation was anything short of a large-scale collaboration.
The Trocmés may have provided leadership, but they certainly weren’t “the” leaders — nor did they ever consider themselves such. There were many key figures who helped ensure that the entire operation ran smoothly, and they were spread across all 12 villages on the plateau. Almost everyone — some 9,000 people — were involved in one way or other. This might leave you with the impression that there was some kind of central organization coordinating everything. But whenever she was asked about it, Magda Trocmé was adamant. Here is an actor reading what she told one interviewer.
Magda Trocmé: Organization? There was no organization.
Decisions were simply made on the fly.
Magda Trocmé: We had no time to think. When a problem came, we had to solve it immediately.
In that way, everyone was a leader.
Magda Trocmé: There was no red tape. Everyday, if we were two or three people talking together we could perhaps discuss what to do, but otherwise everybody had to work by themselves.
If anything was guiding the decision-making, it was the general spirit of the plateau, which could be summed up rather simply:
Magda Trocmé: The issue was: Do you think we are all brothers or not? Do you think it is unjust to turn in the Jews or not? Then let us try to help!” I think this was the success of the thing.
In this episode, we will observe the nonviolent resistance and rescue operation in full swing, and hear about some of the other people — again, just a sampling — who were involved, and what they did to help make this one of the greatest grassroots humanitarian efforts of WWII.
By 1942, Le Chambon had become a true city of refuge. Various children’s homes funded with the help of national and international aid groups had been set up to accommodate the refugee children released from the internment camps in France. While the Vichy government had permitted this arrangement — since it relieved some of their burden — they did not yet know it was only a piece of a larger, more covert, rescue operation.
So, you’re probably wondering, how did these other refugees find out about the plateau? And how did they get there? Well, let’s look at one example.
Last episode, we met Renée Kann Silver. She and her family fled to France in 1940 when the place they were living, which was known as the Saarland, voted to become part of Germany. They were briefly interned in Gurs concentration camp as foreign enemies,
Renée Kann Silver: It was an awful place — just a gigantic, gigantic camp.
Then the Germans invaded France and released everyone. For the next two years, Renée lived in a suburb of Lyon with her two parents and younger sister. During that time, the Vichy government did its best to mimic — and in some cases exceed — the anti-Semitic laws of Germany.
Renée Kann Silver: Little by little we became aware of the fact that this was not really the France we thought we were staying in.
So, the threat of roundups and deportations were looming, and Renée’s mother decided she had to do something to save her two children.
Renée Kann Silver: Mother didn’t say very much other than we were going to see someone who was going to make arrangements to take my sister and me to the mountains.
This woman, as Renée would find out years later, was one of the most remarkable figures involved in the rescue operation on the plateau.
Renée Kann Silver: She seemed very nondescript to us, and I — at the time — did not even know her name. I just called her Madame.
Her actual name, though, was Madeleine Dreyfus. As far as the French government was concerned, she was just a social worker for the OSE, the French branch of a Jewish humanitarian group. But since the OSE had recently gotten into rescue work, Madeleine was now part of an underground operation known as the Garel network, which was hiding Jewish children in Le Chambon and the surrounding plateau.
Renée Kann Silver: And so my little sister and I met this women. And we said goodbye to my mom. It wasn’t anything emotional because we didn’t know how detached we were going to be from our parents.
Renée’s mother — not wanting to scare her young daughters, who were ages 11 and nine — had kept the reality of the situation to herself.
Renée Kann Silver: It was only on the train that Madame Dreyfus began to tell my sister and me we would not be able to contact our parents while we were there, nor would we be receiving mail.
This was harrowing news to Renée. So far, she and her little sister had survived a lot of terrible experiences, but always with their parents. Now they were on their own. And, even more unsettling, when they arrived in Le Chambon, Renée and her sister were separated and placed on different farms, way outside the village. It was a security measure, but Renée was too young to understand this. All she knew was that she was alone and completely isolated.
Renée Kann Silver: There was nothing to be seen that was inhabited anywhere.
To make matters worse, the family she was staying with didn’t seem to know how to ease her tensions. One day the father came home and told Renée [incorrectly] that the British had very severely bombed the area where her parents were living in Lyon.
Renée Kann Silver: “And don’t expect to find your parents when you come back.”
This horrifying bit of information from the outside world sent Renée into a frenzy. Having recently learned where her sister was staying, she went and grabbed her and the two girls took the train back to Lyon, eventually reaching their parents’ apartment.
Renée Kann Silver: That’s probably when I experienced my most terrifying moment of the entire war.
When she rang the bell to her apartment, there was no answer. Had her parents been arrested and deported, just like the man in Le Chambon had told her?
Renée Kann Silver: I did not immediately want to relay my terror to my sister, but it was pretty awesome.
The two girls waited nearby for a while and then tried the door again. Still no answer, but this time…
Renée Kann Silver: miracle of miracles really…
A neighbor, who happened to be blind and had this extraordinary sense of hearing, recognized Renée’s voice in the hallway.
Renée Kann Silver: And not only that but he also had overheard what happened to my parents.
They were hiding out in the apartment of some Catholic friends, who lived in a nearby building.
Renée Kann Silver: As soon as this man told me where my parents were, I went to knock on their window. That’s how I communicated.
When Renée’s mother saw her two daughters standing there, she was horrified.
Renée Kann Silver: My mother promptly walked us back to the apartment and sort of verified what had happened.
Their Catholic friends had somehow gotten advance warning of the roundup in Lyon — the very roundup Renée had heard about back in Le Chambon. And these friends came to Renée’s parents and told them to hide in their apartment. So, they were extremely lucky. But there wasn’t enough room for the girls to stay — nor was it safe for them.
Renée Kann Silver: So the very next day she took us back to Madame Dreyfus.
Who then took the girls back to the plateau. But, this time, Renée wasn’t so upset. She knew that her parents were safe and that they hadn’t been deported. Plus, Madame Dreyfus placed her with a different family this time…
Renée Kann Silver: which was a lot easier.
And so, for the time being, Renée settled back into life on the plateau.
By the summer of 1942, 17-year-old Hanne Hirsch had been living in Le Chambon for about 10 months. She and the six other teenagers who were the first to arrive from Gurs had been placed in a children’s home that was set up and funded by the Swiss Red Cross. More such children’s homes would open — perhaps more than 20 — by the end of the war.
Hanne Liebmann: We were in wonderful surroundings, people who appreciated us. It was a total flip-flop from Germany. After having been persecuted, discriminated against, segregated out of society, right?
Despite these wonderful new surroundings, Hanne was without her mother and her boyfriend. While the aid groups working in Gurs had managed to get Max released and placed on a nearby Jewish Boy Scout farm, Hanne’s mother was deteriorating in the internment camp.
Hanne Liebmann: My mother had been very ill. I had for weeks, no letters from my mother.
Hanne finally got word from another relative in Gurs that her mother was in the camp hospital, suffering from the effects of diabetes.
Hanne Liebmann: It was decided that because she had been so ill that I could come to the camp and visit with her.
The relief groups working in the camps — the same ones that helped Hanne get to Le Chambon — made the arrangements.
Hanne Liebmann: I had a south country pass so I could travel without being arrested or what have you.
But when she arrived at the camp, which was a day’s journey by train from Le Chambon, they wouldn’t let her in. She was forced to talk to her mother through several rows of barbed wire.
Hanne Liebmann: It was sort of shouted conversation, like if I shout from here, across the street to the other house, okay?
She managed to see her mother two more times that way, while staying several nights in a nearby inn. Each time, however, police would chase her away from the fence.
Hanne Liebmann: Then I was told that she would be deported, that the trains would be leaving.
Hanne managed to get to the rail yards near Gurs just in time.
Hanne Liebmann: This is where I saw my mother for the last time. People were in a terrible condition. You cannot even describe how these people— most of them were. Some still did not realize what this was all about. My mother left me no doubt. She says, “I will not come back.”
Hanne spent about an hour and half with her mother. At one point, a French policeman came by and questioned her.
Hanne Liebmann: He was ready to grab me and dump me in.
She managed to convince his superior to let her go.
Hanne Liebmann: He told this guy, forget it, leave her alone. So I was fortunate.
Then the train started to pull away, and Hanne watched as her mother slowly disappeared.
Hanne Liebmann: The last thing I saw of her was a white handkerchief fluttering out of the cattle car. I don’t know whether you can. No, you cannot understand what emotions you are going through.
Hanne then sought out what little comfort she had in this situation. Instead of returning immediately to Le Chambon, she stopped to see Max, whose Jewish Boy Scout farm was on the way. It had been nearly a year since they’d seen each other.
Max Liebmann: She told me the horror stories that the deportations had started in Gurs.
Hanne Liebmann: He told me that they found out that there will be roundups in France.
In fact, they had already begun. The infamous Vel d’Hiv roundup in Paris — which I described in the first episode of this series — had taken place a month earlier, as had the first roundups in the Unoccupied Zone, including the one in Lyon that Renée’s parents had experienced.
Max Liebmann: We arranged that should I get into trouble, for whatever reason, I should try to get up to her village.
Keep in mind these were just mere teenagers, making life or death decisions. What’s more they had the burden of carrying utterly tragic and horrifying information.
Hanne Liebmann: When I came back to Le Chambon, I told my friends that we had no longer any parents, that they were taken away. It was a horrible job. It was a horrible mission, really.
Then Hanne pointed to a map on the wall.
Hanne Liebmann: I said, “You see where we are here, and this is where we have to go,” pointing to Switzerland. And they looked at me like I had lost my mind.
After all, Le Chambon was the safest, most stable place they had been in years. Why should they leave it now, and assume all the risks that came with sneaking into another country?
Hanne Liebmann: And I said, “No. We cannot stay. No matter what, we cannot stay.”
But Hanne wasn’t the only one worried about a potential roundup in Le Chambon. That fear also weighed heavily on André Trocmé and his co-pastor Edouard Theis. It was right around this time — a day or so after Hanne saw her mother for the last time — that Vichy Minister of Youth Georges Lamirand arrived on the plateau.
This was the visit we covered in episode one, where — after a day of purposefully botched festivities — the youth of Le Chambon presented the minister with a letter boldly declaring:
André Trocmé: There are, among us, a certain number of Jews.
And pledging to disobey any order that might lead to their deportation.
André Trocmé: We will do our best to hide them in our midst.
This is when the Chief of Police, Robert Bach, stepped in, threatening André with internment for his subversive activities. He also claimed he would soon have a list with the name of every Jew in Le Chambon.
And just how many were there at this point?
André Trocmé: Not that many, perhaps a 100 or a 150 at most. We knew them all.
They were scattered around the village and surrounding farms.
André Trocmé: We had two living in our own home!
They helped the Trocmés as a cook and a handyman. Most, however, were the children living in the refugee houses André had helped set-up with the various French, Swiss and American organizations. There were many — perhaps around seven homes — at this point.
A few weeks after seeing Max, Hanne and a friend were walking somewhere just outside the village, when all of a sudden…
Hanne Liebmann: I hear some whistling behind me.
Her friend turned around and immediately tried to get Hanne’s attention.
Hanne Liebmann: she said turn around. I said “No, I’m not going to turn around. It’s the boys from the school here. I’m not going to turn around, leave me alone.”
Eventually, the friend coaxed Hanne into looking and…
Hanne Liebmann: Here was my boyfriend.
Max Liebmann: There I was.
Max had decided to leave the boy scout camp — not only because it was unsafe and he feared roundups, but also because the two rabbis who ran the camp refused to help him find a hiding place. They were Orthodox and looked down on nonreligious Jews like Max.
Max Liebmann: The worst kind of religious bias you can imagine.
So Hanne brought him to a woman named Mireille Philip.
Hanne Liebmann: The wife of André Philip, who was the right hand man to General DeGaulle.
Madame Philip had moved to Le Chambon with her children essentially to hide out — while her husband worked for the Free French government exiled in England. During the war, she would become one of the major rescue figures on the plateau.
Max Liebmann: Madame Philip asked, “Can we trust him?”
Hanne Liebmann: And I said, “Of course you can.” And by evening he had been hidden away.
And not a moment too soon, because one morning — about two weeks after Lamirand’s visit — a knock came on the door to one of the children’s homes. Actually, it was more like a pounding at 4 a.m. The home’s young director, a Swiss man named August Bohny, got up and looked out the window, only to see that the house was surrounded by gendarmes, or military police.
Bohny opened the door and spoke to the police inspector, who said they were looking for a man with the last name “Steckler,” who was the director of one of the other children’t homes. They wanted to check his papers — likely because they suspected him of being Jewish. Bohny offered to help them find him, no doubt hoping to draw their attention from the children in his care. So, they all left on this early-morning mission to find Mr. Steckler, which they did. And, before long, they returned with him to Bohny’s home. But now the gendarmes wanted to check the children’s papers.
It just so happened that Hanne was there that night.
Hanne Liebmann: Mr. Bohny was extremely clever and diplomatic and, of course, they were ready to take us along.
So Bohny did his best to talk them down.
Hanne Liebmann: He said they could not touch us. That we were under Swiss protection.
It wasn’t true, but it worked — at least for the time being. The Vichy inspector said he would have to check with his superiors. In the meantime, everyone was to stay exactly where they were. Which, of course, is not at all what they did.
Hanne Liebmann: We went into the woods and disappeared.
This was actually a plan that had been devised ahead of time by André and the other village leaders. With the help of the local Boy Scouts, word spread throughout the village and all the Jewish refugees went into hiding.
When the gendarmes returned a few hours later, they came with a bus, which meant they were clearly planning to arrest more people than Steckler. Magda Trocmé remembered hearing the news from her 12-year-old son.
Magda Trocmé: Jean-Pierre came back running home and said ‘Do you know they have taken a Jew and now Mr. Steckler is going away? And they have a big bus, and they are going to fill it with all the Jews. What are we going to do?
It wasn’t long before an answer came to him.
Magda Trocmé: And quickly he took a little bar of chocolate.
Which was strictly rationed, and therefore quite precious.
Magda Trocmé: And he brought it quickly to Mr. Steckler, and other people who were there saw this and then started to bring things.
When the gendarmes returned from their fruitless search of the children’s homes, they found the bus fully surrounded by villagers, handing out food and sympathies to Mr. Steckler. They also sang a song with lyrics that translate roughly to “It’s only till we meet again.” But English speakers, will know the song as “Auld Lang Syne.”
It was an unlikely scene for Europe in 1942. And though it didn’t stop the gendarmes in their tracks, it surely caused them to pause, because going forward Le Chambon was constantly tipped off to raids and frequently benefited from gendarmes who looked the other way.
Magda Trocmé: I can tell you they did not do the job with full, full agreement.
When Mr. Steckler was taken away that day, he wasn’t gone for long. The children’s home director August Bohny helped to get him released almost immediately by providing paperwork that showed Steckler was only a quarter Jewish — not enough to meet Vichy’s ridiculous legal definition of a Jew as someone with at least two Jewish grandparents. Despite the victory, however, there was no time for celebration. The gendarmes returned the following day, again to search the children’s homes. But the village had remained on high alert and kept the homes empty, hiding the children in houses and farms scattered across the plateau.
Catherine Cambessédès: I remember Trocmé arriving and saying he had run out of hiding spaces, would my mother take these two. And she said yes.
That’s Catherine Cambessédès, who lived in Le Chambon during the war.
Catherine Cambessédès: So they were brought in the middle of the night and probably stayed, I don’t know, a week maybe.
The gendarmes kept coming back, day after day. Around the time of their fifth failed search, the chief of police demanded that André turn over a list of the Jewish refugees and their addresses.
André Trocmé: I told him, “Even if I had such a list, I would not pass it on to you. These people have come here seeking aid and protection. I am their pastor, their shepherd. It is not the role of the shepherd to betray the sheep confided to his keeping.”
The chief of police was angry and reminded André that he wasn’t kindly requesting a list, but ordering one. And if he didn’t comply, he would be arrested and deported.
André Trocmé: And then, with a villainous laugh, he told me “your resistance is useless. You do not know the means which modern police employ.”
It seems those means included posting notices around the village threatening anyone who was hiding Jews. Officially it was a fine, plus a jail sentence, but Catherine remembers something else:
Catherine Cambessédès: I remember my brothers and me looking out the window down below us. There was a poster on the other side of the road saying “Death sentence to anybody harboring Jews.” We had two of them right across the street from the poster.
But no one in Le Chambon or the wider plateau backed down. It was now two weeks since the attempted roundups had begun. So, the gendarmes tried a new tactic: searching private homes.
André Trocmé: First they searched the houses in the village and of the closely surrounding country, opening cupboards, going down into cellars, climbing to attics, knocking on walls to see whether they were hollow but they found no one.
Where was everyone hiding? Sometimes they went into the woods. Caretakers — not wanting to scare the younger children — would often tell them to go look for mushrooms or berries until they were called back home. Other times, they hid the children in plain sight.
Renée Kann Silver: On several occasions they came when we were having lunch. And Mme. [unintelligible] just without moving a muscle said “These are our nieces, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah” and that was that. No questions asked.
But the searches were oftentimes far more harrowing. In one instance, Hanne was hidden behind a woodpile.
Hanne Liebmann: And your heart beats very fast and very hard and you’re scared until they leave.
Another time, Hanne and another girl were hidden in an armoire, behind some clothes.
Hanne Liebmann: We heard police downstairs asking the farmer, are you hiding any Jews? The farmer calmly replying, I don’t know what Jews look like, and offered them a glass of wine. They declined, thank God, because we were dying in that closet of fear.
After another week of failed threats and searches, the police gave up. Their mission, some 20-plus days later, had been a complete failure. According to official documents found by author Peter Grose, they conducted around 2,000 searches on the plateau, including the homes of some 625 individuals, and made only one other arrest — a woman, who may have been sent to a concentration camp. Unfortunately, there’s no clear record of what happened to her.
Nevertheless, the entire operation — which André had termed “the disappearance of the Jews” — had been such a success, the gendarmes’ squadron leader concluded a report by saying: “This proves that the Jews we were looking for have left the plateau.”
While, of course, no one had actually left the plateau, it was starting to become clear — as Hanne had pointed out to her friends — that they would soon have to.
Max Liebmann had been hidden on a farm for about four weeks, all while the attempted roundups were happening.
Max Liebmann: This farmhouse had only two bedrooms. So the farmer put me up in the hayloft. I ate the same food the farmer ate and this gave me some of the vigor back.
Eventually, someone from Le Chambon came and brought Max back to the village.
Max Liebmann: I saw Hanne, of course, who had come back at the same time too apparently.
At this point Madame Philip, the woman who helped find Max’s hiding spot, explained that she was going to help him escape to Switzerland, which meant crossing a lot of rugged terrain. First, there was the mountain near Le Chambon, which is about 1,000 meters high.
Magda Trocmé: Then you have to go down to the valley of the Rhône far away, and then you have to climb up the other side, the pre Alps, and then you have the Alps.
This is Magda explaining.
Magda Trocmé: It was a very difficult job to bring people there. And Madame Philip had organized a kind of railroad hiding place to go through the mountains.
Before leaving, though, certain precautions had to be taken. False identity card and other necessary government paperwork for the refugees. Assistant pastor and Cévenol School principal Edouard Theis was among those involved in the forgery process, something that would only get more sophisticated as the war went on.
So, once the false papers had been made, Max and several other refugees began their several day journey to Switzerland. They first got on a train down the mountain, then switched to another train to the French Alps, where they were to meet their guide.
Max Liebmann: Our guide was this 10-year-old boy who knew these, these mountains like his back pocket. We climbed all day until it was night.
The next morning they continued on their journey until…
Max Liebmann: …the boy said, “Now, from here on, you are on your own.” He explained to us where we should go and said we would come into Switzerland.
They spent most of the day climbing down a mountain, eventually reaching a road that led into a tunnel.
Max Liebmann: And all of a sudden we heard steps behind us, “Halt.” And whom did we face when we turned around and looked?
It was a Swiss patrol unit. They had been watching the small group descend the mountain for hours through their binoculars.
Max Liebmann: They took us to a mountain hut. And we found when we got there that there were about 30 or 40 people which have been caught in over the last 24 hours.
The Swiss told them that they would all be returned to France. But the next morning, as some soldiers were leading them back up the mountain…
Max Liebmann: Something very extraordinary happened. A non-commissioned Swiss soldier started to scream at me and tiraded me for about 15 minutes.
He kept telling Max all these things he wasn’t allowed to do.
Max Liebmann: I’m not permitted to come back to Switzerland, I’m not permitted to do this, I am not permitted to do that.
Eventually, it dawned on Max that this soldier was trying to send him a message.
Max Liebmann: What the man really did in these 15 minutes, he laid out for me how to go back to Switzerland. All I had to do is subtract the word “not.”
The Swiss soldiers stopped and told this group of 40 or so people to continue on without them. This was their chance to follow the soldier’s coded instructions for getting back into Switzerland.
Max Liebmann: The tragedy was that nobody understood what just had transpired.
While they had all heard the soldier, no one but Max — who was the youngest of the group — realized that it was a coded message.
Max Liebmann: We argued this out for an hour and nobody understood, I finally found one person who was willing to see my logic and my reasoning.
So, they broke off from the group and — on their own — followed the Swiss soldier’s coded instructions, eventually making their way back into Switzerland. This time for good. It was September 22, 1942.
Around the time Max became one of the first Jewish refugees in Le Chambon to make it into Switzerland, Renée got word from her parents that she would be returning home soon.
Renée Kann Silver: They did not give us any explanation, but Madame Dreyfus came to pick us up and bring us home.
Finally, when the girls got home, they found out what was going on.
Renée Kann Silver: My parents had been successful in getting false papers.
It meant they could attempt to sneak into Switzerland as a family.
Renée Kann Silver: We couldn’t take anything with us that would have our name on it. We couldn’t take anything period, and my parents had to pay smugglers to take us from Lyon by train to the Swiss border.
This was different than the way Max had gotten to Switzerland. For starters, they weren’t hiking through the mountains. They were paying to be taken to within walking distance of the border, and to have the guides escort them across. So, it wasn’t exactly a charitable effort.
Renée Kann Silver: It was becoming an industry so to speak.
Perhaps, for that reason, the guides bailed when Renée’s family needed them most.
Renée Kann Silver: At the last moment they got word that on previous nights, the smugglers and the people they were taking across had been picked up by the French border patrol and immediately sent off to points North and East.
The guides just pointed them in the direction they needed to walk and took off.
Renée Kann Silver: So we had no choice, we started walking.
Their destination was within sight, marked by some lights on the horizon. But Renée’s father was disabled — due to a World War I injury — and had trouble walking. To make matters worse, the field they were crossing was almost entirely mud, due to heavy rain in the days prior.
Renée Kann Silver: After a while my father had fallen. He was walking with a cane. He couldn’t get up. Absolutely stuck in the mud.
They all struggled to get him back on his feet. Thankfully, though, he wasn’t hurt, and they were able to continue on. Eventually, believing they had made it, they came to a house and knocked on its door. Sure enough, a friendly Swiss family answered.
Renée Kann Silver: And they said, “You’re very lucky. The Swiss border patrol just left us. Had you arrived 10 minutes earlier they would have picked you up and thrown you right back.”
It was October 1, 1942, and Renée and her family had finally made it to safety.
Unlike Renée, 13-year-old Peter Feigl was now on his own. His parents had been arrested a couple months earlier, when the roundups swept through Southern France. Fortunately, at the time, he was away at a summer camp. It was a Quaker camp, no less. And when the director found out about Peter’s parents, she had a network to tap into for help.
Peter Feigl: The Quakers said, “OK, we just received permission from the Vichy government to allow a convoy of 500 orphans to go to America. Bring him to Marseilles. The ship is scheduled to go to America to leave Marseilles the latter part of November.”
Peter Feigl arrived in Marseilles the first week of November. Despite the trauma of being separated from his parents, he at least thought he was headed somewhere safe in America. But then…
Peter Feigl: On the 10th of November, the allies — mostly Canadians, British, Americans, Australians — landed in North Africa.
News reel: “Gray dawn off the French North African Port of Oran brings United Nations the best news yet: a gigantic American invasion force is landing. A second front is at hand.”
With southern France now in striking distance of the allies, Germany decided to take over all of France, putting an end to the sham that was the so-called Free or Unoccupied Zone.
Peter Feigl: And the first thing that the Nazis did was to order the closing of the port of Marseilles. No ship was allowed to enter or leave the port, and in my diary I wrote “Goodbye America.”
It was then that Peter found out he’d be instead going to a tiny village called Le Chambon. Waiting until the relative calm of New Year’s Eve 1942, the Quakers put him on a train.
Peter Feigl: And I arrive in Le Chambon in the middle of the night, about one o’clock in the morning.
There to greet him was a young man named Daniel Trocmé. He was the 30-year-old cousin of André Trocmé, and he too had only recently arrived on the plateau, as the new head of one of the children’s homes. You’ll hear more about him in the episodes to come. But suffice it to say, Daniel was there to help what had become a booming rescue enterprise. With Germany now occupying the entire country, more people than ever were on the move.
Despite the relative safety of Le Chambon, Hanne Hirsch was eager to get to Switzerland, where — as it turned out — she had relatives who could help her get an immigration visa. This would enable her to enter the country legally. The only problem was that she needed an exit visa from France.
Hanne Liebmann: Of course you could not get an exit visa, that was futile.
So, her relatives devised another way to get her out of France.
Hanne Liebmann: A man was found very close to the Swiss border who would literally take me across the border.
She took a train from Le Chambon down to the valley and then another to the border town where she was to meet this man. At one point on her journey, she was stopped by a French custom’s official who asked to see her papers.
Hanne Liebmann: He looked at them, and then out of the blue came, “Are you Jewish?” And just as quickly, I answered, in good Nazi propaganda, “I have nothing to do with this dirty race.”
The official gave her a sort of half-smile and waved her on.
Hanne Liebmann: That was the only time in my life I denied being Jewish. I don’t know where the answer came from, but I guess it was the right answer.
Hanne eventually made it to the man who would get her across the border, at which point, she was no longer a refugee. It was February 28, 1943, and Max was waiting for her.
Max Liebmann: And you know that was the only time I ever had an extra sensory perception. I knew that she was coming.
On the next episode:
Patrick Henry: Daniel would letters to his parents and say “Western civilization is only one civilization.” He’s someone actually whose story should appeal to today because we talk a lot about white privilege, and Daniel saw himself as someone who was the son of privilege.
City of Refuge was researched, written and produced by Bryan Farrell.
Audio of Hanne and Max Liebmann was derived from the following interviews conducted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
Theme music and other original songs are by Will Travers.
This episode also featured the following songs:
News clips came from the following sources:
This episode was mixed by David Tatasciore.
Editorial support was provided by Jasmine Faustino, Jessica Leber and Eric Stoner.
Our logo was designed by Josh Yoder
“A Good Place to Hide” – a 2015 book by Peter Grose
“Hidden on the Mountain” – a 2007 book by Deborah Durland DeSaix and Karen Gray Ruelle
“Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed” – a 1979 book by Philip Hallie
“Magda and André Trocmé: Resistance Figures” – a 2014 book edited by Pierre Boismorand and translated by Jo-Anne Elder
“My Long Trip Home” – a 2011 book by Mark Whitaker
“Portrait of Pacifists” – a 2012 book by Richard Unsworth
“Magda and André Trocmé: Resistance Figures” – a 2014 book edited by Pierre Boismorand and translated by Jo-Anne Elder
“Portrait of Pacifists” – a 2012 book by Richard Unsworth