Twenty or so years ago I met an interesting New York lawyer in Paris who scarcely conformed with the venal prototype of that profession. He had come to Paris not just to join a European law group, but as part of a charity called Christians who saved Jews. Their mission was to trace those who saved the lives of Jews from a ghastly fate in World War Two. He told me that the mission had two aims: to locate and esteem those who risked their lives for someone they did not know and to show Jewry was not an inclusive religion. They had located a Huguenot pastor called Andre Trocme in Chambon who saved 5000 Jewish lives.
I filed this away in the recesses of my mind for future research, but became otherwise involved. So I was more than interested to learn of a new book about him: Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead. I have not read the book, but the review stated that the pastor Andre Trocme was more morally shaded than my lawyer friend thought. Some of the children were terrified of him, whilst others did similar rescues of valour and moral courage in neighbouring villages but were never recognised. As I say, I have not read the book yet but I think of Tom Keneally’s defence of Oskar Schindler, a similarly morally ambiguous man, that in times like those you need an operator, not a saint to achieve, what they did.
France’s role in World War II and the moral flaccidity of Petain and Vichy form an unhappy chapter in their history and Britain like to take the moral higher ground for defying Hitler and for fighting the longest war. This book does set the record straight.