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Underdogs and Resistance

By January 11, 2024No Comments

After Nazi Germany conquered France in 1940, the defeated nation was allowed to set up a government in the city of Vichy that would do Germany’s bidding. For the rest of the war, France’s Jews were deported to Concentration Camps and lived under fear. In the south, however, pastor André Trocmé led the people of his small village, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, in resisting the Vichy government and anti-Jewish policies.

The villagers sheltered Jews that came to them and helped over three thousand Jews escape to nearby Switzerland. The people conducted their activities as unobtrusively and secretly as possible, but they refused to show loyalty to the regime. When a high Vichy official paid a visit, expecting a concert, banquet, and reception, the people treated him coldly. The schoolchildren even presented him with a letter that ended defiantly: “We have Jews. You’re not getting them.”

Why did the Nazis not simply deport the entire village? Why did the Nazis not burn the village to the ground? No one knows, but the best explanation is that the villagers were Huguenots, descended from Protestants who had suffered greatly under Catholic persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries. They could empathize with their Jewish brothers and sisters. They were also tough mountain people who knew the local terrain and had a long tradition of standing up to oppressors. They had learned a long time ago, that their convictions for the Kingdom of God were more powerful than any human government. And they were willing to die for what they believed in. Faced with the prospect of adding a fight against such people to their growing list of problems, the Nazis chose to look the other way.

The Courage of Pastor Trocmé and the Huguenots

What gave Pastor Trocmé and the villagers of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon such courage? Let me give four reasons. I learned about this story from a book I read years ago, David and Goliath, by Malcom Gladwell. The thoughts following are influenced by that book.

  1. Great Personal Tragedy. The Huguenots had known great persecution for centuries. They were conditioned by it. In attempts to make the Huguenots practitioners of Catholicism, French kings had imprisoned and massacred hundreds of thousands of them. Pastor Trocmé and the villagers of Le Chambon knew from experience they could withstand whatever the Nazis could deliver. Even their children were unafraid.
  2. Because of their own persecution, they had empathy for the Jews. The empathy, morality, and selflessness of Pastor André Trocmé and the people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, is epitomized by the Bible verse that is permanently engraved above the doorway of the 400-year-old Protestant church in Le Chambon: “Aimez-Vous Les Uns Les Autres— Love One Another.”
  3. The Government was Illegitimate. It was clear to the Huguenots that the Vichy laws were unfair and directly opposed the clear teaching of the Bible. They were already accustomed to resistance to illegitimate laws, and this was the natural response from such a people.
  4. Underdogs don’t Care. The Huguenots already considered themselves underdogs. They had no governmental power or leadership in their nation. They didn’t care what other people thought of them. They had no good opinion to lose. This made them bold and assertive. They evaluated their lives according to the gospel, not what others thought of them.

Maybe you can relate in some way to the Huguenots. Pastor Trocmé and the people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon had been through great loss. But they had turned their loss into gain through a firm commitment to their Bibles and the gospel. Every Huguenot home has a Bible in a prominent spot. Are you learning from your losses? Are you letting your mistakes work for you? Are you ready to stand for the gospel in the face of growing unpopularity? Learn from the Huguenots.

Pastor Steve