Recent comments by US politicians have left many troubled, worried about a replay of Nazi-era Germany here in the United States. The specter of the Jewish Holocaust recast upon Muslim and refugee bodies haunts many. In times such as these, the stories of courageous, organized resistance to the Nazis bear repeating. Of these, the efforts of a French priest can serve as example to us all.
André Trocmé was trouble for those who favored war and violence. He was sent to a remote parish in the mountains of France for his pacifist views, but as the Nazis invaded and occupied France, Andre discovered he was in a unique position to join the international network of people resisting the Nazis and the persecution of the Jews. He and his wife, Magda, and his deputy worked with the villagers and parishioners of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to create a series of safe houses for fleeing Jews. The local schools enrolled children under false names, and met them at the train station as if welcoming family members into their homes. When the anti-Jew Vichy government caught on, they sent gendarmes to search the village. When asked to produce a list of Jews, Trocmé replied, “We do not know what a Jew is. We only know men.” It is estimated that between 1940-1945, the village saved the lives of 3,500-5,000 Jewish refugees.
Flash-forward to September-November 2015: Syrian refugees are fleeing violence, civil war, airstrikes, terrorist groups, and extreme repression. They flood the shores of Europe. In Hungary, Sweden, and Greece, the governments ban the refugees. But citizens rise up, nonviolently, flock to the train stations, defy their officials, and welcome the refugees into their countries. Then, in November, terrorists attack and kill 130 in Paris. The Syrian refugees are scapegoated. Thirty-one United States governors overstretch their authority and issue statements saying they will not accept Syrian refugees in their states.
What are we going to do? The moral obligation of compassion is clear. Our governors, like the officials in Europe, like the Vichy government and the Nazis, and all the cruel oppressors throughout history, must be resisted nonviolently. Like André Trocmé and Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, we must make our communities havens for those fleeing violence and death. We must open our hearts and homes to provide sanctuary to our fellow human beings, even going to great risks to assure that our common humanity is not destroyed by the bigotry and hatred of the times. Refugees are seeking refuge . . . and all philosophies, faiths, and spiritualties call upon us to offer such sanctuary in the midst of the storms of violence and war.
Resisting modern-day Hitlers and Nazis—from ISIS to Trump—requires opening our hearts to those being persecuted by the politics of hatred. In our times, this means Muslims, refugees, immigrants, homeless, the poor, and a great many more. Like Trocmé and the villagers, we find ourselves in times of crisis, being required to do extraordinary acts in the midst of our ordinary human lives. Like Trocmé, we each have this capacity within us, a seed of compassion just waiting to unfurl.
“Look hard for ways to make little moves against destructiveness.” – André Trocmé
Learn more about André and Magda Trocmé here.