Light at the Kernel of Darkness
Scientists observing the 1919 eclipse
of the Sun confirmed that in accordance
with the Theory of General Relativity
light travels in a straight line but gravity
bends its path.
Life, however, is bigger
than the laws of physics,
because there are times when
light can neither travel straight,
nor can gravity bend its path.
This you can see, for example,
from the miraculous story
of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon,
a small town in France,
between the Loire and the Rhone,
some 350 miles south-east
Situated in a hilly and forested
region on the Plateau Vivarais,
the town lies 1,000 meters high
above sea level, cordoned by
hundreds of extinct volcanoes
in the Massif Central.
The commune of Le Chambon
is an old Huguenot settlement.
Its inhabitants have a vivid
historical memory of persecutions,
going back to August 24,1572,
St. Bartholomew's Day,
when Catholic fanatics massacred
thousands of Calvinist Protestants
in Paris and the provinces.
But the people of Le Chambon
have learnt the lessons of History.
During the dreadful years
of the Second World War
they demonstrated a heightened sense
for human dignity and compassion.
Following the voice
of their conscience and their belief
in the Biblical commandments,
they opened their hearts and homes,
and turned their village
into a safe haven for refugees.
They did not ask why the refugees
came, or if they could pay.
'Nobody asked who was Jewish
and who was not', recalled Elizabeth
Koenig-Kaufman, who as a young girl
found sanctuary in Le Chambon.
However, the villagers had a noble
and caring heart; and they had
the courage to care for the persecuted
in their hour of need, and they sheltered
the orphans 'who cried in the night
The heroic story of Le Chambon starts
with France's surrender to Germany,
as Hitler danced a happy jig
in the Compiégne forest near Paris.
On the Day of the Armistice, June 23
of 1940, Pastor André Trocmé preached
to the community of Le Chambon
that 'the duty of Christians is to resist
the violence that will be brought to bear
on their consciences through
the weapons of the spirit'.
Descendant of a German family and
of a long line of French Protestants,
the Reverend André Trocmé emerged
during the Second World War
as an outstanding resistance leader
in the Plateau Vivarais region.
The resistance protected the refugees,
provided them shelter, food and false
identities. Guides from the Plateau led
many across the border into the safety
of Switzerland, along the same trails
that their Huguenot ancestors used
fleeing the persecutions in France.
By the end of the war, the people of
Le Chambon saved the lives of
thousands of men, women and
children. They rescued from
the claws of the Nazis 5,000 Jews,
helping them to escape
the deportations to Treblinka and
When the Vichy gendarmes came
demanding a list of the Jews,
André Trocmé told them
that he does not know what a Jew is,
he knows only men and women.
When Nazi soldiers arrived
in search of Jews, the villagers
hid the 'People of the Bible'
in safe homes, on farms,
public institutions and in the forest.
Women were the backbone
of the rescue operations, organized by
Pastor André Trocmé, his wife Magda,
as well as Pastor Edouard Theis.
What these courageous and wonderful
rescuers did was extremely dangerous,
because people aiding the Jews
were risking their lives.
Indeed, on February 13,1943,
three months after the German
occupation of the Haute-Loire,
Pastors Trocmé and Theis, along with
Roger Darcissac, Headmaster of
the Primary School, had been arrested.
They were released in mid-March
but André ‘s cousin, Daniel Trocmé
was sent to the death camp
of Majdanek and murdered there.
Years after the war
the Government of Israel
has gratefully recognized
the towering heroism
and profound human kindness
of the villagers of Le Chambon.
Magda, André, Daniel and forty other
intrepid and compassionate individuals
from this small town and its environs
have been honoured by Yad Vashem
in Jerusalem as Righteous People
among the Nations of the World.
The conspiracy of kindness
in Le Chambon was rooted in
the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels,
echoing the admonition of
Leviticus 19: 18 in the Hebrew Bible:
'You shall love your neighbour
And 'Whoever saves one soul', says
the Talmud, 'as if he had saved
the entire world.'
And with their gentle heart and
noble spirit, the people of a small
French village had saved the lives
of thousands of men, women and
However, these humble villagers
did not see themselves as heroes.
They regarded helping the refugees
simply as their Christian duty.
But the triumph of the human spirit
in the glorious story of Le Chambon
is etched forever on the golden pages
of human history.
And the story is recorded even in
the cosmic chronicles of the galaxies,
because we are an integral part
of the universe.
In its final stage of evolution,
a massive star in a constellation
collapses into a tiny black hole.
Still, despite the small size
of the black hole,
its gravitational force is so immense
that even light cannot escape from it.
But the story of Le Chambon
transcends the laws of astrophysics.
It shows that the greatest force
in the universe is the grace of love.
In the ineffable tragedy of the Shoah,
a commune of gallant men and women
risked their lives for total strangers.
They faced evil with loving kindness
that illuminated the ruthless nights.
And the human kindness glowing
in the compassionate hearts of
a small village in France could glow
through the villainous nights of terror
and rancour, yet all the amount of
hatred and barbarity of the Holocaust
could not extinguish the radiance
and splendour of love.
An eternal warm light emanating
from a little town, shined through
the cruel core of darkness
and escaped the brutal black hole
of the Nazi universe.
Paul Hartal's Other Poems
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