Article by APF counselor, The Revd Donald Reece
Andre Trocme grew up in St Quentin, Picardy son of a German mother. He was thirteen in 1914 when Germany invaded, and his family had occupying officers billeted with them. Andre saw war wounded of both sides. After the war, in 1932, as an assistant pastor he sought reconciliation with German war veterans, and invited Gerhard Halle to visit France. Halle was sorry he had obeyed German orders to dynamite three towns during the war and wanted to make a public apology. The meeting at Sin-le-Noble heard him, but the people of Douai and Arras rejected him angrily.
The French Reformed Church regarded Andre as unpatriotic and refused to appoint him to a parish. He was banished to Le Chambon sur Lignon in the Cevennes plateau. The civilian resistance of Andre and his wife Magda during WW2, is told in:
The greatest escape: how one French community saved thousands of lives from the Nazis. Peter Grose (2014), Nicholas Brealey Publishing
Pastors Andre Trocme and Edouard Theis encouraged people in the surrounding villages to shelter Jews, and set up escape routes to Switzerland; and in the way of Christ, without violence, to resist the 1940-44 French Vichy Government under the Nazis. Jewish children who arrived alone were absorbed into the families of hill farmers, or amongst other children in the hostels and in the newly founded Ecole Nouvelle Cevenol. The children of one hostel were deported, and cousin Daniel Trocme went to care for them and was also executed. The two Pastors and the Head Teacher were imprisoned, but released after a few weeks. When the Vichy Government Minister, Lamirand, came to Le Chambon, people met him in silence, and a group of theological students from the Ecole Nouvelle Cevenol read a statement that they did not recognize racial differences, only the human race.
Rescue work continued throughout the war, but from 1943/1944 new resisters arrived. National Church leaders now encouraged young men who were being conscripted into forced labour by Germany to abscond, and many of them sought shelter in the woods of this plateau. Many of these resisters joined the maquisards or military resisitances. In August 1944, when the first German prisoners were captured, Andre preached the same sermon in German as he preached in French to his villagers. There are estimates of 3,000-5,000 Jews being rescued.
Andre and Magda, together with the people of Le Chambon were awarded the Medal of the Righteous, by Yad Vashem, Israel. Andre died in 1971 but Magda lived as an ambassador for peace until 1996.
In 1957, Andre Trocme wrote what is translated as Jesus and the non-violent revolution (2004 edition), Orbis/Plough. This is a fundamental biblical theology of the mission of Jesus, his contemporary context, and the current application for non-violent revolution. In Part 1,Trocme emphasizes Jesus’ universal redemptive significance for every sphere of existence. In Part 2, he highlights Old Testament precursors to peace, and quotes Josephus’ account of Jewish non-violent resistance in Caesarea. In Part 3, from Jesus’ activities in human history, he argues that society is being redeemed, as well as individuals, for the kingdom to come fully on earth, just as it is in heaven. Non-violent love is our inheritance of ‘God’s plan of redemption in history through a people.’ This transformative theology is to be lived. It is what Andre Trocme embodied.
‘The girl who forgave the Nazis’
(Article based on a Channel 4 documentary, 24 January 2016)
January 27 is Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK, a time for us to remember the victims of the Nazis, as well as those who lost their lives in other genocides across the world. But while we seem to be in agreement that it's vital we never forget these atrocities, the question of forgiveness has proved much more controversial. It's also the issue at the heart of this documentary.
It focuses on the 2015 trial of Oskar Groening, a 94-year-old Auschwitz accountant, whose duties included counting the money and belongings confiscated from prisoners. However, what really thrust the case into the headlines were the actions of Holocaust survivor Eva Kor, 81, who publicly forgave him and even embraced him in court. Eva said this was a moment of relief. Up until then she had been completely reactive to events related to the Holocaust, and this was, at last, an opportunity to act.
Born in Romania in 1934, Eva lost most of her family in Auschwitz, and along with her twin sister Miriam, she was subjected there to medical experiments. In later life, the twins would establish the organization, Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors (Candles).
Groening was found guilty of being an accomplice to the mass murder of 400,000 Jews and sentenced to four years in prison – the image of their hug went viral on the internet.
She would later say: ‘I don't forget what they have done to me. But I am not a poor person – I am a victorious woman who has been able to rise above the pain and forgive the Nazis.’
The documentary also looks at how her actions provoked criticism and anger from other survivors, including fellow plaintiffs in Groening's case. Some of them signed a petition against her actions.