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necessary and challenging lessons of hope
intertwined with the Holocaust's unavoidable lessons of despair
In and around the Huguenot mountain village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, some 5,000 Jews—many of them children—were sheltered from the Nazis by some 5,000 Christians. The Chambon Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)3 public charity named in honor of the village, seeks to explore and communicate such necessary and challenging lessons of hope intertwined with the Holocaust's unavoidable lessons of despair. Two specialized divisions of the Chambon Foundation were recently created: the Chambon Institute and the Varian Fry Institute.
Founded in 1982 (originally as Friends of Le Chambon) by Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Pierre Sauvage, himself born in Le Chambon in 1944 to parents who had found refuge there, the Chambon Foundation began by telling the story of this unique conspiracy of goodness in Sauvage's award-winning feature documentary Weapons of the Spirit, soon to be available in an updated version on DVD. While continuing to specialize in original documentary explorations of the Nazi era (upcoming is the Varian Fry Institute's and Sauvage's newest feature documentary And Crown Thy Good: Varian Fry in Marseille, which seeks post-production support), the Chambon Foundation is committed to ensuring that the memory of the righteous shall be everlasting.
June 2004, in partnership with the village of Le Chambon, the Chambon Foundation
organized the well-attended and sometimes emotional "Liberation
first reunion of former refugees in the area of Le Chambon since 1986 (the
Chambon Foundation had played a key role in organizing the 1986 reunion).
in France as the "Journées Mémoires du Plateau" (in
photo left, Pierre Sauvage speaks at the inauguration ceremony at the railroad
station) the event included a conference featuring major participants from those
times and such leading historians of the war years in France as Dr. Robert O.
Paxton (in photo right, with historian Dr. Julian Jackson on right).
President Jacques Chirac of France had been invited to provided an audio-visual message to the Liberation Reunion. He chose instead to come to Le Chambon personally a few weeks later. On July 8, 2004, President Chirac made a major address there against racism and antisemitism (in photo left, making address, and in photo right visiting the village), hailing Le Chambon as the place where "the soul of the [French] nation manifested itself" and as "the embodiment of our country's conscience." At right, Chirac walks through Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, with Mayor Francis Valla at his side.
had been hoped that as a result of the
French president's high praise and despite France's commitment to militant
secularism, official French support would at last be forthcoming for the area's
needed Chambon Museum; this did not happen. However, as Chambon Foundation president Pierre
Sauvage has underscored ("Le Chambon's
Challenge Today"), any legitimate effort cannot ignore the religious sources
of the area's conspiracy of goodness during the Holocaust and the determined
particularism of French Huguenots at that time. An
ideally situated rare old farmhouse in the heart of the village (photos left and
right) had been acquired; after renovation, it could have served as headquarters for
In the meantime, with its sister nonprofit organization in France, Amis du Chambon, for which Pierre Sauvage also serves as president, the Chambon Foundation for five years presented a temporary exhibit at l'Expo du Carrefour (photos left and right), our rented headquarters right at the "carrefour"--the main intersection in the village. The continued existence of this locale has been made possible by American support, most notably through the determined efforts of Le Chambon survivor Rudy Appel. Unfortunately, the exhibit area had to close its doors in 2005. In 2006, the new Le Chambon-sur-Lignon tourist office will be opening across the street.
Other Chambon Foundation activities have included participation in conferences and university lecture series and the development of an ever-growing, specialized photographic and document archive on rescue during the Holocaust in France, as well as on the American experience during that time: the Chambon Foundation’s extensive Varian Fry Collection was a major lender to the opening Varian Fry exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. in 1991; the "Assignment: Rescue" exhibit subsequently presented in New York City's Jewish Museum and at the Field Museum in Chicago. The Chambon Foundation was also the major lender and the co-sponsor of the Varian Fry exhibit that was on display in Marseille, France, March-June 1999. A new Le Chambon exhibit is being considered for the future.
Drawing on the experience of Weapons of the Spirit, the Chambon Foundation has also specialized in the production and distribution of motion picture and television documentaries dealing with other as yet uncharted and important aspects of the Nazi era—in the last years when it is possible to make such documentaries with the participation of eyewitnesses to those events. Among Chambon Foundation documentaries are Jacky and Lisa Comforty's award-winning 2002 The OptimistsThe Story of the Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews From the Holocaust, and Pierre Sauvage's upcoming And Crown Thy Good: Varian Fry in Marseille.
Pierre Sauvage is a popular public speaker about Le Chambon, the Varian Fry mission, the Holocaust and their meaning for us today. It was only at the age of 18 that Sauvage learned that he was Jewish and a child survivor of the Holocaust. His lecturing and public appearances, with or without Weapons of the Spirit (the 90-minute documentary is also available in a 35-minute Classroom Version) are all under the Chambon Foundation’s auspices, and support the foundation’s activities.The Chambon Foundation also hopes to be involved in the production of a dramatic motion picture to be adapted from Mary Jayne Gold's memoir Crossroads Marseille 1940, to which Pierre Sauvage owns all rights. Hopes for another dramatic motion picture to be based on Nathan Stoltzfus' Resistance of the Heart—about the historic Rosenstrasse protest in Berlin—have had to be set aside following the release of a German-language film on the same event.
Largely with the assistance of businessman Hal Kass, the Chambon Foundation has in the past provided occasional financial assistance to needy wartime rescuers of Jews. The full one hundred percent of all contributions made out specifically to Friends of the Righteous went to such individuals and their families; all operating costs were independently subsidized.
The Chambon Foundation (formerly Friends of Le Chambon) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) public charity (Federal I.D. #95-3803907), incorporated in the State of California. Contributions to the Chambon Foundation, the Varian Fry Institute, or the Chambon Institute are welcome and fully tax-deductible.
Historian Dr. Michael R. Marrus, scholar Dr. John K. Roth, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, attorney Barbara M. Rubin, and Chambon Foundation president Pierre Sauvage serve on the foundation's Board of Directors. Its Board of Advisers includes other leading scholars of the Holocaust as well as prominent and committed figures.
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© Copyright 2004. Chambon Foundation. All rights reserved. Revised : 20/05/10