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to my article in Tablet, Oct. 31, 2014




5,000 JEWS?




The respective roles of Le Chambon and the surrounding plateau in the rescue effort have become hot-button issues because of local rivalries.  It has thus become increasingly “politically correct” to refer to the Plateau rather than to Le Chambon, and thus to avoid stressing the unmistakably key role of the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in what took place in the area during the Nazi occupation.

Indeed, it has also become increasingly popular to speak, as Caroline Moorehead does constantly in Village of Secrets, of the “plateau Vivarais-Lignon.”  Such a designation is anachronistic and would have been completely unrecognizable at the time of World War II.

For my part, when I refer to “Le Chambon,” I usually mean the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon—though I may occasionally use this shorthand to refer to the area of Le Chambon, that is to say, what they knew then simply as “the Plateau.”

 es, I find myself endlessly debating Village of Secrets now—but only because I surely have a right to defend my reputation, and hopefully to impugn Moorehead’s under the circumstances.


5,000 JEWS?


Although the Schmähling controversy faded away long ago, and the Rosowsky/Moorehead efforts to revive it are not likely to get very far, there is today one matter that does indeed continue to trigger debate: how many Jews received help or shelter in the area of Le Chambon during the war.

Moorehead makes fun of the claim that this number may have been 5,000 (unfortunately, so does Peter Grose in his new book).  This happens to be the estimate given in Weapons of the Spirit.  Moorehead does not mention this, digging up instead old references to 5,000 JewsShe concludes instead, as a result of unexplained sleuthing, that 800 Jews may have resided in the area—while 3,000 may have come through it.

That figure of 3,800 Jews, as it happens, is actually larger than the growing, “politically correct” consensus in this matter: that the magic number should be 3,500.  (Despite her own stated magic numbers, at one point Moorehead gets carried away and writes that “Every farmhouse on the plateau seemed to have someone hiding”—which would have produced far larger numbers than the one she settles upon.)

Of course, what is sad about the debate about numbers is that the numbers are not what matter.  Moreover, though important research has been done in this area, it remains hard to imagine how we could ever arrive at an accurate, verifiable number.

But in refusing to acknowledge the first-hand testimony available in the film she withholds from her readers a key part of the puzzle: It is her key source Oscar Rosowsky who provides Weapons of the Spirit that estimate of 5,000!

He does so after pointing out that because he had so much to do with the creation of false papers, he well may be the only person in a position to provide the desired estimate of the number of Jews who came through the Plateau.  It is Rosowsky, being filmed in 1982, who provides to posterity his carefully considered conclusion: some 5,000 Jews came through the area—and were helped or sheltered by some 5,000 Christians.  The film indeed adopts the very round numbers of the estimate Rosowsky has since disowned.

Yes, I plead guilty to having accepted an important assertion made to me and to a camera by a key witness—even though there was no way to verify the accuracy of the statement.  I still believe that he was the most credible witness I could find on this subject, and that I had and have no reason to doubt the sincerity of his testimony on this point.

Moreover, unlike a book a film cannot have footnotes and for artistic reasons can barely accommodate parentheses.  In any event, I felt I had more important things to say in the film than to debate these numbers.

At other times, I know now, Rosowsky has stated that he estimates that 5,000 sets of false papers were made, of which only 3,500 were for Jews (the remaining 1,500 being for others who would also have needed them at that time, notably Resistance fighters—whose numbers the Resistance always tends to inflate).

As for Rosowsky’s capacity to lie when he feels that he has a vested interest in doing so, I will recall that at the colloquium Moorehead mentions, he claimed that when he provided me that “5,000” answer he had been “joking” (it had been a boutade).  I defy Moorehead or anyone else to see his testimony and agree that he was “joking.”

But of course, an estimate that there were 3,500 false papers made for Jews would suggest that there were many more Jews who came through the Plateau, since not all of them needed false papers (Robert Bloch in my film mentions stupidly not bothering to get them), and some of them already had them, which was the case with my own parents.

Furthermore, there were others besides Rosowsky making these false papers.

I am now clearly in the minority on this issue, and I acknowledge that I accepted Rosowsky’s testimony on this point because it was—and remains—plausible to me based on everything I have heard and read, because of his unique vantage point on the matter, because the round numbers convey by their very roundness that they are guesses—and because I had nothing else to go by.

Moorehead, on the other hand, accepted and disseminated assertions that were easily verifiable and demonstrably false.

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