Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France

Written by Caroline Moorehead
Review by Elena Maria Vidal

Caroline Moorehead’s profound scholarship brings to light an episode of the Second World War that would have remained shrouded in the mist of legend if not for her efforts. In the mountains of eastern France, the rugged villagers of Chambon, as well as the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside, devised an ingenious network in order to hide Jewish children and others being hunted by the Gestapo. Most of the villagers and farmers belonged to various Protestant sects while others were Catholic. Their leaders saw hiding Jews as a basic human duty, not as anything heroic. In contrast to what was going on in other parts of France, where Frenchmen were collaborating with the Nazis in order to round up the Jews, most of the villagers of Chambon indeed shine forth as examples of Christian fortitude. Hiding the Jewish children did not mean merely keeping them in the attics; it meant clothing, feeding, and educating them. When the Gestapo became aware of their work, the villagers had to lead the children over the mountains into Switzerland. Many were captured, tortured and killed. Village of Secrets shows both the best and the worst of humanity.