Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A village in the mountains...

This picture was taken when the grand-daughters of French gendarmes were honoured in the small village of Saint-Martin Vésubie, in the moutains above Nice this month.
The village has a history, and is now praised for its valiant attitude then, but things were not that simple - they never are, and neither what they seem to be at first sight.
Here is my comment, after reading much on the topic:

Without wishing to diminish the merits of some of the villagers of Saint Martin Vésubie, nor the solidarity and help provided by some righteous people there who deserve to be honoured, it cannot be denied that when the Nazis arrived, 980 Jews had to flee from the village where they had previously been parked, assigned there "on residence" against their will, and also forced upon the villagers.

This new population was as large in its number as the regular inhabitants, meaning co-habitation must have posed a few problems.

However, the village was still under Italian occupation, and life was much more relaxed than when they were replaced by the German occupants, in September 1943.

Obviously, the situation was the same there as in many other villages, there were both acts of hostility towards them and generosity.

When all the Jews fled towards Italy, 350 of them were arrested on the Italian side. They were subsequently deported.

Only around 15 of them came back.

The accurate lists of their names can be read in Serge Klarsfeld's book: Mémorial de la Déportation des Juifs de France, and, for the Italian side, in Alberto Cavaglion’s: Les Juifs de Saint-Martin-Vésubie, Septembre-Novembre 1943, Nice, Editions Serre, 1995, 174 pages.

The situation in Saint-Martin Vésubie was quite different from that noticed in another village of the region: Saint-Léger, whose entire population rallied to feed, hide, save its Jews, in even harder conditions, AFTER the Italians had left, earning the courageous Mayor’s daughter the title of RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS.

But then, there were only 19 Jews there…

(And of course everyone knows of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, which is the only place to have earned this title as a village, for its whole community).


Blogger Cathie said...

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Wednesday, 22 September, 2010  
Blogger Cathie said...


Wednesday, 22 September, 2010  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Occupation was not an easy thing to deal with, especially after the arrival of the Germans in the latter half of the war. If just one family or one life was saved from deportation and an almost certain death then it should be remembered. Oskar Schindler only saved a relatively small number of Jewish families. But, for those who were on his ‘list’ then they seemed to believe, even at the time, that they would survive.

In the course of my own research about wartime Occupation in France I have met families who still would not associate with other families because of what their forebears did, or did not do, during the war. For example, in some instances grandparents who had lived through the Occupation told their grandchildren never to bring back certain other children because of what their grandparents had apparently done, or not done, during the war.

For example, some families helped Jewish refugees with accommodation and work, while other families were involved in the deportations. In some instances, even members of the same extended family made different choices during the war, with inevitable long-lasting effects on that family. One family that comes to mind is that of Pierre Laval, prominent in the Vichy regime, and his daughter and son-in-law who were prominent in the Resistance.

I feel the ‘collective experience’ of a community is somewhat different between countries that suffered Occupation, such as France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands than countries such as Britain, Canada or the USA that did not. Although there were only a small number of Jewish people living in the Channel Islands during their wartime Occupation they were also deported to the Concentration Camps and died there.

Being an « étranger » in France I sometimes found this underlying animosity a little uncomfortable to write about for university submissions. In some cases I think I was told these things because I was, in effect, an ‘outsider’. It is important for each community to know of its past, learn about the good things and come to terms with the bad things.

As you say, Catherine, things are never quite so simple as they may seem to be at first.

Thursday, 23 September, 2010  

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