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At the end of the interview, Jean Moulin ordered the three regional chiefs of the paramilitary formations of the great movements made available to Delestraint, for him to choose the best suited to the regional direction of the Secret Army. In October, Delestraint was appointed officially by General de Gaulle. General de Lattre had also been approached for this post, but had refused.

Delestraint took command on November 11, This committee intended to unite the three major resistance movements. On 27 May , these three arrests, orchestrated by Geissler, featured prominently at the beginning of the Ernst Kaltenbrunner 's report addressed to Joachim von Ribbentrop , Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Reich.

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Delestraint then fought against the advice of Frenay who had been provisionally delegated general of the Secret Army to put the Army under the tutelage of the MUR. Frenay, on the one hand the No. In London in February to meet Allied authorities, Delestraint was asked to make his troop the "nucleus of the future French army", estimated at , men. His release did not allow his return to the staff: too exposed, he was ex-filtered to London.

In April, Delestraint returned to Paris, arriving April By the June 4 report, Moulin deplores the risks that Delestraint was taking, working alone when he would do better if assisted. On June 21, a staff meeting was held to find a successor to Delestraint in Caluire-et-Cuire.

It corresponded to the organizational structure used by Combat. Uniting the regions of the free zone took only a few weeks, the various chiefs being chosen from among the regional chiefs in office. Fascist Italy also dug in their heels and refused.


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Even the Nazi officers themselves remarked that there was 'little difficulty' in persuading the Vichy officials to comply. Moorehead quotes one veteran as remarking that the French did not much like each other as the war broke out, and they did not much like each other afterwards. The story of the resistance within le Chambon is perhaps most appealing because it seems so mundane - good, hardy country folk who chose to do the right thing.

It has a personal interest for me because in the summer of , I worked in an English language immersion summer camp in that town. It is a two hour drive up the mountain to reach the summit, all of this with hairpin bends every couple of hundred metres. The forests are thick, the winters are long - Le Chambon is remote in the extreme. When one truculent camper demanded that her mother come and collect her, we joked that she would need a helicopter.

It is a quiet town and the locals tend towards the taciturn yet I was struck by how strong its sense of community was. Moorehead's book conjures up vividly the streets I ran down, the river we used to go and sunbathe beside on our day off - it is a stunningly beautiful place but it is one which bears the weight of history.

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We took the children on the steam train for a day out; the train is small, there are two passenger carriages and then one at the back which looks more like a horse box and is there to make up weight. One local explained that the rear carriage had originally been used for transporting Jews.

Conditions were horrendous; in Gurs alone, one thousand people died just in Outside attempts to provide aid to the detainees were blocked at every turn and even as the charities seeking to provide food and healthcare did their best to grit their teeth and work with Vichy, it became clear that they were only setting the trap - the camps were not the worst case scenario. Deportation fever swept across the camps. Again, the Vichy enthusiasm to please the Germans and dispose of as many Jews as possible is stomach-turning.

Doctors and church officials raced around trying to declare as many as possible as unfit to travel. Exemptions were sought for children. Vichy refused. There are some stories of success - children smuggled out in cars, under coats, in shopping baskets. Eighty-nine children were saved that night, a number of whom would end up in le Chambon. Moorehead details the history of the Haute-Loire area, of their ties to the religious wars with the strong Protestant community descended from the Huguenots.

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They understood what it meant to be persecuted, they had survived the revocation of the Edict of Nantes - these were people who well understood the concept of discretion. They had read the Old Testament, the importance of sustaining the oppressed and sharing what one had. Either way, there was a long history of children and young people being sent for holidays up into the mountain for the good air. Resistance workers would bring groups of children and endeavour to place them - under the code, the Jews were referred to as stationery and often 'old Testaments', with one of the curates writing to his parents cryptically that he felt very blessed that the locals were so welcoming to this kind of literature.

The children were hidden in plain sight, the strong culture of silence preventing discussion of what was truly going on.


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One local child was surprised to discover later in life that those youngsters who had lived in her family's pension were in fact Jewish. As another local pointed out, the people of le Chambon were 'pas bavards' - not talkative. Yet despite the 'don't ask, don't tell' attitude, it is clear that they were aware of what they were doing.

One agent had difficulty placing a pair of teenage boys, since boys were generally held to be more difficult but when in desperation she told the farmer that the pair were not mere refugees, but in fact Jewish, the farmer responded impatiently that in that case, of course they would take them and that she should have just said that in the first place. When the town police were first ordered by Vichy to flush out any hidden Jews, they went into local cafes and loudly announced their itinerary, then waited a while before setting off.

Still, despite inspiring tales, this is not a book with happy endings. Some children found their hosts cruel, others simply mourned their childhoods cut short. Simon Liwerant and his infant brother Jacques made their way up to le Chambon but the trauma of what had befallen them prompted a bout of bedwetting in Jacques which caused his host mother to threaten to put the child out of the house. After lengthy remonstrations and having reached desperation, the young boy Simon struck the toddler Jacques. The bedwetting stopped but the bond of brotherhood was struck asunder.

Even after the war was over, Jacques never forgave his brother.

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Even those children who were reunited with their parents had to deal with people they barely recognised, traumatised and prematurely old. In later life, one remarked that in this situation, they did not even have the luxury of being an orphan. A group of German soldiers were sent to convalesce in the town hotel, yards from where Jewish children were being hidden and by and large, matters passed without incident. There are stories of true heroism however in those were caught; Marianne Cohn acted as passeur in guiding Jews across the border to Switzerland but was eventually caught and beaten to death.

There had been a possibility to save her but she refused to take it lest reprisals fall on the children. Dr Le Forestier was one of the more exuberant characters of the book, seeking to amuse the children who had been through so much and blasting his car horn whenever the Germans tried to play their music. He was shot. Nicole Weil had worked hard to get children out of Nazi-controlled Nice but was caught and sent to Auschwitz where she took charge of three small orphans. Refusing to give them up even though she was exempted as a worker, she chose to follow them into the gas chamber.

The litany of the lost is crushing and seemingly without end.

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More than anything however, Village of Secrets makes it clear that the truth is rarely simple. For every person who is hailed in one place as a hero, there is another story that undermines them. The wonderful Madeleine Dreyfus saved countless children and managed to survive arrest and being sent to a concentration camp. When she returned home, she was back at work again within weeks. Yet her daughter remembers bitterly that her mother seemed to have time for all of the children in the world except her own. The Nizard family nursed a bitterness towards the undoubtedly well-intentioned young curate who failed to let the network know of their father and brother's arrest in a timely enough fashion for them to be rescued.

Even Inspector Praly, sent up to spy on 'the movements of Jewish refugees' and eventually assassinated, was described by some as having tried to stop the Jews being caught. The story of le Chambon is one that rumbles on in discord - Moorehead notes the particular French obsession with national identity and memory.


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  7. It took thirty years to agree on a museum within le Chambon and even the publication of this book itself prompted a fresh outbreak of disagreement. This seems unbearably sad because in so many ways, Village of Secrets reminds one again of the words of Schindler's List, that he who saves a life saves the world. More should have been done - the camps in Auschwitz should have been bombed, the Vichy government should not have betrayed its citizens and that sentence does not even begin to describe the depth of their crimes , there were times even in le Chambon when warnings were missed and lives not saved.

    But as Moorehead describes the eventual careers of the survivors, that Max and Hanne Liebmann grew up and married each other, that Pierre Bloch thanked the people of le Chambon for his 'happy childhood as a little Jew during the Holocaust', one would wish that they could be celebrated for themselves - one would wish for healing. Village of Secrets is crammed full of stories from survivors, tales of courage, betrayal, failure, success, hope, despair. It is a helter-skelter ride through the most extreme of human experiences.