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Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed
A Book Review

  Books shape us. They change our road choices, confirm (or demolish) our ideas, lead us away from or toward God.

Philip Paul Hallie
Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed (The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There)
(New York: HarperCollins, orig. 1979, rev. 1994)

This biography is about a Protestant pastor named André Trocmé and his village in the Haute-Loire region of southern France who defiantly concealed a total of 5,000 Jews during the Nazi occupation. Amazingly, the SS and Vichy authorities knew what Trocmé and his flock were doing. But they never stopped the trains that daily dropped off refugees into, what the Nazis called, "that nest of Jews in Huguenot country."

Because of their pacifist convictions as Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants), the Le Chambon residents believed they had a responsibility before God to protect the Jewish men, women and children seeking refuge from Paris and elsewhere. The quiet but steely faith of the villagers fits the Huguenot spirit of their ancestors who settled in the region in the 1500s to escape Catholic slaughter.

André Trocmé's pastoral convictions were forged long before the outbreak of WW2. He and his family survived the decimation of World War 1, and he became a pacifist and a deeply religious soul. He studied theology at the University of Paris, then won a scholarship to Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

In secular America he encountered devout Marxists who hated the religion that made "people passive instruments and victims of a society that exploits the poor" (p. 62). Trocmé agreed with them to an extent, for he believed the Gospel was a "revolutionary force, driving people to bring loving cooperation into every aspect of social life. He also met advocates of the so-called "Social Gospel," who, like the Marxists, wanted to change the world, but in the name of religion.

But the Communists and Social Gospel people "lacked one element that was central to André Trocmé's mind: the person-to-God piety" he had experienced as a young man in France. For him, "only this intimate relationship between a faithful person and God, only a person's conscious obedience to the demands of God, could arouse and direct the powers that could make the world better than it is" (62).

Union Seminary's liberal socialism did not satisfy Trocmé. He quit the school and took a job as French tutor of the children of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., founder of Standard Oil Company. In New York he also met his wife to-be, Magda Grilli, an Italian former Catholic who shared his pacifist, anti-materialistic, and mystical convictions. They returned to France and began a life together as pastor and pastor's wife.


The author of the biography, Philip Hallie (1922-1994), was an American Jewish professor of ethics and philosophy at Wesleyan University and a veteran of WW2. In the book, he confessed he was deeply moved by the willingness of those people to risk their lives for his people. He called their acts incomprehensible "goodness" in the face of unfathomable evil. As such, he quoted a Jewish woman, whose children were saved by the Chambonnais, as saying: "The Holocaust was storm, lightning, thunder, wind, rain, yes. And Le Chambon was the rainbow" (p. xvii).

Hallie's narrative itself is part of the telling of the Le Chambon story. Througout the book, it's clear that he did not fully grasp the power and motivation behind the actions of André Trocmé and his fellow believers. He saw it and tried to explain it: Admiration and mystery. An outsider looking in. A Jew looking at what another Jew—Yeshua—accomplished through non-Jews.

The title of Hallie's book is taken from Deuteronomy 19:10, in which Israel is instructed to provide cities of refuge when they go into Canaan—“. . . lest innocent blood be shed in the midst of your land, which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance.” In this case, the French Protestants provided a village of refuge for Jews fleeing the Nazis and the French government.

Filmmaker Pierre Sauvage tells the Le Chambon story in his 1989 "Weapons of the Spirit." The film and other information are available from the Chambon Foundation website.

Paul Sumner


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