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This French Town Has Welcomed Refugees for 400 Years

The 2,700 residents of Chambon-sur-Lignon in south-central France are proud of their tradition of taking in refugees from everywhere. It began in the 16th century, when converted Protestants came to the village to escape persecution from Catholics, and became known as a safe harbor for those not wanted elsewhere.

Thus Chambon-sur-Lignon, linked to Protestant aid networks in the United States and Switzerland, was ready for the victims of fascism. First came refugees from the Spanish Civil War, then the Jews, especially children, in World War II. When the Nazis took over in 1942, the practice of taking in refugees—legal before then—went underground. Residents also helped refugees escape to (neutral) Switzerland. In all, people in and around Chambon saved the lives of some 3,200 Jews. Local archives have not yielded one instance of neighbor denouncing neighbor—a solidarity known as le miracle de silence. In 1990, the State of Israel designated the plateau communities as “Righteous Among the Nations” for their role during the Holocaust, a supreme honor usually bestowed on an individual and given to just one other collectivity, a town in the Netherlands.

Even today, generosity and openness continue in Chambon-sur-Lignon. Although the residents don't make a big deal out of it, they sponsor refugees from Syria, Kosovo, Chechnya, Congo, Libya, and other places. Read about Chambon-sur-Lignon at Smithsonian.  

(Image credit: Pensées de Pascal

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