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Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France

(The Resistance Quartet)

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  906 ratings  ·  166 reviews
From the author of the runaway bestseller A Train in Winter comes the extraordinary story of a French village that helped save thousands, including many Jewish children, who were pursued by the Gestapo during World War II.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is a small village of scattered houses high in the mountains of the Ardèche. Surrounded by pastures and thick forests of oak and pi
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 28th 2014 by Harper (first published June 24th 2014)
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David Lowther
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Village of Secrets is a long and often complex book about how the people of the mountainous area of the south Massif Central in France helped to protect the Jews from the Nazis and helped many of them to escape to safety.

It is so thoroughly researched that it is just about the book's only weakness that there are so many characters it's easy to forget some of them.

In some ways Village of Secrets redresses the balance in revisionist French history which has tended to put its hands up in admitting
Nancy Oakes
Sep 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history, arc
here's how far behind I am -- I finished this book the end of last month and am just now getting to it here. aarrghh!

Village of Secrets begins with the coming of the Nazis to France in 1940 and the establishment of the Vichy government under Pétain. It wasn't long until measures of repression against certain targeted groups ("foreign" Jews, Freemasons and Communists) began; the campaigns against them were accompanied by propaganda that targeted these groups as "dark forces of the 'anti-France'."
Lewis Weinstein
I have read the sections of this remarkable account which pre-date the activities in Chambon ... a series of French Catholic and Protestant leaders resisted the Nazi demands to collect and deport Jews ... eventually, they realized that saving all the Jews was impossible and they chose to focus on the Jewish children.

There are very few thrilling stories to emerge from the Nazi experience. This is one of them. Some excerpts ...

... the Maréchal (Petain) was aware that plans were going ahead to dep
Lewis Weinstein
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The story of Chambon is incredibly moving ... my wife and I had the experience of visiting the village and feeling the powerful sense of "goodness" which still resides there. This town, in a remote part of France, led by the Huguenot pastor Andre Trocme, was the place of refuge for perhaps 2500 Jewish children, hidden and then moved on to safety.

(NOTE: see also my review of Phillip Hallie's "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There.")

Jul 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The second in Moorehead's proposed trilogy of French Resistance histories. What I had assumed might be a sweetened story of rescuers and goodness in the midst of the Holocaust turned out to be a complicated story - the truth is not so black and white. It's also the story of the Nazi occupation of France and how this region stood slightly apart from the Vichy regime. One man is often credited with the rescue and hiding of Jewish children at Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, but the region itself had a histo ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Apr 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: wwi-wwii
I am a bit ambivalent about this book. The subject matter is interesting as it describes the valiant attempts by the people of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon in Vichy France to protect and hide Jews fleeing from arrest by the Germans and the Vichy government. It appears that a tremendous amount of research has been done by the author but the veracity of that research has been questioned by other historians and family members of those who lived on the Plateau. So, what are the true facts and what ar ...more
Richard Moss
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
This is not the first time that an author has told the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon - an Alpine French community that was among those that hid Jewish children and adults during the Second World War, but it is the first account I have read.

Caroline Moorehead is intent on correcting what she sees as the oversimplification and mythologisation of some earlier accounts. Other reviews on Goodreads certainly have taken her to task on this.

But first and foremost it is an amazing and moving story. Fam
Oct 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Nazi opposition succeeds surrounding the small eastern French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in the mountains of Adèche.

Village of Secrets tells of the large number of French who resisted in some form involving themselves to save Jews, particularly the children from transportation to death camps. Many feigned ignorance and looked the other way, mainly law enforcement, risking their freedom. Religious intolerance set aside, as varying groups forgiving their differences in saving as many Jews as
Elizabeth Theiss
It can be difficult to comprehend all that happened in France during World War II—fighting against Germany, surrendering, collaborating, resisting, starving, running black markets, and of course bring up families and trying to stay alive. This book tells the stories of the people who lived in the tiny mountain village of le Chambon and the surrounding plateau, both the residents who hid Jewish men, women, and children whose lives were in peril and those they hid. Their stories are tragic, triump ...more
Sep 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Today’s nonfiction post is on Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead. It is 384 pages long including notes and a bibliography. The cover is a picture of village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. The intended reader is someone who is interested in War World 2 history and hopeful, real life bravery. There is no sex, no language, and the violence is just talked about. The story is told from third person close with letters and interviews added in for depth. There Be Spoi ...more
Nov 25, 2014 rated it did not like it
The story is truly inspiring, but it's not the first time it's been told, even in English, and the book has been severely criticized for its distortions and many inaccuracies. The criticisms have been made by three people the author sought assistance from while researching her book, who feature significantly in it and who are well qualified to comment on it.

One of them, Pierre Sauvage, who made the award-winning documentary Weapons of the Spirit about the village in question, has given a very d
Jun 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical-fact
I found this book fascinating, and although it is factual, it is written in an easy narrative style. Being about France during the war, I had to have my map open as I was reading and I now have a new area of the country to visit - and I will do so at some future date.
The area in question is on the eastern side of Le Puy-en-Velay. This is the Ardèche and the principle village in this true story is that of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. A scenic area with the village surrounded by dense forests of oak and
Pierre Sauvage
Oct 25, 2014 rated it did not like it
My parents were among the Jews who found shelter in the area of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, during the Holocaust--the subject of this astonishingly inaccurate book--and I had the good fortune to be born there at that time. I thus care deeply about the remarkable rescue mission that profoundly affected my life.

It is thus dismaying that this account of those events preposterously asserts that the French Protestant (Huguenot) dimension of the rescue effort has been inflated into a myth, that the
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
The author has done an incredible amount of research for this and brings all of the research together so that is woven like a novel where all that she relates flows, and there are so many characters and incidents. The basis of the book is that this village on a plateau near Switzerland was used as a hiding place and conduit, especially for Jewish people, to try and assist them with escaping from the clutches of the Nazis. The focus is on how the organisation for escapees functioned, who the main ...more
Jun 16, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
(Suffering a vicious man-cold and not reading for nearly a week on my commute, I had a long gap in the middle of this book (and burned through some of my goodreads challenge surplus - curses!) so what I say should be taken as a less than perfect review.)

I haven't read Train In Winter so I can't compare it to what Caroline Moorehead has done here. But this was a bit of a slog. Sure, the concept was interesting enough. French mountain villages of dissenting Protestant descent shelter Jews under Vi
Stephen Goldenberg
Dec 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Of all the European nations torn apart by the 2nd world war and its aftermath, France is the one that has had the longest and greatest difficulty in dealing with it. It went through the immediate aftermath of dealing with a long list of collaborators and 'alleged' collaborators, then focusing for many years on the role of the 'resistance'. It was only in the 1970s that the country was forced to come to terms more fully with the extent to which the Vichy regime had not only co-operated with the N ...more
Jan Notzon
Jun 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
A truly fascinating account of the area of France (Vivarais-Lignon) that was most active in saving children from the Vichy collaborators and the Nazis themselves. It is a part of history about which I was completely ignorant. It is a great complement to the novel Sarah's Key (which I read earlier) and gives you a greater background for appreciating it.
I had never heard of the Darbyists or Ravenists. I'm sure their history of persecution gave them a particular sense of mission for the rescue of
3.5 stars. During the Holocaust, the remote French village of Le Chambon and the surrounding area saved a remarkable number of Jewish lives. Villagers sheltered Jews (and later, young men who refused military service) in their farmhouses and in children's homes. Moorehead thoroughly explores the narrative, identifying the actors and setting out the course of events and various factors that may have created the right setting for their actions. I was especially interested in the area's religious t ...more
Sep 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A memorable, disturbing (at times) and informative history of an area of France where there was a concentration of farmers, pastors, doctors and generally brave people who strived to save as many Jews and others threatened by the Nazi regime, often at great cost to themselves and their families. Well-written and easy to read yet a gripping tale - 8.5/10.
Jun 02, 2016 added it
Shelves: quit
Quit about a third in...too much statistics, not enough story.
Girl with her Head in a Book
For my full review:

The beautiful myth of French resistance loomed large in our cultural imagination for decades post-war, summoned up in comedy such as in the sitcom 'Allo 'Allo, in war films such as The Great Escape but most of all, it was eagerly embraced by the French people themselves who were eager to reimagine a nobler history. Caroline Moorehead examines all sides in Village of Secrets in this in-depth and often harrowing account of the persecution
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Caroline Moorehead's earlier book -- A Train in Winter -- about the bold actions and the terrible fates of women of the French Resistance during World War II is one of the best books I have ever read. Up there with Galeano in the best-of-nonfiction category.
So I had very high hopes for Village of Secrets, which promises to tell the secret story of the tiny hamlets in the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon in the Vichy section of France during the Nazi occupation -- where Protestant and Catholic villagers
David Margetts
Apr 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Traumatic and harrowing account of the lives of Jewish men, women and children in occupied and non occupied France during the WWII. The book an account taken from extensive research and interviews with French Jews, foreign Jews and non Jewish citizens illustrates both the good and terrible sides of human nature. It is hard to conceive that human beings can act and behave in such different ways. On one the hand the courage and bravery of those helping to hide and take Jews to safety, risking life ...more
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I understand the natives of the plateau in Vichy France that Moorehead writes about have created their own mythology around one of the Protestant ministers who led the pacifist resistance and encouraged hiding Jews. An outsider's research is always valuable to round out the myth. Still, I learned a lot about WWII occupied and unoccupied France from this book. Apparently, Vichy France under Petain was all too eager to send the Jews to wherever Germany told them. Italy, on the other hand, one of t ...more
Jul 02, 2017 rated it liked it
This non-fiction book tells the story of a small cluster of villages in France near Lyons that harbored many Jewish people during WWII. What is unique about this story is that the Plateau community of Le Chambon was governed by a philosophy of pacificism. Everyone took their role in hiding those under Nazi persecution; Farmers; priests ; schoolteachers. And many paid the ultimate price when their roles as enablers were discovered by the Nazis. This book also sadly tells the fact that among all t ...more
Joe Kessler
Jul 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Informative but dense, and lacking much of a narrative throughline. It's also a little difficult to keep track of the sprawling cast of characters, especially when listening to the audiobook. Still, this is an interesting look at the resistance movement in Nazi-occupied France, as well as the xenophobia that was rising in that country even before the war and the ways in which the French government collaborated with the Germans.
Ian Hodkinson
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A timely read given the rise of bigotry (at both ends of the polictical spectrum) in this day anad age. A well researched account of the response of a protestant area of France to the injustices which the Nazi regime inflicted on native-born and emigré jews from Eastern Europe during the second world war. The bravery of a broad range of the French population in defying the Nazis still gives hope that people will stand up to future fascist threats and the rise of neo-nazism.
Diane Depew
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it
A fascinating story of civilians taking risks to protect Jews from the Nazis in southeastern France. That said, I could not rate the book well, as the book seemed to lack a good introduction into the story (I felt like I started reading amidst the saga.), the narrative was jumbled, jumped around from subtopic to subtopic and at times wandered for many pages into subjects that were not essential enough to go into that amount of detail.
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well written and fascinating non-fiction account of a French village (and its nearby villages) that saved many Jews, especially children during World War II. This included hiding them in various places and helping them cross the border into Switzerland. There were many different people who contributed to this effort, especially Protestant pastors. The book also makes it clear how much the Vichy government helped the Nazis to round up and deport Jews to the death camps.
Madeleine Herkes
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Holocaust didn't start with the gas chambers. It started with fear and hate-mongering politicians, with labelling people as the "other" as "foreign" as "criminal"; with stereotypes and jingoism and hysteria; with locking people up for having the "wrong papers" or "no papers"; with the closing of borders and the separation of children from their parents; with deportations. It doesn't start with gas chambers, it ends there. Stay woke. Do not forget.
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Caroline Moorehead has written columns on human rights first for The Times and then for the Independent (1980-91) and has made a series of TV programmes on human rights for the BBC (1990-2000). She has also written the history of the International Committee of the Red Cross (1998) and has helped to set up a Legal Advice Centre for refugees in Cairo, where she has started schools and a nursery.

Other books in the series

The Resistance Quartet (3 books)
  • A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France
  • A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Remarkable Story of an Italian Mother, Her Two Sons, and Their Fight Against Fascism
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