On April 23rd, St. Olaf was honored to host Nelly Trocme-Hewett and Francelyn Lurie, two individuals who lived and experienced firsthand the German occupation of France, along with the horrors of the Holocaust. Their stories are told in A Good Place to Hide, a book by Peter Grose that focuses on their memories of the war.
Trocme-Hewett, who was a Protestant teen living in the rural village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon at the time, had parents who worked with the French Resistance in order to house Jewish refugees from all over France and other parts of Europe. In fact, the village in which Nelly grew up had been a safe haven for refugees ever since the Huguenots were persecuted by the Catholic Church, starting in the 16th century. As a teen, Trocme-Hewett never truly understood what was actually going on, because all information that was being sent in and out of the village could cost those working with the French Resistance their lives, including Nelly’s father. In fact, her father was arrested by French police being used by the German military, and was told to sign support for the Vichy Government or face possible arrest again. Her father was eventually released, but it was a close call. He later found out that the day after his release, the entire prisonpopulation was deported, never to be seen again. Trocme-Hewett claimed that she was never aware just how bad the situation was, considering that severe lack of food and other supplies that many individuals take for granted
“I never realized we were poorly fed,” she said. She also emphasized the important role that young people must play in times of strife and struggle.
“We are not progressing in terms of peace and suffering. Moments of goodness are important. The role of young people is very important, for you decide what philosophy shall be continued,” she said.
When asked how she managed to remain strong throughout the war, Nelly simply said, “I lived by my value. This is part of my Christian philosophy.”
Unlike Trocme-Hewett, Francelyn Lurie lived through the war as a member of the Jewish faith, as was her entire family. Francelyn remembers her childhood as “wonderful,” until the Germans came to Paris. When World War II broke out, Lurie’s family was forced to flee their home not only because they were Jewish, but also because Francelyn’s maternal grandfather happened to have been a French spy during World War I, raising the fear that the Germans would come looking for him and his family. Her grandfather eventually escaped with her grandmother through Portugal, actually taking the final ship out of the country. She and the rest of her family fled to a small village in Vichy France and lived in an abandoned house and were supported by the local townspeople who risked their own lives to help others. Lurie stated that there was little to no food and water, “otherwise it was wonderful.” She and her family would often travel to the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, the same village where Trocme-Hewett lived at the time, but the two never met one another. It was during one of these stays that Francelyn found out that her father had been tortured and killed after he was caught sabotaging a train bound for Germany.
Lurie’s father was honored by France after the war and is a hero to the country and his family. One of her happiest memories from the war was when she and her siblings were walking along the road, shortly after her sister had heard that the war was over on the radio. As they were walking, they heard tanks coming up the road and immediately hid in the ditch. She remembers how much she and her sister were shaking, thinking that the Germans had sent out false messages to trick Jews into coming out of their hiding places. Much to their surprise, when the tanks approached, they were throwing out Hershey’s candy bars and chewing gum; the Americans had arrived.
Lurie’s mother was also honored after the war due to her efforts in the resistance, and ended up becoming the headmistress of five orphanages. Lurie eventually settled in America and married a man from Minneapolis.
It is important to remember these stories, especially since there are increasingly few people who lived through that time. We might be the last generation able to hear the life stories of many of those who suffered through the hardship and strife of World War II, and it is essential that we preserve whatever memories we can before it is too late.
Photo Credit: ANDREW WILDER/MANITOU MESSENGER