"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead (review)

Village of Secrets:  Defying the Nazis in Vichy France
Author:  Caroline Moorehead
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published:  October 2014
Pages:  384
ISBN 978-0062202475
Genre:  History, Non-fiction
Source:  an advance reader's copy was supplied by the publisher and TLC book tours in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

From the author of the New York Times bestseller A Train in Winter comes the fascinating story of a French village that helped save thousands hunted by the Gestapo during World War II.

High up in the mountains of the southern Massif Central in France lie tiny, remote villages united by a long and particular history. During the Second World War, the inhabitants of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and its parishes saved thousands wanted by the Gestapo: resisters, Freemasons, communists, and, above all, Jews, many of them orphans whose parents had been deported to concentration camps. There were no informers, no denunciations, and no one broke ranks. During raids, the children would hide in the woods, their packs on their backs, waiting to hear the farmers' song that told them it was safe to return. After the war, Le Chambon became one of only two places in the world to be honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among Nations.

Just why and how Le Chambon and its outlying villages came to save so many people has never fully been told. With unprecedented access to newly opened archives in France, Britain, and Germany, along with interviews documenting the testimony of surviving villagers, Caroline Moorehead paints an inspiring portrait of courage and determination: of what was accomplished when a small group of people banded together to oppose tyranny. 

A major contribution to the history of the Second World War, illustrated with black-and-white photographs, Village of Secrets sets the record straight about the events in Chambon and pays tribute to a group of heroic individuals for whom saving others became more important than their own lives. (from the cover)

My Thoughts

This year is the 100th anniversary of World War I, the war in which Hitler fought and was awarded medals and wherein his commitment to anti-semitism began.  In 1919 he identified the goal of the German government was to remove the Jewish people altogether.  In World War II Hitler was a leader in this cause.

In Vichy France, despite the threat of punishment, even death; people and communities took it upon themselves to protect and aid those affected by Hitler's mandate.  Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France brings to light those efforts.  In the encampments of the foreign Jews, Moorehead reveals how nurses and attendants secretly brought in medicines and bits of food.  Farmers took in children whose parents had been taken to be incarcerated.  Villagers took children into their homes, put them in Christian schools, changed their names, protected them; all at great risk to themselves.  Despite interrogations and threats, there were those brave souls who put the needs of others before their own.

Village of Secrets is difficult to read.  Just as Schindler's List, The Diary of Anne Frank, and many more; Village of Secrets tells it like it was.  The internments, the cruelty, the starvation, the anguish, the dying...it's all here.  There is a lot of information and detail that could possibly lend itself to the addition of another book.  Certainly there were other communities that contributed to the safe protection of individuals on the SS hit list - Moorhead focuses on Vichy France.  Not to diminish the efforts of any who did the same, but to herald a recognition of this small area of France who defied the odds for the greater good.

An extensive bibliography supports Moorehead's story, including recently made available archives in France, Britain and Germany.  Moorehead's Village of Secrets is a complexity of characters, an examination of the human spirit, and a tribute to those who didn't falter despite overwhelming threat.  It's a spot of light in a world that was dark with inhumane treatment of a religious people who were persecuted for being themselves.  

To this day, World War II bears a strong impact.  History influences the present and the future.  There is still persecution. There are still wars.  Hatred is not an unknown quantity among man. That is why it is important to reveal and appreciate the efforts for good, the sacrifices, and the hope for a better nation and world.  Hopefully we can be as those in Vichy France should we ever find ourselves having to choose between what is right and our very lives. 

You can find VILLAGE OF SECRETS on Goodreads, and purchase links include AmazonIndieBound, and Barnes & Noble

Meet the author: 
Caroline Moorehead is the New York Times bestselling author of A Train in Winterand Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. An acclaimed biographer of Martha Gellhorn, Bertrand Russell, and Lucie de la Tour du Pin, among others, Moorehead has also written for the Telegraph, the Times, and the Independent. She lives in London and Italy.


  1. This sounds like a powerful read. Anytime I read a book that takes place during WW!II I am deeply moved. I haven't heard of this one before. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I admire writers who do so much research for their books. This is one I would find difficult to read though. I found a Jodi Picoult book that covered the holocaust and I couldn't finish it. Good review - thanks.

  3. Books like this are difficult to read but valuable all the same as they hopefully help us learn from our history. Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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