Living in France as a foreign Jew is so strange. Here we have the home of the Rights of Man as well as a far-right political party, the National Front, which regularly garners 15-17% of the vote in French elections. The FN announce a new party platform one day (get rid of the foreigners, ban the books, whatever) and the next day tens of thousands of French are on the streets protesting.
During the last presidential election, when it looked as though Jean-Marie le Pen, founder of the FN, could well become president, a friend of ours who is English -- that is, Not French; a foreigner -- and Jewish, discovered that the staff of the school where she teaches English as a volunteer, mostly voted LePen. So she quit. "But why"? her colleagues all wanted to know. They were very upset. "Because you've just voted for someone whose goal in office is deport me, so it sounds to me like you don't want me here. You know, foreigners out!"? "Oh, but we didn't mean you," they said. Who den?
Then there is the role of France in the Second World War. Until Chirac became president and decided to come clean, no one talked about the war, unless it was about the Glorious Resistance. When the Vichy government was mentioned it was something that had nothing to do with the rest of France. It had somehow managed to get into power unsupported and unnoticed. No one talked about the enthusiasm of said government and the enthusiasm of the French in general for the Nazi program of genocide. Even the Nazis were surprised by it and occasionally had to slow the French down; they couldn't handle all the Jews France wanted to get rid of as fast as the French wanted to get rid of them. There were 300,000 French Jews before the war; 75,000 of them were deported (exported?) to Germany. No one mentioned the concentration camps on French soil, either.
But here's the thing: Today 2725 French Justs are being honoured in Paris at the Pantheon, a sort of a French Westminster Abbey. The Justs are non-Jews honoured at Yad Vashem as the Righteous Among Nations for having saved Jewish lives during the war. (I'm sorry, I cannot say Holocaust. The word has become a neat way of wrapping up the unwrappable.) They are called The Justs after a Jewish legend that says there are 36 Just Men who take on the suffering of the world in order to make it a better place. (If you'll forgive me, the job seems to be getting too big for them.)
2725 French Justs -- so far. New names get added all the time. This is the third biggest group in Europe after Poland and Holland.
May I pause here to note that for most people, at least for most Jews, Poland is, and has always been, the world leader at anti-Semitism. French anti-Semitism comes as something as a surprise to us, but look back at that ranking. Poland has more Righteous than France.
Be that as it may, while large parts of the French population couldn't wait to snitch on, send out, incarcerate, maim, kill and torture its Jews, other large parts were doing everything they could to save them. Today's ceremony will also honour the Anonymous Heroes. And there is an entire village that has been named Righteous Among Nations. Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, not all that far from where we live, and its neighbouring hamlets took in every Jewish child that could be sent to them and passed them off as their own, sent them to safety when they could, or hid them when necessary. Someone made a movie about it, maybe several movies. And a documentary.
So, there we have it: Jean-Marie le Pen and his National Front versus Pastor André Trocmé and his congregation. What a country!