Documentary remembers the Holocaust

Sarah Govis, Features Reporter

The movie, “Weapons of the Spirit,” a documentary about the lives of Jewish people hiding from the Nazis and the Christians who housed them, was shown at Winona State University on Wednesday, April 11.

The film was shown on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which started at sundown on April 11. It shows that in the darkest of situations, even a small group of people can make a difference, but it also shows how little the government did to help the millions suffering.

There is a small French village called, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, which is home to about 5,000 Christian farmers. However, there is another side to this village many people do not know about; during the time France was occupied by Nazi Germany, these villagers housed around 5,000 Jewish children, saving almost all of them from concentration camps.

Prior to and during World War II, Nazis spread propaganda like the plague that depicted Jewish people as aggressors, who were slowly creeping into every corner of the world. In France, the Jewish population was around 250,000. France, for many Jewish people, was seen as a last refuge

before they were deported. Even though Jewish people made up less than one percent of the population, Nazis painted the French as victims of the growing numbers of Jewish refugees.

People in France were not unaware of the treatment of Jewish people at the time, which is what lead to these villagers to take them in. After the French signed an armistice with Germany, fears grew about what could possibly happen. This is where “Weapons of the Spirit” entered the story and began housing mostly Jewish children.

The documentary shared first-hand accounts of the children that lived in Le Chambon, interviewed decades after the war ended in their adulthood. The Christians that housed Jewish were interviewed as well, to see the situation from their point of view.

Many people do not understand why these villagers made the decision to house Jewish people, when this clearly put them in harm’s way. They could have been executed if Nazis had discovered them. However, all of the villagers agreed on one issue: as Christians, it was their duty to take in these Jewish and ensure their safety. Many of them quoted John 13:34 in the Bible as he states, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.”

These villagers did not just simply house Jews either; they built schools for them, allowing them to continue their higher education even in the face of mass destruction. Images in the documentary showed the children in swimsuits by the beach in summer or bundled up in coats and scarves, throwing snowballs in winter. The friendliness of these villagers was beyond just doing what was right — it was what they felt they needed to do.

Nelly Trocme Hewett was born in Le Chambon toward the end of the war and was a guest speaker at the showing of “Weapons of the Spirit.”

“I think we have to realize when evil is all around us, especially with our government, goodness can take place in the worst situation. There is still enough room to do good,” Hewett said.

Rosine Tenebaum ran the event and stated that this documentary is important with all the political issues happening now.

“Now there’s the problem of sanctuaries and refugees and hatred. The movie is more needed than ever right now,” Tenebaum said.

Teachers at nearby schools have also chosen to share the film with their high school students.

Karin Worthley, a retired teacher, attended the event.

“Our school was in the midst of conflict in the 1990s. Until 1998, we had a large influx of Hmong refugees. Many were directly from refugee camps and had never been to school before. This lead to all kinds of thought,” Worthley said. “As a student counseling advisor, I was looking for pieces for students to read and watch that would help them figure out things in their lives. I thought this would be a perfect piece. We had a discussion about it after. This was a long time ago, but it’s been in my mind all these years and it gives me courage.”