Monday, November 21, 2011
(Road to Town, woodcut by Gustave Baumann, 1881-1971,
German-born American artist and puppeteer)
The opposite of cruelty is not simply kindness or the end of the cruel relationship. The opposite of cruelty is hospitality.
This is the conclusion reached by the philosopher Philip Hallie (1922-1994) after he studied what the villagers of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon had done during the Second World War. Le Chambon was located in a part of France under the close eyes of the Nazis. All the Jews found in the area would be deported to the extermination camps in the East.
The residents decided as a village to provide food and shelter and comfort to any Jews knocking on their doors. Risking their lives, they saved more than 6000 Jews.
But their enduring hospitality did more than save lives. For example, writes Hallie, “the morning after a new refugee family came to town they would find on their front door a wreath with ‘Bienvenue!’ ‘Welcome!’ painted on a piece of cardboard attached to the wreath. Nobody knew who had brought the wreath; in effect, the whole town had brought it.”
“The people of Le Chambon,” wrote a woman years later who had been saved as a young girl, “showed to us that life can be different, that there are people who care, that people can live together and even risk their own lives for their fellow man.” The people of Le Chambon gave their guests hope for the future.
If I can stop one Heart from breaking,
I shall not live in Vain:
If I can ease one Life the Aching,
Or cool one Pain,
Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again,
I shall not live in Vain.
~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet
(To read more, see Philip Hallie’s Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There)