I’ve been impressed with Os Guinness’ book – more of a study guide – called When No One Sees: The Importance of Character in an Age of Image. It’s basically a study guide on character: the importance of character, character in the crucible, cultural erosion of character, spiritual foundations for strong character, and heroes of character. In this book, Guinness selected various authors and historical figures to help make his point about character. These characters include James Madison, Winston Churchill, Plato, Augustine, Martin Luther, Sir Thomas More, and so forth.
In the section on “Heroes of Character,” Guinness notes how celebrities are NOT heroes, and he mentions that true heroes are those who teach us about true character. One example Guinness gives is the story of the people of Le Chambon, France, during World War II. These brave people protected more than five thousand Jewish children from certain death in the concentration camps. Guinness notes, “They were Huguenots, fired by their faith and three hundred years of persecution following the Edict of Nantes.” In fact, a dozen students in one of the schools there (some who would later become theologians) wrote a letter to a local French leader. Here’s the letter:
Mr. Minister, we have learned of the frightening scenes which took place three weeks ago in Paris, where the French police, on orders of the occupying power, arrested in their homes all the Jewish families in Paris to hold them in the Vel d’Hiv. The fathers were torn from their families and sent to Germany. The children torn from their mothers, who underwent the same fate as their husbands. Knowing by experience that the decrees of the occupying power are, with brief delay, imposed on Unoccupied France, where they are presented as spontaneous decisions of the head of the French Government, we are afraid that the measures of deportation of the Jews will soon be applied in the southern zone.
We feel obliged to tell you that there are among us a certain number of Jews. But, we make no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. It is contrary to the Gospel teaching.
If our comrades, whose only fault is to be born in another religion, received the order to let themselves be deported, or even examined, they would disobey the order received, and we would try to hide them as best we could.
Philip Hallie, who wrote about this event in his book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, reflected on this letter:
“Black and white. The maneuvering between the two obligations to be ‘subject to the governing authorities’ and to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ was past. The moment had come for the people of Le Chambon to pass their ethical judgment publicly, unequivocally, but without hatred or violence.”
This is indeed a wonderful and inspiring story of courage, faith, and character! It’s a great read.
The above quotes are found in Os Guinness, When No One Sees, p. 270-272. As a side, at the time of this blog post there are several very inexpensive used copies of this book on Amazon. It’s worth the money for sure!
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