Screening of "Weapons of the spirit"on heroism of small village le Chambon
Screening of Weapons of the Spirit by Pierre Sauvage - Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - 15 November 2016
Dear Ambassador Power, Chère Samantha,
Cher Pierre Sauvage, who has come especially from Los Angeles to be with us this evening,
Thank you Samantha for your thoughtful introduction and for your kind words. It is a great honor to be here with you tonight on this very special occasion and I actually could not dream of a more wonderful birthday evening. Indeed the documentary we are about to see, "Weapons of the Spirit", means the world to all of us (...). It is also a privilege to organize this evening with my colleague and friend Samantha Power, an extraordinary representative of this great country here at the United Nations. I want to thank Samantha and her staff, as well as mine, for this event. Tonight it is really French-American friendship at its best.
Not enough people outside of France have heard of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon or “Le Chambon,” as we usually call it. The village and surrounding countryside became havens, with each farm turned into a shelter. Together the local population developed a secret system to hide, feed, and help refugees. It became the biggest collective rescue of Jews during the Occupation.
Le Chambon is now a place of remembrance. In 1988, the whole Plateau population was awarded the Medal of the Righteous among the Nations, a very high honor given by the State of Israel to non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination. In 2004, French President Jacques Chirac officially recognized the heroism of the village. Today, Le Chambon organizes events, conferences and school trips to share, spread the world, pass the torch to share its history and make sure the spirit of the Righteous survives.
The lesson of the Righteous is that there is always another choice, another option beside joining the pack or staying indifferent. It reminds me what Elie Wiesel used to say :“the worst enemy of human conscience, of human dignity is indifference”.
And I am delighted to recognize one of my staff, Marjolaine Brée, whose grandfather was a Righteous among the Nations. You can be very proud, Marjolaine, and you make us at the French Mission very proud too.
Le Chambon is an example and a symbol. Millions of French people across the country opposed the Vichy regime and its collaborators, who wrote some of the darkest pages of France history. They decided to do the right thing and to protect Jews. Most of them remained anonymous. They came from all walks of life: they were farmers, shopkeepers, military staff (who refused to allow their contingents to oversee the deportation of Jews), priests (who hid Jews or became professional smugglers to help them cross the border), nuns (who hid Jews in their convents), and I could go on and on.
They knew the risks: arrest by the Gestapo, interrogation, torture, deportation and ultimately death.
As Simone Weil, herself a holocaust survivor, said, during World War II those acts of courage and solidarity by millions of anonymous French citizens helped save three-quarters of the Jewish population in France from deportation and death.
Protecting the Jews was also a priority for the Resistance in France and for the Free French troops fighting alongside our allies to defeat Nazi Germany. As early as November 1940, General de Gaulle wrote to the World Jewish Congress to denounce the Jewish Statute enacted by the so-called Vichy government, considering that it violated the core principles of liberty and justice that are at the heart of the values of the French Republic.
Now more than ever, the message of Le Chambon remains crucial and vital. Crucial and vital because prejudices continue to fester within so many societies, including our own. Crucial and vital because anti-Semitism still endures. And make no mistake about it: anti-Semitism is our common enemy and it is an existential threat to all of us, Jews and non-Jews alike.
It is our responsibility not only to remember the Holocaust, but to transmit the knowledge, the memory, and the need to remain vigilant to younger generations - and to fight against any form of anti-Semitism with every conceivable means.
Tonight’s screening is a perfect opportunity to show our commitment to this cause. And in a world where we can’t take our shared values for granted, the lesson of the Righteous among the Nations from Le Chambon reminds us that even alone, we are not powerless, we are not without responsibility. There is always a choice to be made. It’s up to us to make it.
I would like to conclude by thanking Samantha again for bringing us together for the screening of this very powerful and moving documentary. I would also like to thank Le Chambon’s mayor, Eliane Wauquiez-Motte, who is working so hard to preserve and spread the legacy of the village. She called for and supported the creation of a Memorial and a Museum, and she has traveled the world to promote the story of Le Chambon to wider audiences.
Ms. Wauquiez-Mott couldn’t travel to New York to be with us this evening. But she did send me a wonderful letter and a video message that we will listen to in a few minutes.
This evening is very special, very important as is the documentary we are about to see.
My warmest thanks to you Samantha and to each and every one of you. Merci beaucoup.