Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Monday 25 October |
Saint of the Day: Sts Gavin, Protus, and Januarius
Aleteia logo
home iconInspiring Stories
line break icon

Man leaves fortune to town that saved him from the Nazis

ERICK SCHWAM

Fair use

Dolors Massot - published on 03/07/21

The little boy who found refuge in a French town never forgot that generosity, and found a way to repay it decades later.

It’s been almost 70 years since Eric Schwan arrived from Austria with his family in the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. They, like thousands of other Jews, were fleeing certain death in the Nazi concentration camps. It was December of 1943.

Hidden for two years

This village of about 2,500 inhabitants, located in the east-central part of France, hid the Schwan family in the local school. For two years, people from the town brought the family food and water.

Eric would never forget what they did for him and his family, even as decades passed. In gratitude, when he died last December at age 90, he left the village more than 2 million dollars in his will.

It was his nephew who made Eric’s last will and testament known. The town council received the money with surprise and joy.

Eric placed only one condition: He asked that the funds be used for scholarships and other educational and youth initiatives.

The Councilor for Culture, who is a historian, expressed his gratitude: “For us, it’s very important,” he said.

A network of helpers

It turns out there’s a lot more to the story of this town, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, in relation to the Nazi persecution of Jewish people. It’s estimated that the townspeople saved between 3,000 and 5,000 people during the years of the Holocaust.

A Protestant pastor, André Trocmé, together with his wife Magda, set up a network of people who helped Jews flee the Holocaust. Trocmé created—together with another pastor—a Christian school for people from the countryside. Starting in 1940, he took in and gave refuge to persecuted Jews, at first alone with his wife, and later with the approval of the village assembly.

The whole town agreed to collaborate, to protect the refugees, and to keep silent. They stuck to this plan even though some locals were arrested, including Trocmé himself.

Committed youth groups

Eric Schwan and his family arrived in 1943 and were hidden in the school. Others were sheltered in stables, cellars, haystacks, double walls, kitchens, cellars and attics. On average, there were about 500 Jews in transit at any given time.

The network of assistance included 13 groups of young people from Chambon who met every 15 days for “Bible study and resistance.” Their goal was the motto proposed by Jesus in the Gospel: “to overcome evil with an abundance of good.” They ended up receiving help, even while France was occupied, from Catholic institutions, the International Red Cross, and others.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon received the distinction of “Righteous Among the Nations,” awarded by Israel to non-Jewish groups and individuals who helped the Jewish people persecuted during the Second World War.

Eric Schwan liked to live a private life, but we know that after the war he went with his family to live in the neighboring city of Lyon, where he studied medical biology and got married. He never forgot the courage of the Le Chambon-sur-Lignon townspeople, and found a generous way to repay them.




Read more:
Legendary anti-Nazi heroine’s biblical faith honored in new exhibition


RADIO

Read more:
Hitler’s propaganda efforts were met with strong resistance from Vatican Radio

Tags:
Acts of KindnessWorld War II
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
Marinella Bandini
Exclusive: Carlo Acutis as seen by his mother
2
PADRE PIO
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio replied to John Paul II’s letter with a miracle
3
VENERABLE SANDRA SABATTINI
Philip Kosloski
Meet Sandra Sabattini, a newly beatified 22-year-old
4
Theresa Civantos Barber
St. John Paul II’s perfect advice for lasting love in marriage
5
POPE JOHN PAUL II
Cerith Gardiner
A collection of Pope John Paul II’s quotes on some of life’s most...
6
WEB2-Bishop_Michael.jpg
John Burger
Once considered for top post in Anglican Church, former bishop be...
7
peace
Philip Kosloski
How kindness begins in your heart
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.