If Only I Had Known

IF ONLY I HAD KNOWN

It was 1948, and I was a very young, very green college student. I was attending Indiana University, five blocks up Woodlawn Avenue, as it was too costly to go anywhere else. Mother and Dad, however, may have felt that some sort of experience away from home would be good for me; and if they felt that they would have been right. A more naive and unworldly eighteen-year-old would have been hard to find even then, and probably would be impossible now. Dad had acquired a brochure listing inexpensive student tours abroad, under the auspices of Columbia University. He and Mother selected for me a month-long stay in a small town in France, with a family who would travel a little with the participants and acquaint them with other families in various walks of life. I was to travel on an unconverted Marine troop ship, and this turned out to be a delight even in rough weather. There was a day of rolling and pitching when I was one of only two passengers on deck having fun.
On my arrival in France, the rendezvous with the two other American students and with our French hosts took place. Monsieur was a tall, imposing figure who was the pastor of a Protestant church; Madame his wife’s origins were Italian and Russian. They had several children, only one of whom, their daughter of about our age, was to spend time with us, We all piled into their aging Citroen and headed for the parsonage where we were to live for four weeks.
As described in the brochure, we partook of their family life; we met French doctors, farmers and shoemakers; we toured Roman ruins and VanGogh scenery; and we brushed up our French language skills. All in all, the experience lived well up to expectations.
Their names had of course been known to us from our first reading of the brochure. What we did not know, and I at least was not to learn for some years, was this: Andre Trocme was the pastor under whose guidance the entire village of Le Chambon had saved hundreds of Jews during the Nazi era. How recent a memory this must have been to them when we were there, but not a word did they say to us about their heroism.
Through the book by Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed; and the Pierre Sauvage film Weapons of the Spirit, the world now knows the Trocmes. What a privilege it would have been to hear their story as they would have told it.

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2 thoughts on “If Only I Had Known

  1. I LOVE this story! What an experience it must have been, even before you knew the real story about your hosts, and what a thrill it must have been to learn about their heroism. I like the way you’ve told the story, too, with the reader not knowing who the hosts were till the end. Beautifully written!

    Like

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