Hidden on the Mountain:
Stories of Children Sheltered from the Nazis in Le Chambon
by Deborah Durland DeSaix and Karen Gray Ruelle.


1. How did you come to write this book about Le Chambon?

We first learned about Le Chambon during a visit to France in 2002. In a tiny museum in the center of town, a local historian told us the dramatic World War II story of rescue and refuge that had taken place there: The local farmers and villagers all came together to help save the lives of around 3,500 Jews, most of them children. We were awed and moved. We tried to imagine what the refugees must have gone through, and what their lives must have been like. We wanted to learn more. And we decided that we had to tell this story to others.

2. How did you approach your research?

We were interested in the real stories of the refugees and the people who helped them. We decided to find people who had been hidden in Le Chambon as children, interview them, and tell their stories, rather than simply writing an historical overview. But it wasn’t easy tracking them down! After the war they had scattered, and could be living anywhere in the world. We started out with a good, old-fashioned approach: we went to the public library. Our research there turned up a film about Le Chambon called "Weapons of the Spirit." The director of that film put us in touch with some people, who in their turn led us to others. We conducted internet searches, read numerous books, and even checked the phone book. Eventually, we located and contacted thirty people--former refugees, rescuers, Resistance fighters, historians and others.

Most of the people we contacted were happy to be interviewed. A few were reluctant at first, but only one refused to be interviewed altogether. We travelled to New York, Florida, Virginia, Switzerland, and all over France--thank goodness we both speak French!--where they welcomed us into their homes and entrusted us with their memories of a very traumatic time in their lives. It was an amazing experience to hear these stories firsthand. We felt truly privileged.

3. How do you two work together? Did you write separately and come together? Did you each take a section to work on?

As we did our research, it never even occured to us to think about how we would actually write the book together. When the time came, we sat down at the computer, side by side, and began. Karen did the actual typing, because she’s faster. We spoke the book out loud, making changes as we went. When we finished that first chapter, we weren’t sure who had thought of which sentences. We’re lucky because we have a similar sense of language and how to tell a story, and our differences complement each other. Along the way, we used the bartering system to reconcile our grammatical preferences--Deb wanted more contractions and Karen favored fewer commas. It all worked out in the end.

Since we live over 800 miles apart, we wrote during visits to each other whenever we could. This was no hardship since we’re best friends and try to visit each other as often as possible, even when we’re not writing a book together! We wrote the entire book in this way, sitting side by side. Later, we discovered speaker phones, so we were able to edit and rewrite working each at our respective computers, typing simultaneously. (Although Karen spent a lot of time waiting for Deb to catch up!)

4. What was the most interesting or surprising information you discovered during your research?

The risks that were taken by the people of Le Chambon, the generosity and bravery in the face of such extreme danger, were astounding. Yet they did it unassumingly because they felt it was the right thing to do to protect these refugees. After the war, they seldom talked about what they had done, even with their own children. It’s rare to find such instances of selflessness in today’s world.

Also, we were surprised to learn that an American woman was a hero in the French resistance in the Le Chambon area. Virginia Hall worked for the British secret service and the OSS, despite the fact that she had a wooden leg! The Gestapo tried in vain to catch her. In fact, she was on their most-wanted list. We spoke with people who knew her and worked with her in the resistance. Her life was filled with dangerous exploits and intrigue, and we’ve already begun work on a book about her!

5. Tell us how you came to interview Elisabeth.

When we first began our research, as we were tracking down former refugees, one of our sources gave us Elisabeth’s name and urged us to contact her immediately. She said that Elisabeth was gravely ill, but was feeling somewhat better at that moment. We interviewed her within the month. Sadly, Elisabeth died six months later. She was the first person we interviewed for our book. Despite the fact that she was so ill, she graciously welcomed us into her home, and told us her dramatic story. We will always remember her.

6. What do you want readers to take away from this book?

We hope that the true stories in our book will allow readers to see life through the eyes of these brave young Jewish refugees, and the gift of hope they received from the people of Le Chambon.

When we think of the Holocaust, we usually think in terms of numbers and statistics: six million Jews murdered, etc. But the Holocaust was not about numbers and statistics. It was about people, and the ways in which their lives were shattered. In a world that was filled with conflict, intrigue, terror, danger and loneliness, it really came down to this: Every act of kindness made a huge difference to someone.

The people of Le Chambon chose to act with kindness. Choosing to act with humanity and courage in the face of a nightmare made all the difference. We, too, can make these choices. It’s entirely up to us.

NOTE: We welcome questions and comments from our readers. Please contact us at our website: karenanddeb@​gmail.com.