Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Book Review: Hanna Schott's Love in a Time of Hate

The inspiring story of  Magda and Andre Trocme is a story many might be unfamiliar with. It's one that needs to be heard because their story makes a statement without needing to point out it was a statement.  The Trocme's did have personal accounts they had written about their lives, and Magda would later submit those unfinished memoirs to Swarthmore College in Philadephia. German Journalist Hanna Schott draws from those written accounts, other written historical work about Le Chambon during WWII, and firsthand accounts of survivors still living in Le Chambon to write about the couple who hid Jewish refugees in their village during WWII. Because it is a story adapted by Schott there are added questions, feelings, and focuses making it more so what she personally took from their story than told through their eyes.

Summary: Love in a Time of Hate tells the gripping tale of Magda and AndrE TrocmE, the couple that transformed a small town in the mountains of southern France into a place of safety during the Holocaust. At great risk to their own lives, the TrocmEs led efforts in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to hide more than three thousand Jewish children and adults who were fleeing the Nazis. In this astonishing story of courage, romance, and resistance, learn what prompted AndrE and Magda to risk everything for the sake of strangers who showed up at their door. Building on the story told in Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, German journalist Hanna Schott portrays a vivid story of resisting evil and sheltering refugees with striking resonance for today. 

I assume since it is stated in the summary the story provides "striking resonance for today" means the message to take away is how similar we're treating current refugees in 2017 to how the Jewish were treated during WWII.  We see the example of Magda and Andre who despite the risk of their safety was determined to act on what they thought was their religious duties and provide shelter and safety to those who had nowhere else to go. They didn't compromise their own religious convictions in the wake of many challenges despite the tough questions they had to ask including, "when is deception okay?" The task of weaving the story in with a message to continue in a modern day context is mostly in the introduction of the book. 

Vicki Reddy, founder of We Welcome Refugees and executive producer of The JUSTICE Conference, writes of how she connected to Love In a Time of Hate to the current refugee crisis, "I keep asking: Where is the church right now? Where are the followers of Jesus? What are doing in response to the greatest humantarian crisis of our time?"

There are obvious accounts of what happened to directly show all the dynamics to stir the audience in what they see today too in the book. While I find it compelling, inspiring, and a scary tale of what we see occurring in society today, I also hesitate to ever use someone else's story to make a point they can't directly speak on now. We can assume with almost 100% certainty Andrea and Magda would have responded the same to the refugee crisis of now, but we don't need to make that statement because we can see it in their actions.

As easily as we can interpret Magda and Andre's story of one about love and peace found through their belief in Christ, someone can just as easily argue their positions for war and nationalism drawing from the Bible. I would know since I've had the arguments defending refugees against those citing the Bible as reasons we shouldn't. How do you respond to people of the same religion who oppose how you identify with Christ when they are spending hours in churches trying to understand and sympathize with the atrocities of King David, a man even described as being after God's own heart, in the Old Testament as a powerful military leader who made some "mistakes" in war? I've even had people cite Jesus himself as a reason you bear arms by taking just taking a chunk of the context in Luke 22. Then Exodus 22 reads a lot like the "Stand Your Ground" laws in states like Florida or Oklahoma. It wasn't for lack of reasons based in the Bible that people scoffed at Andre choosing to be a pacifist in the reformed church during his era, though I find it an admirable quality about Andre.

The story of Andre and Magda themselves is inspiring as it is, and I would have loved had the book dedicated more time to the Trocme's time in Le Chambon. Almost 150 pages discuss Andre and Magda's childhood, their meeting in the U.S., and they eventual landing in Le Chambon, but only a little over 100 pages discuss their life hiding Jewish refugees in the village. I never could get the whole grasp of their sacrifice because it was all so brief, especially the part where Daniel Trocme was taken by Nazis with the children he housed to a concentration camp, where he eventually died. Plus, Andre and Magda weren't only inspired and in the company of Christians, which showed a unity far beyond what could be captured in the book. Daniel was nonreligious and made that sacrifice, the Trocme's still let children at the school they founded practice their Jewish rituals, and the Trocme's were admirers of Gandhi. They had even planned a honeymoon trip they couldn't make to see Gandhi in India. I would have loved to have seen more of the letters from Andre and Magda to read more of their philosophy and what drew in particular to the Gospels?

Andre and Magda do have a timeless, heroic story. Even if we eventually mature as people regarding the current refugee crisis, and rise up to the do the right thing we will be using this story again and again because war will inevitably continue to cast citizens to the side.  Stories like Andre and Magda's don't need my added commentary to know what the right thing would have been to do then and now. They already show it through their actions. We hopefully will always find it in ourselves to do the right thing when helping others and put our own fears aside to do so, especially when we've never known fear like people pushed out of their homes and across the sea only knowing that floating into the unknown is better than the home you've always known.

This book was provided by Herald Press in exchange for a review. 

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