Weapons of the Spirit is a 1987 documentary by Pierre Sauvage about the small French village in which he was born.
That may sound unexceptional, but Sauvage was born a Jew, in 1944, in Nazi-occupied Vichy France. Yet Sauvage and his family survived, and thrived, because, as he says in the film, the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon was a place on earth “uniquely committed to his survival.”
This was a small, poor village in the mountains of southern France — a tiny town of 5,000 people that sheltered 5,000 Jews during the Nazi occupation.
This is an amazing story, one that contrasts stark beauty and goodness against great ugliness and evil. I think it’s also an important story, and one we need to be pondering and learning from and talking about now.
We can discuss this story without rewatching the film, which I haven’t done for many years now, but it sure would be good if we were all able to watch it online. Or at least to purchase a DVD. But, sadly, it’s not streaming on any of the main services. Even Amazon doesn’t have any DVDs of the film (only a handful of VHS tapes sold at collector’s item prices).
It should be streaming everywhere. On Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu and HBOGo and YouTube and all the rest. It really needs to be. I hope this is corrected soon.
The longest clip I could find from the film is this one showing Bill Moyers’ fine introduction from when the documentary aired on PBS in 1989. It’s only a small taste, but it may give you an idea of the power of this story and why I think we need to hear it again now.
At the end of the clip, Sauvage speaks with two residents of the village, a husband and wife, who matter-of-factly explain that they helped the Jews who arrived because, well, they had arrived in need of help.
“But you were taking risks in sheltering Jews,” Sauvage says.
“At first, not that much,” the man says, but concedes that “toward the end it did start becoming dangerous.”
“But you kept them anyway?” Sauvage asks.
“Oh yes,” they both say, seeming puzzled at the question.
There’s a pause. “I don’t know,” the woman says, giving a little shrug. Then she laughs, and says “We were used to it.”
We’ll come back to this, but hold onto that thought.
Right now, we’re all getting “used to” something. For good or for ill. And the odds are that whatever it is we’re used to is what we’re going to do and to be when things start becoming dangerous.