Times Past

The magic of 11 books and transforming children's lives

Special to The TribuneMarch 1, 2014 

The small town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is situated in the steep plateau of France’s Massif Central.

The area is often referred to as the “Protestant Plateau” because the rugged terrain provided refuge for the Huguenots following Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The edict of religious toleration issued by Louis’s grandfather, Henry of Navarre, in 1598 had permitted the French Calvinists to thrive.

In 1685, they became a persecuted minority in Catholic France. Paul Revere’s father, born Apollos Rivoire, fled the terror in France and came to Boston at the age of 13 where he was apprenticed to the silversmith John Coney.

Those who remained in France formed tight religious communities that emphasized the ethical precepts of righteous living. It was only during the 20th Century that they were permitted to fully reenter the public life of their own country.

Today they number only 900,000, about 2 percent of the population. During the Second World War, Le Chambon became a sanctuary for Jewish children who were concealed among the Huguenot students at the newly founded Le Collège-Lycée Cévenol International.

Whole Jewish families were hidden in homes, despite frequent searches by the collaborationist Vichy regime and, later, Nazi patrols. At least 1,000 and by some estimates as many as 5,000 Jews were saved from the death camps by the bravery of Huguenot families in the region.

They risked their lives because their faith demanded action. Seventy-six of the residents are honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust history center in Jerusalem.

Today, pilgrims to Le Chambon note the village of 2,500 has three bookstores, a sign of the Huguenot love of learning of peaceful non-violence that led to righteous living. Books can transform our lives.

Lauri Sweeny learned to love books as a child in the Paso Robles library and later in the San Luis Obispo Library. She has carried that passion into her adult life, acting on her religious faith and what she learned from reading.

She describes some of her experiences working with her husband, Ed, in the Pacific Northwest: “While working at St. Margaret’s, a shelter for women and children in Spokane operated by Spokane Catholic Charities, I learned many amazing things. From a social worker in Montana we heard about a study that showed if there are 11 children’s books in a house with children, those children will read more than watch TV.

“Later in my time as a Jesuit volunteer I was managing the Spokane Community Warehouse. We provided gently-used household furniture and items to families who were moving into permanent housing. We often received children's books in our donations. In a family application for furnishings, we often knew what age the children were, so we began including 11 books for every household receiving our services to cover the age group of children in the family. I do not know if it made a difference but I hope it did!”

The San Luis Obispo Friends of the Library book sale offers a chance to enhance the lives of friends, family and even strangers by giving a gently used book as a present. My wife, Liz, remembers her favorite birthday as a young person when she woke up to find a large, gift-wrapped box of used books next to her bed!

Members only pre-sale will be 6-9 p.m. Thursday (memberships sold at the door). Everyone is welcome from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The book sale will be in the Veterans Memorial Building, 801 Grand Ave. There are thousands of wonderful children’s and adult books, DVDs and reasonably priced rare books just waiting for someone like you to adopt.

Dan Krieger's column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association

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