In 1939, when France signed an armistice with Germany,
there were 5,000 souls living at Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. The town had
been settled by Huguenots, a group of Protestants who were persecuted in
Europe from the early 1500s to 1789. There was a small number of
Catholics in the area, but there weren't any Jews.
Yet between 1939 and1945, five thousand Jews were
hidden, sheltered, fed, and at times led to safety by the townsfolk
living in and around Le Chambon. For the most part, the townsfolk worked
independently - trying to shield their neighbors from being put in the
line of danger with the Nazis and the Vichy government.
Their story is worthy of our attention. But itís even
more remarkable that after the war ended and the Jews left, the
townspeople went back to their routine and spoke no more about it. The
full magnitude of their actions was understood only after grateful Jews
came back to thank the people who had helped them stay alive in those
Scholars have studied the amazing courage that this
entire community displayed. The only possibly explanation that they
found was that the Huguenots were also a minority. Like the Jews of the
1940s, they had fled to Le Chambon in the 1500s after suffering for
their beliefs elsewhere.
It is thrilling to realize that the inhabitants of an
entire village risked their lives to overcome hate.
But it is also depressing, because Le Chambon was the
only village - in an entire continent full of villages - that understood
the need of these refugees.
It reminds me of Care Not Cash.
Supervisor Newsom has put on the ballot Proposition N, a
measure that would cut the monthly general assistance stipend for
homeless people from $350 to $59. As Matier and Ross noted, our former
supervisor Sue Bierman pointed out the fallacy right off: "How do you
live on $1.96 per day?"
The simple answer is that you can't.
Mr. Newsom says that soup kitchens can feed the poor.
But as anyone can attest who has passed the lines outside St. Anthony's
Kitchen or Glide in the middle of the day, the cityís hungry people
already exert a huge demand on the soup kitchens. And there doesn't seem
to be a correspondingly huge groundswell of new donations to cover the
additional work that the city's soup kitchens will need to do in order
to feed more hungry people.
Mr. Newsom says that his legislation will give people
vouchers for shelter. While there might be more vacancies this year in
the Marina, where Mr. and Mrs. Newsom live, the waiting lists for
subsidized housing in other parts of the city are growing longer every
day, as more and more people are laid off in the depressed economy.
Mr. Newsom says that his legislation provides more help
for substance abuse and mental health services. But in fact, it does not
even outline where the funding for these additional services will come
from. From the General Fund, where there is already a deficit? From the
state and federal funding sources that are being cut in the face of
state and federal budget deficits? Those details aren't included in Mr.
Or is Mr. Newsom thinking that the funds could come out
of the Health Department's existing budget. Anyone who followed the
recent public budget hearings will recall that most of the people who
waited hours to speak were protesting the lack of services and the cuts
in funding at the already-beleaguered Health Department.
Like the people of Le Chambon, we in San Francisco are
all refugees. We fled from the small-mindedness or downright persecution
of New Jersey, Texas, and other locales that seem a long way from San
Francisco. Some came with a moving van. Others came with a single
suitcase. But almost all of us came to this city because San Francisco
was known as the oasis where those who felt disenfranchised could find a
And yet, what would Care Not Cash do to the truly
disenfranchised in San Francisco? Let them live on $1.96 a day. Without
adequate support for shelter, food, and health services.
What would the good people of Le Chambon do?
What should the good people of San Francisco do?