Insane World

Austrian man leaves his inheritance to village that saved family from Nazis

An Austrian man left his inheritance to a French village as a gesture of gratitude decades after residents took in his family during World War 2.

Erich Schwam, who died last month at 90, arrived in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, in south-east France with his Jewish mother and father in 1943.

The town’s mayor says he left the village a “large amount” in his will, without confirming a figure.

But his mayoral predecessor told local media Mr Schwam had enquired with officials years ago and the total is thought to be about USD $2.4 million.

“We are extremely honoured and we will use the sum according to Mr. Schwam’s will,” the town’s deputy mayor, Denise Vallat said.

In the will, dated November 9, 2020, Schwam wrote that he wanted “to thank them [the village residents] for the welcome many extended me in the field of education.” He asked for the money to be used to fund scholarships and schools in the village.

Large contributions will also be made to three foundations supporting health workers, children with leukemia and animal rights, according to a press release from the town hall.

Le Chambon and nearby villages welcomed Jewish refugees, mostly children, after 1940, according to the town hall website. Barack Obama mentioned the village in his remarks at the Holocaust Days of Remembrance Ceremony in April 2009 and Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, awarded the commune the title of Righteous in 1990.

According to that research, Mr Schwam’s family were originally from Vienna, where his father was a doctor.

He arrived in the town in 1943 with his parents and a grandmother. It is not known how the refugee family got there, but they had previously been held at Rivesaltes camp, a military facility in southern France used to intern civilians, before its closure in 1942.

Records suggest Mr Schwam’s parents returned to Austria after the war but he moved to Lyon in 1950 to study pharmacy.

It was there he met, married and lived with his future wife. According to local reports, the couple did not have children and he was a widower before his death on 25 December.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon has a population of only about 2,500 people but has a reputation as a place of refuge dating back to the French Protestant Huguenots who fled religious persecution during the 17th Century.

During WW2, a local pastor and his wife led calls to protect Jewish refugees from the occupying Nazis and Vichy French collaborators. Word spread through human rights groups and word of mouth and the village became a hub of the resistance movement, with ordinary residents taking in and hiding those who fled.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon was later recognised by Israel for its extraordinary effort.