Jewish Man Leaves $2 Million to French Mountain Town That Hid Him From Nazis

The town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and its Protestant villagers are estimated to have saved 2,500 Jews and more recently have taken in refugees from the Middle East and Africa

JTA
Philissa Cramer
JTA
Philissa Cramer

A man who died in December reportedly left a significant gift for the French town that shielded his family and thousands of others from the Nazis during World War II.

Erich Schwam, who died at 90 on Christmas Day, willed his estate to Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, the mountain town where his Jewish family hid for two years, according to CNN.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in France is one of only two locales honored collectively by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum for rescuing Jews. (The other is Nieuwlande, in the Netherlands.) The town and its Protestant villagers are estimated to have saved 2,500 Jews and more recently have taken in refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

The town is seeking more information about Schwam, who was 12 when he arrived in the area with his parents and grandmother as a refugee from Austria. According to French media reports, Schwam — a retired pharmacist in Lyon who married but had no children — had visited the town a decade before his death and indicated to its mayor at the time that he might honor it in his will. But the size of the gift, as much as $2.4 million, was a surprise.

Schwam requested that his gift be used to fund scholarships and local schools. “We are extremely honored and we will use the sum according to Mr. Schwam’s will,” Deputy Mayor Denise Vallat told CNN.

The Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, July 9, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

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