Peter Feigl: January 16, 1943

January 16, 1943 was a big day for Peter Feigl. After enduring years of danger trying to stay one step ahead of the Nazis, he was about to make his way to a safe haven.

Peter Feigl was born on March 1, 1929 in Berlin, Germany to parents who were Austrian citizens. He was born into a Jewish family, but one that was completely unobservant. As a result, he never really thought of himself as Jewish. In fact, when he was just eight years-old, his father had him baptized into the Catholic Church in the hope that this would help Peter escape the rising tide of anti-Jewish Nazi persecution. It didn’t work. Even though he had become a practicing Catholic, the Nazis still considered Peter to be Jewish. In their eyes, Judaism was a racial identity and a person could not change this through conversion. He was still in danger.

As their peril from the Nazis steadily grew, Peter’s family moved to Belgium to try to find better circumstances. When the war broke out in the west, they moved on to the unoccupied zone of southern France, soon to be known as Vichy France. Even this move did not lead to safety. The Vichy government collaborated with the Germans to enact the same types of anti-Jewish policies already in force in Germany. By July 1942, this meant deportation for foreign Jews. Peter’s parents were able to get him into a Catholic summer camp, but it was a temporary hiding place at best. Just after he arrived at the camp, Peter’s parents were deported. Peter spent the next several months bouncing from place to place, trying to avoid the police while also hoping to secure passage on a ship to America. His hopes for leaving France fell through, but he found rescue from another source.

In January 1943, people who had been helping Peter were able to send him to Pastor André Trocmé in the village of Le Chambon sur Lignon. Peter wrote of his arrival on the 16th. “I took leave, took the first streetcar at 6 A.M. and at 7:20 A.M. I left aboard the Marseilles-Paris express… I arrived at Saint-Agrève at 11:49 P.M. The train did not go beyond there. Mr. Trocmé came on his bicycle to meet me (still a young man and very nice). Now we still had to cover fifteen kilometers through the snow and a moonlit night. We arrived at Les Grillons at 2:30 A.M. There we ate something warm and then I went to sleep in the annex (I saw only Mr. T.).”

What Peter did not know at the time, and what his matter-of-fact diary entry could not reveal, was that he was in the care of one of the most successful rescuers of the Holocaust era. In fact, Le Chambon and the surrounding villages sheltered about 5000 people from the Nazis. Peter was now one of them.

You may read excerpts from Peter Feigl’s diary in Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust, edited by Alexandra Zapruder.

You may see a photo copy of one of the pages of Peter’s diary here.

You may read more about Pastor André Trocmé and the village of Le Chambon sur Lignon here.

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