During World War II, French villagers offered safe harbor to countless strangers - mostly children - as they fled for their lives. The same place offers refuge to migrants today. Why?
In a remote pocket of Nazi-held France, ordinary people risked their lives to rescue many hundreds of strangers, mostly Jewish children. Was this a fluke of history, or something more? Anthropologist Maggie Paxson, certainties shaken by years of studying strife, arrives on the Plateau to explore this phenomenon: What are the traits that make a group choose selflessness?
In this beautiful, wind-blown place, Paxson discovers a tradition of offering refuge that dates back centuries. But it is the story of a distant relative that provides the beacon for which she has been searching. Restless and idealistic, Daniel Trocmé had found a life of meaning and purpose--or it found him--sheltering a group of children on the Plateau, until the Holocaust came for him, too. Paxson's journey into past and present turns up new answers, new questions, and a renewed faith in the possibilities for us all, in an age when global conflict has set millions adrift. Riveting, multilayered, and intensely personal, The Plateau is a deeply inspiring journey into the central conundrum of our time.
Cover photograph: (Detail of Jewish youth) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Jack Lewin
Illustration based on portrait of Daniel Trocmé from United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Robert Trocme
MAGGIE PAXSON is a Research Fellow at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. An anthropologist and writer, she is the author of Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village, and her essays have appeared in the Washington Post Magazine and Aeon, among other places. Fluent in Russian and French, she has worked in rural communities in Russia, the North Caucasus, and France.