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on October 19, 2014
In This Hospitable Land

by Lynmar Brock Jr.

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing, 607 pages

This book, which is based on the personal experience of the author’s wife and her family, describes in great detail the trials and tribulations of the two Sauverin brothers, Alex and André, their parents, wives and children as the darkness of the Second World War descends on Europe.

André is a respected professor of chemistry at the Brussels Free University and Alex is an expert in philatelics, earning his living in that field. The brothers are married to two sisters, Denise and Genevieve, and each family has two children. The two families are understandably close, and even live in the same building, with other family members nearby in a comfortable Brussels neighbourhood. They are secular Jews, and do not adhere to any religious belief.

As the Germans conquer first Czechoslovakia and then Poland, triggering declarations of war by France and England, the two families, together with one set of parents, start driving south from their holiday home on the Belgian coast. The book describes every stage of their journey in the black Buick automobile bestowed upon them by a generous relative. Their route takes them first through Belgium, then across the border into northern France, continuing south through Rouen and Orleans, endeavouring to avoid the long lines of French people escaping from the German invaders as they advance south. The family takes to side roads that follow river beds, crossing the Massif Central, eventually reaching Millau, where the Tarn River cuts through the limestone plateau.

The two families are able to continue going south thanks to the special arrangement made by the pre-war French government for according refuge to fleeing Belgians. The two families eventually make their way to the Lozère department in the mountainous Cevennes region, in south-central France. It was in that area that the Protestant Huguenots found refuge after the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, during the French War of Religion.

Initially finding rented accommodation in a large house in the village of Bédouès in June 1940 the families are not made to feel welcome and the two brothers are required to work for the landlord for no pay. Harassed by the local mayor and fearing the worst as news of the German advance into France reaches them, mainly through listening to the radio broadcasts of the BBC, the families feel impelled to move elsewhere once more.

Helped by local inhabitants, the families are able to move to a remote farm-house in a sparsely-inhabited part of the Cevennes. The author provides vivid accounts of the scenery, the roads, the paths, the vegetation, and the land which the brothers, both men in their thirties, are now obliged to farm. Initially unaccustomed to that type of work, by dint of their hard work and determination the brothers manage to sow and reap crops. André’s technical ability enables them to produce chemical fertilizers that cause the soil to be more productive than is the case with the local farmers.

Knowing that the newcomers are Jewish, the villagers of the region conspire to spirit them away when the Vichy authorities show an interest in their whereabouts, concealing them in their homes in even more remote villages and hamlets, obliging the two families to be separated for some of the time. As the war wears on the two brothers become involved in the activities of the Resistance, and are able to make their own contribution to it despite Alex’s pacifist leanings. At times the children are able to go to the local school, while at others they are obliged to remain hidden. For everyone, long-established residents and newcomers alike, these are years of hardship, food shortages and the need to constantly contend with the elements and the unyielding soil.

The account of the ups and downs and ins and outs of the four or five years the families spent in France is extraordinarily detailed, and this can become somewhat tedious at times. The writing, too, is less than polished, but the intensity of the emotional involvement seems to compensate for the occasional jarring syntax or grammar. By and large, the general picture that emerges is that of the determination of the two brothers to survive and protect their families, and the kindness, nobility, and generosity of the local population.

As the war ends the families return to Brussels to find that, like most of the Jews of Belgium, the majority of their relatives have been deported to Auschwitz and murdered. In an afterword we learn that the two families eventually emigrated to the USA, and the book has been written by the man who married one of the children on the basis of the recorded recollections of the personages involved and interviews with some of their rescuers in France.
2 people found this helpful
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on March 15, 2015
This is the first book I have read about the time when Germany under Nazi control was about a Jewish families survival after fleeing Belgium. To be honest, I never considered any other person of the Jewish faith to be in danger other than the ones in Germany. The thought just escaped me though I knew the territory that fell under Nazi control at that time. So I enjoyed having my knowledge refreshed and expanded to include all of those that were victims.

This story was an amazing example of humanity at its best. I always cheer on those that risked everything to protect and fight for human rights and this book did not disappoint. The author made me feel deeply the plight of this family as they risk all for survival and are forced from privilege to poverty just to survive. I loved how it was more about the family and less a war story I have read numerous times. I could feel the loss they felt and know the pain they suffered.

I would have given it a five star rating, however there were a few spots I felt could have emphasized the great losses better toward the end. I felt the ending was a little rushed. Overall a well worth while book.
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on September 6, 2012
This was such a well written book that showed the good, bad and ugly side of humanity during WWII. Every character was easy to envisage with insightful descriptions of them all, right down to the tiny baby in the family. I have read a fair amount about WWII refugees and the terrible consequences of the Holocaust, the displacement of families lost to each other for ever. This book showed another side to that displacement about two well-to-do Belgian Jewish families of two brothers and how they managed to stay alive and survive with the help of some honest and giving, humble French country folk. I would like to read more of this type of story as there has to be families or individuals who, despite all the odds, survived the horrors of Europe in WWII. It showed how people can adapt to some of the worst situations and keep their integrity and sanity. That despite the fear instilled by the Gestapo and their henchmen, simple country folk managed to subsist and outwit them. A wonderful testament to the human spirit. It put a human face on the French Resistance and Maquis and told of young idealistic men and older battle and war weary men within their ranks, their heroics against the Germans and their justice system with collaborators and spies. Everybody had a hardscrabble life in Europe at that time, so many people died for nothing or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those who survived were lucky, very lucky, having made the right roll of the dice decision or, especially if they just happened to be in the right place at the right time. This was a very strong story and a memorable book with believable characters and situations of a time in History we should never forget.
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on June 29, 2017
This book is all the more gripping because it's true. I knew of the Resistance and the maquis, but this book takes us in detail through the war years of WWII and the accomplishments and activities of these brave people. I gave it 4stars only because it became slightly tedious at times, but it is certainly worth the read.
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on April 22, 2016
A well-written story of what it must have been like to live through the French Occupation and to have to flee your home country. These Belgium Jews survived on the sacrifice and generosity of the French people, and it was written in a most touching way. I found some things odd - the handling of abuse of the daughters at the hands of school boys, for example. Rather glossed over, I thought, but perhaps not essential to the story. I enjoyed the read, although I was anxious for it to wrap up because its in our nature not to want suffering to go on forever.
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on April 28, 2015
World War ll and the Jewish people have always been a fascinating subject for me and a part of history no one should forget. This story was certainly not just about one family but instead about a small group out of thousands of people who risked their lives protecting people that they had never even met. This type of story shows us the good in peoples hearts and one particular family who reaped the benefits of their time among these people, the benefits of their very lives. I would recommend this book to others that enjoy finding the good among so much sorrow in a time that no one should ever forget.
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on October 11, 2016
I enjoyed getting to know the family. It's History told from a personal perspective showing the bravery and fears of people horribly affected by WW2 events. It wasn't only the Savarin family that made sacrifices and took risks, the French people (men, women and children) resisted the Germans, befriended and protected refugees, and formed an elaborate coalition to fight for their freedom.
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on January 31, 2014
A wonderfully told story of a part of the Jews life and death struggle to say out of the clutches of Hitler, and all the other opportunistic sycophants who led so many to their death. The wonder of this story is that it is true. In the midst of war and unspeakable atrocities being perpetuated every day by humans against humans, we find this moving story of those who would do right, regardless of the consequences. Bless them. Also, as I said at the first it is well told and an enjoyable read. I thank the author for digging out the story from his family and sharing it with the rest of the world.
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on April 11, 2015
i am always intrigued by the stories of the the resistance. they force me to examine my own consciousness, and question my own ethics. i was very impressed by the meticulous research of the author who, interestingly enough, was a relative of the players in this true saga. it is the kind of story that will linger and inspire for a long time. my only disappointment continues to be that i can not find out how one of the characters died after the story ends.
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on October 4, 2014
This gripping account of the experiences of one family who fled Belgium, went to France to escape the German invasions of both those countries. In a secluded area of southern France they were protected by local people from the Nazis, the Milice and the German army for four long years. I found this book very enlightening in its descriptions of the Occupation of Europe by the Germans, and all the misery caused by it. It is recommended to anyone who has an interest in this period of European history.
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