Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The Surgeon and the Shepherd: Two Resistance Heroes in Vichy France

Posted by nliakos on December 27, 2014

by Meg Ostrum (University of Nebraska Press 2004)

This is the story of how Dr. Charles Schepens, a Belgian ophthalmologist; Jean Sarochar, a Basque shepherd; and a whole lot of other people worked together to help various people escape Vichy (and then German-occupied) France over the Pyrenées during the second World War. They used an abandoned sawmill, which they bought and renovated, as a cover and a way to provide employment to many who needed it. Eventually, Dr. Schepens, operating under the name of Jacques Pérot, was forced to flee himself. He survived the war with his family and eventually immigrated to America, where he invented a device called the binocular indirect ophthalmoscope, which enables doctors to examine the retina. Jean Sarochar died of old age near his home village of Mendive, in the Basque Country. These unlikely and unlike partners together helped many people to cross the border into Spain. Meg Ostrum learned about their story while visiting Mendive and located Dr. Schepens in Boston. She interviewed all the involved persons who were still living to write the book, which has somewhat more detail than is necessary for the casual reader (university presses!), but it was pretty interesting to learn about daily life under the Vichy government, Basque customs, etc.

It held a certain added interest for me because my second cousin, Jean-Pierre Kroll, and his parents escaped over the Pyrenées into Franco’s Spain, where like many of the escapees described in the book, they were taken into Spanish custody and eventually made it to America, where they spent the war years. I don’t think they were helped by Schepens and Sarochar because Jews were not among their usual “clients”, but who knows? They could have been, and in any case, much about their story would have been similar.

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Schepens

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