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The Greatest Escape How One French Community Saved Thousands of Lives from the Nazis - A Good Place to Hide by Peter Grose

The Greatest Escape How One French Community Saved Thousands of Lives from the Nazis - A Good Place to Hide

Biography / Autobiography   Books of the Month   History   
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September 2014 Non-Fiction Book of the Month.

This true story should be heard, should be shouted from the rooftops, as not only is it completely gripping, fascinating and inspirational but there are also lessons to be learned. This is an account of the people from an isolated plateau in the middle of France during the Second World War. They say that truth is stranger than fiction, a novel normally has one or two heroes or heroines, this true story has hundreds of them. The villages and farming communities from this one area, helped to save thousands of lives, each individual act of good joining to create an incredibly heartening and united whole. The author is clearly inspired by the people he researched and spoke to; he eloquently tells their tale with no embellishment, no adornment, he doesn't try to fill gaps, he leaves questions and consequently this true story retains its grit, guts and backbone. A must read, for everyone; we should be celebrating this community, this spirit, this truly magnificent story. ~ Liz Robinson

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The Greatest Escape How One French Community Saved Thousands of Lives from the Nazis - A Good Place to Hide by Peter Grose

In the upper reaches of the Loire lies an isolated plateau and the secluded village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. Their whole village was honoured not just by the French state, but with the extremely rare distinction of Righteous Among Nations by the people of Israel.

How they earned this is one of the great modern stories of heroism and courage. Right through the War the community pulled off the astonishing feat of saving the lives of 5000 men, women and children whose very existence was deemed to be unpalatable to the Nazi occupiers and their Vichy stooges. Of those saved approximately 3500 were of Jewish descent. They achieved this through a long-running battle of nerves keeping their heads down and pulling together. Predominantly Huguenot, the villagers held their own folk memories of centuries of persecution, and with open arms welcomed anyone whose background was frowned on by National Socialism. All sorts of remarkable people came together, and they produced a miracle: pacifist pastor, and former employee of the Rockefellers, Andre Trocme who led the community to offer sanctuary to people who would otherwise have undoubtedly met their fate in the death camps. The 18 year old Oscar Rosowsky who, after his own daring escape across Europe, went on to become one of the most accomplished forgers of the war the impeccable documents he produced never betrayed the true identity of their beneficiaries. Pierre Piton, the 17-year-old Boy Scout who ran 20 mission smuggling Jews into Switzerland. Virginia Hall, the extraordinary SOE agent with a wooden leg who armed and trained the Resistance on the Plateau. Pierre Fayol, the Jewish leader of the Resistance on the Plateau, who eventually helped to drive out the occupying Nazis at the point of a gun. The peaceful Quakers who rescued hundreds and possibly thousands, of children. Told with the full cooperation of many of the survivors, this is the story of WWII s Greatest Escape Resistance on the Plateau, who eventually helped to drive out the occupying Nazis at the point of a gun. The peaceful Quakers who rescued hundreds and possibly thousands, of children. Told with the full cooperation of many of the survivors, this is the story of the Second World War's Greatest Escape.


'A story resonant in our days, the age of refugees, and a grand narrative in its own right, all told with absorbing skill. Peter Grose's tale of the astounding 'rescue village'
of Chambon is no sentimental yarn of deliverance of all those the Nazi regime had in their sights, but a tale of the practical deliverance of the hunted. A book to cherish and recommend'!
Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's Ark

'Fabulous. A page-turning account, told with the full cooperation of many of the survivors. Meticulous and dogged research. Compelling.'

Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller, 'Ones to Watch''

About the Author

Peter Grose

Peter Grose is a former publisher at Secker & Warburg, a former literary agent at Curtis Brown, and was until recently the chairman of ACP (UK). He is the author of two highly acclaimed books on WW2.

Author photo © Roslyn Grose

Below is a Q&A with this author.

Q. If you weren’t a writer, what would you like to be?

A. At risk of sounding like myself aged eight, I’d happily be a pilot. I love flying.

Q. Which books do you read for pleasure?

A. My all time favourite is Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I’ve read it seven times. At the moment, I’m reading Back To Blood by Tom Wolfe and loving it. And every time I read a Ben Macintyre book, I think: I wish I’d written that. He’s terrific.

Q. What do you do to relax?

A. My favourite moment of the day is about 6:30 in the evening. I close down the computer, pour myself a whisky, mix a caipirinha for my wife, and switch off. I try to keep office hours … I like to be at my desk working by 10:00am, or earlier if I can manage it, and I don’t like to hang about in the office after 6:30. But if I didn’t keep office hours, I’d never get any work done. Sorry, that doesn’t tell you much about how I relax, does it? Well, I like Woody Allen movies, early morning tennis, trad jazz, good food and wine, and travel. I’m the cook in our household, and I find cooking, if not exactly relaxing, then at least a complete switch-off from work.

Q. Besides writing, what else do you do?

A. At the moment, my other preoccupation is learning French. My wife and I moved to France in 2008, and my French is still weak. A fair bit of the research for my last book The Greatest Escape involved reading a mountain of stuff in French. So I combined learning French with writing. Great chunks of my French homework went straight into the book!

Q. Do you miss anything, living in France?

A. In a word, CRICKET. I can’t get it on radio or TV here. I’m a cricket fanatic.

Q. What got you started as a writer?

A. I’ve been around the book trade for over 40 years, first as a literary agent and then as a publisher. Before that I was a journalist. I’m fascinated by stories, and for years I tried to commission some very good writers to do a book on the midget submarine raid on Sydney Harbour in May 1942. None of them would tackle it. So when I retired from publishing I thought: hell, I know it’s a great story, I’ll write it myself. That became A Very Rude Awakening, my first book. It sold pretty well, so the publishers pressed me to write more (not that I took a lot of persuading). That led to An Awkward Truth, about the bombing of Darwin, and now The Greatest Escape, about a French community that hid Jews during World War II.

Q. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?

A. Fingers crossed, but so far so good. I got a bit bogged down a couple of years ago when I thought I was drowning in detail, all of it in French, for The Greatest Escape. But if you stick to the routine of keeping office hours, you can’t just stare out the window all day, you have to do something. And somehow the empty pages get filled with words.

Q. Have you ever been surprised by the reaction to your books?

A. You bet. For me, the biggest surprise and delight was discovering that I had a lot of women readers, maybe even a majority. The first two books were technically military history, and that’s not an area that attracts women. But I tried to stick to the human story rather than write about things that go bang and whoosh, and that seemed to suit women readers. Most of the letters I get are from women.

Q. What next?

A. That would be telling! I’ve got a couple of ideas, neither of them military history, but at the moment I just want to get The Greatest Escape launched and out there. Then I’ll sit on a beach somewhere, probably in Australia early next year, and take some decisions.

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Book Info

Publication date

11th July 2014


Peter Grose

More books by Peter Grose
Author 'Like for Like'

Author's Website


Nicholas Brealey Publishing


370 pages


Biography / Autobiography
Books of the Month

Second World War

European history
20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000



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