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Pierre Sauvage is a child survivor of the Holocaust and a child of Holocaust survivors (at right in the arms of Eva Héritier of Le Chambon). An Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, Sauvage is the President of the Chambon Foundation, which he founded in 1982. The Chambon Foundation was the first nonprofit educational foundation committed to exploring and communicating the necessary and challenging lessons of hope intertwined with the Holocaust’s unavoidable lessons of despair. In 2005, the Varian Fry Institute was established as a division of the Chambon Foundation.
(at left in 1990 with Le Chambon righteous Marie Brottes and Henri Héritier) is best known for his 1989-2017 feature documentary
Weapons of the Spirit, which tells the story
the conspiracy of goodness of a mountain community in
France that defied the Nazis and took in and saved five thousand
Jews, including Sauvage and his parents. Sauvage himself was born in this unique
Christian oasis, Le Chambon, at a time when much of his family
was being tortured and murdered in the Nazi death camps. But it
was only at the age of 18 that he learned that he and his family
were Jewish and survivors of the Holocaust.
Weapons of the Spirit won numerous awards, including the prestigious DuPont-Columbia Award in Broadcast Journalism (sharing the documentary award with Ken Burns’The Civil War series). The film received two national prime-time broadcasts on P.B.S., accompanied by Bill Moyers’ probing 1989 interview of the filmmaker, and remains one of the most widely used documentary teaching tools on the Holocaust. (On April 23, 2009, President Barack Obama publicly praised the the righteousness of the villagers of the area of Le Chambon. Please see www.chambon.org for further information.)
Late 2017 will see the release of his documentary short Not Idly By: Peter Bergson, America and Holocaust (left), as well as the DVD edition of Sauvage's 1979 Yiddish: the Mame-Loshn"the mother tongue," pronounced mama-lushen—the Emmy-winning portrait of a unique and tenacious language and culture. Upcoming and long in post-production is And Crown Thy Good--Varian Fry in Marseille (right), a feature documentary about Americans involved in rescue in Marseille, France, after France fell to the Nazis. While celebrating some remarkable Americans—Varian Fry (right), Miriam Davenport, Mary Jayne Gold, Charles Fawcett, Leon Ball and Hiram Bingham IV—the documentary will place the story in the context of those challenging times, addressing American policies then towards the unwanted refugees.
Also in post-production are two other documentary shorts: We Were There: Franklin Littell Confronts the Holocaust, and Three Righteous Christians of France, which focuses on three Righteous Christians of France: Madeleine Barot, André Dumas, and Jean-Marie Soutou.
Sauvage has also long had plans for a dramatic movie also dealing with the Varian Fry rescue mission but based on Mary Jayne Gold's flavorful memoir, Crossroads Marseilles 1940, the rights to which the author willed to Sauvage. Mary Jayne Gold (left, and right with Sauvage, during production of And Crown Thy Good), a beautiful heiress, participated in the mission, while at the same time having an affair with a young French gangster. The book was published in France in 2001 as Marseille Année 40 to unanimous acclaim, with Sauvage contributing an afterward.
In June 2004, Sauvage initiated and played a key role in organizing a "Liberation Reunion" (picture, left) that took place in Le Chambon for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Sauvage's efforts contributed to French President Jacques Chirac's decision to make a major address in Le Chambon on July 8, 2004. Shortly after his election as the new President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy made time to view Weapons of the Spirit and called it "deeply moving." The film has been officially recommended for use in the French school system. Unfortunately, despite five years of efforts, Sauvage was not able to fulfill his dream of helping to create a historical museum in the village; the farm that could have served for this purpose was sold in 2008.
The son of prominent French journalist and author Léo Sauvage, Sauvage was 4 when he and his parents moved to New York City in 1948, returning to Paris at 18 to pursue his studies. After working briefly as a journalist like his father, the Sorbonne drop-out fell in love with film at Paris’ legendary Cinémathèque Française, becoming a film scholar and landing a job there working for the legendary genius Henri Langlois. Veteran émigré producer Otto Preminger brought Sauvage back to New York as a story editor.
After co-authoring a two-volume critical study of American film directors, American Directors, Sauvage finally got behind the camera himself as a staff producer-reporter for Los Angeles public television station KCET. While producing over 30 hours of varied programming, his first major success came when he decided to begin exploring those Jewish roots he’d never known in Yiddish: the Mame-Loshn. Sauvage lives in Los Angeles. He and his wife, entertainment lawyer Barbara M. Rubin, have two children, documentary filmmaker David Sauvage and Rebecca Sauvage.
A popular lecturer on the Holocaust and its continuing challenges, for over twenty years, Sauvage has been a student of what he has called the American experience of the Holocaust. His address Did Americans Fight the Holocaust? tackles this thorny subject, drawing notably on his current documentaries--and urging us to look in as well as out.
The subject is also woven into his video-accompanied presentation The Challenge To Us of Holocaust Rescuers. Sauvage has long been one of a pioneering handful of experts on rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust—"righteous Gentiles"—and contends that they still have much to teach us. Sauvages lecturing and public appearances, with and without Weapons of the Spirit or excerpts from his other works, are all under the Chambon Foundation/Varian Fry Institute's auspices and help supports their projects.
Texts and addresses by Pierre Sauvage
Public appearances by Pierre Sauvage
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© Copyright 2011, Chambon Foundation. All rights reserved. Revised: March 16, 2011