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Pierre Sauvage is a French/American documentary filmmaker and lecturer, who was a child survivor of the Holocaust and a child of Holocaust survivors. Described by Tablet Magazine in 2012 as "a filmmaker of rare moral perception", Sauvage is the President of the Chambon Foundation, which he founded in 1982. A 501(c)3 nonprofit public charity, the Chambon Foundation was the first 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; its specific focus is on America and the Holocaust.
Sauvage is best known for his 1989-2018 feature documentary Weapons of the Spirit, which tells the story of 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—the area of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon—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 had a 50-city theatrical release, received two national prime-time broadcasts on PBS—accompanied by Bill Moyers' probing interview of the filmmaker—and remains one of the most widely used documentary teaching tools on the Holocaust. A remastered wide-screen edition of the film will be released in late 2018.
Sauvage's still unreleased documentary Not Idly By—Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust won the Best Documentary Award at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. The film provides the challenging and eloquent testimony of Peter Bergson, a militant Jew from Palestine who led a determined and controversial American effort to fight the Holocaust. Sauvage's 1979 documentary Yiddish: the Mother Tongue was the Emmy Award-winning portrait of the unique and tenacious Yiddish language and culture. Also awaiting release is Sauvage's new documentary We Were There: Christians and the Holocaust, a film consisting of two shorts: Four Righteous Christians (Madeleine Barot, pastor André Dumas, Jean-Marie Soutou, Magda Trocmé) and We Were There: Rev. Franklin Littell Confronts the Holocaust.
Upcoming is And Crown Thy Good: Varian Fry and the Refugee Crisis, 1940-1941, a feature documentary about the most successful private American rescue effort during World War II. In Marseille, France, after France fell to the Nazis, a New York intellectual named Varian Fry led a tiny group that helped to save as many as 2,000 people, including many luminaries of that time: Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Jacques Lipchitz, Heinrich Mann, Franz Werfel, Alma Mahler Werfel, André Breton, Victor Serge, André Masson, Lion Feuchtwanger, Konrad Heiden, Marcel Duchamp, Hannah Arendt, Max Ophüls, Walter Mehring, Jean Malaquais, Valeriu Marcu, Remedios Varo, Otto Meyerhof... In a paper presented in 2000 at the Remembering for the Future conference at Oxford University, Sauvage argued that "Viewed within the context of its time, Fry's mission (...) seems not 'merely' an attempt to save some threatened writers, artists, and political figures. It appears in hindsight like a doomed final quest to reverse the very direction in which the world—and not merely the Nazis—was heading."
While celebrating some remarkable Americans—Varian Fry, Miriam Davenport, Mary Jayne Gold, Charles Fawcett, Leon Ball, Hiram Bingham IV—the documentary places the story in the context of those challenging times, addressing American policies then towards the unwanted refugees. Sauvage's footage, author Dara Horn reported in a long article on Varian Fry in 2012, introduced her posthumously "to several exceedingly intelligent, colorful, and sincere Americans (none of them Jewish)". One of these Americans is Mary Jayne Gold, who wrote a memoir, Crossroads Marseilles 1940, to which Sauvage owns the rights. Originally published by Doubleday in the U.S. in 1980, and published in France in 2001 as Marseille Année 40, with Sauvage contributing an afterward, the book is Gold's account of how this heiress from the midwest participated in and helped to subsidize the Varian Fry rescue mission while concurrently having an affair with a young French gangster.
A four-part retrospective of his documentaries Rétrospective Pierre Sauvage, including the remastered French version of Weapons of the Spirit Les armes de l'esprit, is being held in Paris at the Mémorial de la Shoah and in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in June 2018.
Honoring the memory of the area of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon
In June 2004, Sauvage initiated and played a key role in organizing a "Liberation Reunion" that took place in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon 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. When Chirac used the occasion to celebrate the values of the Republic, Sauvage wrote an article in the French daily Le Figaro pointing out that the values that had been implemented in Le Chambon were older than the French republic. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, shortly after his election, made time to view Weapons of the Spirit and called it "deeply moving." Sauvage spent five years trying unsuccessfully to create a historical museum in his birthplace of Le Chambon and overseeing a temporary exhibit area in the heart of the village. In 2013, a museum Lieu de Mémoire, spearheaded by Le Chambon-sur-Lignon Mayor Éliane Wauquiez-Motte, was at last inaugurated in the village. Sauvage was invited to present the French version of "Weapons of the Spirit" on this occasion.
Sauvage is the son of once prominent French journalist and author Léo Sauvage (born Smotriez), and his Polish-born wife Barbara Sauvage, née Suchowolska. Sauvage was four when he and his parents moved to New York City in 1948, his parents choosing to hide the fact that they were Jewish. Sauvage returned to Paris at 18 to pursue his studies, staying with his cousin, Samuel Pisar, the Holocaust survivor, attorney, and author. The Sorbonne drop-out fell in love with film at Paris' Cinémathèque Française, becoming a film scholar and landing a job there working for the film archivist and cinephile Henri Langlois. Veteran émigré producer-director Otto Preminger brought Sauvage back to New York a story editor.
In the U.S., Sauvage co-authored with Jean-Pierre Coursodon a two-volume critical study of American film directors, American Directors (E.P. Dutton, 1983), characterized in The New York Times by Peter Biskind as "highly informed, literate, trenchant." He is the Los Angeles correspondent for the influential French film monthly Positif.
Although he had contributed to a documentary about the artist Robert Malaval in the '60s, Sauvage settled behind the camera as a staff producer-reporter for then Los Angeles public television station KCET-TV, producing over thirty hours of varied programming dealing with a wide range of subjects. His first major success came when he decided to begin exploring Jewish roots he had never known in Yiddish: the Mother Tongue.
Sauvage lives in Los Angeles, with his wife, entertainment lawyer and professor Barbara M. Rubin. They have two children: "empath" David Sauvage and movie and television trailer editor Rebecca Sauvage.
Lecturer on Le Chambon, and on America and the Holocaust
For 35 years, a lecturer on the Holocaust and its continuing challenges, 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. He has also focused his efforts on what he has called the American experience of the Holocaust, urging Americans to look in as well as out. A key mentor for Sauvage in this effort was historian David S. Wyman, who died in 2018 and to whom Sauvage has paid tribute.
- Chandler, Adam (2012-01-25). "Peter Bergson and Holocaust Rescuers: A Conversation With Pierre Sauvage and Bergson's Daughter Astra Temko". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 2012-11-14.
- ""Varian Fry in Marseille" by Pierre Sauvage". Varianfry.org. Retrieved 2012-11-14.
- Chandler, Adam (2012-01-17). "Varian Fry Saved Hundreds of European Intellectuals from the Nazis—and Was Forgotten – Tablet Magazine". Tabletmag.com. Retrieved 2012-11-14.