An Austrian man who fled the Nazis with his family during the second world war has bequeathed a large part of his fortune to the French village whose residents hid them from persecution for years.
Eric Schwam, who died aged 90 on 25 December, wrote the surprise gift into his will for Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, located on a remote mountain plateau in south-east France that historically has a large Protestant community known for offering shelter to those in need.
“It’s a large amount for the village,” the mayor, Jean-Michel Eyraud, said.
He declined to specify the amount since the will was still being sorted out, but his predecessor, who told a local website that she met Schwam and his wife twice to discuss the gift, said it was about €2m (£1.8m).
Schwam and his family arrived in 1943 and were hidden in a school for the duration of the war, and remained until 1950.
He later studied pharmacy and married a Catholic woman from the region. Eyraud said Schwam asked that the money be used for educational and youth initiatives, in particular scholarships.
About 2,500 Jews were taken in and protected during the war by Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, whose residents were honoured as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre.
Over the centuries the village has taken in a wide range of people fleeing religious or political persecution, from priests driven into hiding during the French Revolution to Spanish republicans during the civil war of the 1930s, and more recently migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa. (Text, excluding headline, courtesy The Guardian UK)