I join in lamenting the passing of Franklin Littell. While I had been only an intermittent presence in his life over the last thirty years, his friendship had meant a lot to me, as does Marcie’s. I guess one mark of a special person is that he manages to make a lot of people feel they are special to him. Franklin, obviously, had a long line of friends and admirers. But I had come to count on his sturdy—and, frankly, eternal—presence.
Over the years, there were those wonderful hugs at conferences or in some strange places (Berlin…), but I admit that they have blurred with the passing years. I had been thunderstruck when I came across “The Crucifixion of the Jews” in 1982. I had shot what later became “Weapons of the Spirit” but had just begun editing it—and couldn’t make sense of these Christians. What a discovery that the people of Le Chambon had a kindred theological spirit in the U.S.! (It would later turn out that Franklin had in fact met pastor Trocmé of Le Chambon in 1939, and was a great admirer.)
It was in 1983 that I first wrote to Dr. Littell, notably asking him whether he would be willing to be on the new Chambon Foundation (then Friends of Le Chambon) Board of Advisers. Franklin will remain on that Board as long as it exists, as people do when they matter to me; he joins Harry James Cargas, whose Christian friendship I also treasured, in this posthumous presence. Furthermore, I will expect his continued input!
A few months later, I was earning a little money accompanying across the country French-speaking foreign dignitaries who were guests of the State Department. There was going to be a stop in Philadelphia, and I boldly called and asked Dr. Littell whether I could meet with him on the only evening I had free. He said he was speaking at a synagogue that evening, and suggested that I come with him. I remember that he did not drive slowly, despite an animated conversation to which he gave his full attention. I also remember that his remarks that evening forcefully stressed Christian responsibility for what had happened in the Holocaust. I don’t remember if he wore his cowboy hat or a bolo tie, all of which would further endear him to me.
Rereading our subsequent correspondence, I am reminded how touched I was when he thanked me “for the help you have given me in introducing a basic affirmative note in teaching the lessons of the Holocaust.” I wrote back: “I am inordinately flattered that you are taking what I am trying to convey so seriously, and am impressed by the ease with which you convey this to me. I know enough about the righteous to know that they begin by letting as little as possible stand between them and the truth.”
At that time, I was wrestling with understanding and communicating the importance of the righteous Christians of the Holocaust—then an inordinately obscure subject, of interest to only a handful of us. Now as I grapple with a far more controversial subject—the American Jewish share of responsibility for what happened, and the challenging testimony of Peter Bergson in this regard—I am frustrated that I will never receive Franklin’s invaluable, straight-shooting philosemitic feedback.
I hope I will be forgiven these candid remarks, no doubt too much about me: I take Franklin’s death personally. I may regret having sent out these words the moment I hit the send key. But I welcome the feeling I have now of being a member of a big family who will, each in our own way, cherish the memory of Dr. Franklin Littell. May that memory be for a blessing. Goodbye, Franklin, and stay in touch.
Pierre Sauvage of the Chambon Foundation http://www.chambon.org/ and