When Austrian Eric Schwan died in December 2020, he left a considerable portion of his fortune to Chambon-sur-Lignon, a remote village with a population of 2,500 in Southeast France. The exact amount bequeathed has not been made public, but estimates value it at the equivalent of approximately $2.8 million in U.S. dollars. Schwan’s wife died in January 2020 and the couple had no children or other descendants of their own.
Schwan, who was 90 years old when he died, was one of some 2,500 Jews who took shelter in Chambon-sur-Lignon during World War II, fleeing Nazi persecution. The village’s largely Protestant population hid thousands of Jews from the Nazis by hiding them in homes and on private farms, and sheltering them in forests when the Nazis came to search the village. As a teenager, Schwan took refuge in the village starting in February 1943, along with his parents and grandmother after their escape from Vichy internment camp, Camp de Rivesaltes.
The generous bequest, made by Schwan after a memorial to the villagers who sheltered the Jews was opened in 2013, came with a request that the village use the funds for scholarships, as well as other youth initiatives. The charitable bequest also was made with a desire for discretion about the amount of the gift – which the village is honoring.
The village has received bequests from other former hidden children and their descendants, but reported that Schwan’s gift was far greater than other such gifts.
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