Wednesday was a memorable day for Pierre Sauvage, a Holocaust survivor, Elvis fan and award-winning filmmaker whose documentaries explore hope’s resistance to despair.
In the morning, he toured the National Civil Rights Museum, where he learned more about a pacifist Protestant pastor who risked his life to defend the rights of others.
In the afternoon, he visited Sun Studio, where he learned more about a rebel whose music helped him establish his own identity as an American and a Jew.
In the evening, he discussed “Rescue and Resistance” at the Jewish community’s 50th annual observance of Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“It was an especially rich day. This place is special to me,” said Sauvage, who was born in France, raised in New York City, and enriched by his first trip to Memphis.
Sauvage was born in 1944 in Vichy France, where his Jewish parents were trying to survive the Holocaust. Nearly 76,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps from France; only 2,500 survived.
Sauvage and his parents survived because they were hiding in the Protestant village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, whose 5,000 inhabitants, led by two pastors, saved an equal number of Jews from the Nazis. He told the story in his first documentary, “Weapons of the Spirit,” which included an interview with one of the pastors, who had Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s photo on his wall.
“I feel a tie to Dr. King, a pastor and a pacifist who refused to abide injustice,” Sauvage said.
He also feels a tie to the King of Rock and Roll.
“I was raised to be French, not Jewish,” Sauvage said. “Listening to Elvis, to rock and roll, was my first act of rebellion. Singing ‘Hound Dog’ made me feel like an American.”
Before he leaves Memphis today, Sauvage plans to make one more stop on his Memphis pilgrimage: Graceland.