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I received a copy of B. Herbert’s history of a Masonic Lodge formed inside a concentration camp with a lot of excitement, as this era of Freemasonry has always been an interest of mine. Unfortunately, I stupidly took my copy to my office, intending to read it on my lunch breaks, and shortly after, our office shut down due to the current pandemic. All of this is a very long-winded explanation to apologize to B. Herbert for taking so long to review this great book!
A Light In The Darkness covers the events surrounding the formation of Loge Liberté chérie, a Masonic Lodge that formed and met inside of a concentration camp. Due to the highly illegal nature of the Lodge, records are quite scarce, making this book the most complete history we will likely have available.
The book begins with a brief explanation of the cultural views of Freemasonry during World War II, a topic that is generally glossed over in most history books. Specifically, the book gets into a pretty thorough discussion of the laws and edicts that were passed forbidding different aspects of the Craft, which culminated in Freemasons being arrested and put in concentration camps as political prisoners.
It continues by examining the three Catholic priests who served as unofficial Tilers for the Lodge, by keeping an eye out for Nazi guards patrolling the camp during Lodge meetings. This section definitely provides an interesting counterpoint to the typical “Catholics hate the Freemasons” narrative that we usually see in history, and shows that good people continue to do good deeds, even in the darkest times.
The book then hits the “meat” of the topic: the formation of Loge Liberté chérie the business the Lodge was able to perform within the camp, and the artisans they worked with to procure supplies, such as a tracing board. Unfortunately, as previously stated, while this is the most exciting part of the book, it is also the most sparse; even in the best of times, Lodge records can be difficult to locate, and since this specific Lodge was formed in extreme secrecy, the records are nearly non-existent. Most of the history we have available is from the three brothers who survived to the end of World War II, and from others who were in the camp with them.
We finish with a brief examination of the troubles faced by the Brothers of the Lodge post World War II to gain official recognition, as the Lodge was formed clandestinely under extreme circumstances. It is interesting to note that while the Lodge first formed in 1943, and the war ended in 1945, the Lodge was not granted official recognition and a charter until 1987.
This book itself is pretty short and can be finished in an afternoon, however, considering the events it is examining took place over a short time that is not a detriment. It would have been easy for the author to be tempted to pad out the book by adding superfluous materials, and a credit to him that he did not.
The book is also filled with photos that provide greater knowledge of the individuals involved, the layout of the camp and the Lodge within it, and the supplies they had available. These are a welcome addition, as it enriches the experience by helping provide a connection to the text. Many history books leave this material out, and they end up being dry text, so it was good to see how many photos the author was able to include.
I would also like to thank the author for the tremendous amount of research that went into this book; as almost none of the source materials were in English, he had to not only compile the information presented but also translate it, and then fit it into the overall narrative. I can only imagine the hundreds of hours of research that went into putting this together, and it is evident that the author knew the material very well by the time he was finished.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone with interest in Masonic history, as it provides a precious window into a Lodge that would easily have been forgotten otherwise. You can pick up a physical copy from Amazon or Barnes and Noble for $10 US; unfortunately, due to rights issues for the images, a digital copy is not currently available.