SIX BROTHERS – a true story

“Hercules,” André Brink writes in his book Midi, “was the first famous traveler in Provence.”  We read this with irony – is it myth or legend?  Then too, we hear of accounts that feel forced, that editors would regard with a fatherly smile before they reject them, stories that are in fact true.  We know by now that fact can astound us more than fiction.

My partner Claudie’s married name does not sound French, as she is.  She told me that her late husband’s ancestors were from Alsace Lorraine, that part of France that has moved between German and French possession, with people sometimes feeling more German or more French.  And the region has produced some remarkable individuals – Albert Schweizer, theologian and missionary, and Kurt Schwitters, artist and poet, to mention only two.

Claudie’s late husband had a half-brother who paid us a visit, relating how the surname he shares with Claudie, lost the diaeresis on the “a” which in German would have had the sound of an “e”.

But it is the split nature of this region that interests me and Daniel related to us the story of his grandfather’s uncles, six brothers.  Three of these brothers, the older ones, were born and bred in the French town of Épinal.  The other three were born and bred in Strasbourg.

                Strasbourg, city with two faces

The former were French-speaking, while the latter were more inclined to German – in one family!  When World War Two was declared, the French brothers joined the French army, while the three German-speakers joined the German army.

                         Germans occupiers 

In May, 1940, Petain surrendered to the Germans and the first three returned to their former lives, feeding chickens, delivering post.  By 1942, the tide was turning for the German invaders.  They had been defeated in North Africa and Stalingrad.  The second group who had joined the Germans felt disillusioned and deserted the German army.  For various reasons, Daniel told us, they had begun to find a French identity more attractive, even envying their older brothers.  One of them was caught and by a miracle not executed, spending the rest of the war in prison in the little town of Bacara.  The remaining two slipped through the German lines and joined the French Resistance in the Pyrenese mountains.

              French Resistance

The last irony in this story is that the symbol of the French Resistance, the cross with its double horizontal beams, was chosen by Charles de Gaulle and which is close to the hearts of the French, takes its origin from Alsace Lorraine.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017

 

Source:  with thanks to Daniel M.

Images

Strasbourg – iha.fr

German invasion – ushmm.org

French Resistance – Getty images

(Photograph of De Gaulle monument, Antibes – mine) 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Comment Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: