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) 

 

 

 

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SARACENS IN PROVENCE

What did they leave behind?  They were in Provence for at least two centuries.  Some say not much.  Perhaps the name Maures Mountains, 80 kms west of Antibes.  But there is much more.

                        Maures Mountains

From the seven hundreds to the nine hundreds they were a formidable force along the coastline of Provence.  To the north there were epic battles with Frankish forces.  It is said by some that, if Martel’s battle with the Saracens at Poitiers in 732 had not been successful for him, Europe would have become Muslim.  Other historians question this.  That a large part of Spain was under the control of Saracens until 1492 did not make things easier for the populations of France.

                            Bay of St Tropez

The Andalusi Saracens from southern Spain invaded what is today the Bay of St Tropez.  The year was 889.  1,155 years later the Allied Forces would also invade Provence through the same Bay.  The Andalusis established Fraxinet (near today’s La Garde-Freinet) and this would serve as headquarters for various activities, one of them, the piracy in the mountain passes of the Alps.

We think these days of great national units and find it hard to grasp the political splintering of that time.  Halfway through the brief history of the region in his book “Midi”,  André Brink writes, “Wait, it only gets worse.”

                 Medieval portrayal of Saracens

To cut a long, convoluted story short,  the Saracens of Fraxinet were defeated in the Battle of Tourtour in the year 973 by William, Liberator of Provence, as he is known.  The Muslim dream of establishing colonies in the south of France was dashed.

Did the Saracens leave anything behind?  Europeans called them moors and today French surnames like Mouret, Maurin and Mauron bear witness to that.  The Andalusis of Fraxinet were not only warriors:  they brought, amongst other things, buckwheat to the shores of France.  The rounded towers characteristic of the buildings of that time in Provence are architecture from north Africa.

     Vestiges of architecture from north Africa

In Mougins, 20 kms north west from Antibes, there is still the Saracen Gate from which Christians kept a watch on Saracens in the area of modern-day Cannes where, for 80 years, they had a foothold.

The Saracen Gate, medieval quarter of Mougins

In Antibes there are street names that speak of Arabic presence across the centuries – Chemin de Maures, Avenue de la Sarrazine.  The iconic tower at Les Remparts was called Le Tour Sarrazines, also serving as a look-out.

                   Avenue de la Sarrazine

Le Tour, also called The Saracen Tower

In the Rabiac cemetery in Antibes there are Muslim graves, those who died alongside the French in World War One.  In this cemetery there is a monument to the Hakis, those who aligned themselves with the French in the Algerian war in the late-1950s and, with the outcome of the struggle, fled to France.

               Muslim graves, Rabiac cemetery

     Monument for the Hakis,                 Rabiac cemetery

The complexity of the situation reaches its highpoint in the terrorist attack on Bastille Day in Nice, 2016.  The very first of over 85 victims was a fifty-five–year-old woman with the name Fatima Charriki, a dedicated Muslim and lifelong a French citizen.  It is estimated that nearly a third of the victims had Arabic ancestry.  From this there has appeared the book “Ma mère Patrie” (My Motherland)  by Hanane Charriki, the daughter of Fatima.

 

                            Hanane Charriki

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules,  Antibes

July, 2017

 

Sources

Wikipedia:  History of Provence

Article:  Robert W. Lebling: “The Saracens of St Tropez” (Aramco World,  2011)

Dictionnaire de la Provence et la Côte d’Azur (Larousse, Paris 2002)

Blanchet, J-M. Turc, R. Venture : La Provence pour les Nuls (First Editions 2012)

Images

Maures Mountains – visitvar.fr

Bay of St Tropez  –  golfe-saint-tropez-information.com

Saracen soldiers  –  artsymbol.wordpress.com

Round tower   –  terreetpasse.blogspot.com

Saracen Gate, Mougins – my photo

Le Tour – my photo

Avenue de la Sarrazine  –  my photo

Rabiac Muslim graves  –  my photo 

Hands Monument  –  my photo

Attack in Nice  –  leplus.nouleloms.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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