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 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

ARCHIVES, FRENCH RESISTANCE 1943 – 1944

Perhaps it is necessary for us to look in the old trunk where we hide history, condemned to do it all again because we forgot.

The German occupation of France from May, 1940, left the south of the country neutral – until September-November of 1942.  Then they descended, with the French milice (police working with the Gestapo), on the French cities, towns and villages. It was then the Resistance broke from hiding.  Perhaps this part of France suffered less.  One thinks of the massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane, near Limoges, where SS troops shot 642 people on the 10th June, 1944, four days after the Allies had landed at Normandie – to mention but one incident.  But, as the poet says, the death of any man diminishes me.

From the Archives of Antibes, where I find myself, we have a few entries

1943

1st February.  “Fascist businesses” receive threatening letters from the Resistance [“Fascist” might well refer to the Italian troops under the command of Mussolini who controlled parts of Provence until 1942.]

27th February.  Attacks against businesses of collaborators (collabos) with the Germans

4th May.  Arrest of Dr Levy by the Germans

29th July.  Torture and murder of Luigi Rosso, a member of the Resistance.

 

1944

30th January.  Execution of collaborator

17th March.  Execution of the German “consul” in Antibes

22nd March.  Arrest of two members of the Resistance, Pierre Appolin and Joseph Groffino.

30th April.  Sabotage of the Antibes railway line by the Resistance

22nd May.  Execution of collaborator

{6th June.  Landing of the Allies at Normandie}

10th June.  Execution of two members of the Resistance

15th August.  Landing of Allies at St Tropez and St Raphael

24th August.  Execution of two members of the Resistance. Germans retreat from the Antibes town hall in the medieval quarter.  The liberation of Antibes.

{26th August.  Paris is liberated}

28th August.  Toulon and Nice are liberated.

23rd September.  Execution of ten collaborators at Fort Carré, Antibes

These fragments help me realise the depth of the French tragedy in the Second World War.  I wonder too, about human beings.  The German philosopher Hegel has it that the only lesson history teaches, is that human beings don’t learn the lesson history teaches.

“The death of any man diminishes me”

© Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

May, 2017

 

Sources

La Résistance Azuréenne. Jean-Louis Panicacci (ed.) (Nice Editions Serre, 1994)

Grandes dates de l’Histoire de France. Aedis.  1912.

France. People, History and Culture. Cecil Jenkins (Running Press, Philadelphia. 2012)

Occupation The Ordeal of France 1940-1944. Ian Ousby. Pimlico, London. 1997)  

John Donne: “The death of any man diminishes me”

Images

My drawings.

 

  

 

 

 

LA VIE EN ROSE – the vulnerable romantic

This song was composed by Edith Piaf in the final years of World War 2 and is far more than a hit.  It is honoured by some as the unofficial national anthem of the French.  And it is a single line in this love chanson that sets the tone in the lyric –the beloved is compared with an unretouched portrait, an affectionate ambiguity.

                     “the smile lost on his lips”

The title in relation to the lyric suggests a vulnerable romanticism – life in a rosy hue, or even, life in pink.  “Moonlight and roses” comes to mind as well as the ease with which life fractures it.

                            The orphan sparrow

La Vie en Rose cannot of course be seen apart from Edith Piaf.  As a child she was called la môme, the orphan sparrow, probably as a result of crippling poverty and the unpredictability of bohemian life once her talent had been discovered.  It is this pathos that we hear in Piaf’s voice, something which still touches people.  And she had endeared herself to the French public when accusations of collaboration with the German occupiers, calling her a collabo, were launched against her.  A close friend in the French Resistance set things straight.

After an internationally successful life, the life style and encroaching health problems took their toll and she died at an early age in Grasse, in the south of France, in 1963.  She had still recorded her hit Non, je ne regrette rien in 1960, another chanson that recalls her vulnerable romanticism.  She was laid to rest in Paris.  There were 100,000 people at her funeral.  And, if you listen, you’ll hear her voice in every piano accordion on the Champs Elysées.

                        “… the beat of my heart …”

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

April, 2017

 

Sources

Wikipedia: biography and “La Vie en Rose »

You Tube, for the song

 

Images

Roses on music sheet – lavieenrose.over-blog.com

La môme  –  francisdonne.qc.ca

Edith Piaf  –  lefigaro.fr

 

 

  

FOUR SONGS FROM A WAR

As a post-WW2 baby boomer, I was familiar with songs that grew out of the war.  In France, the war is no longer merely stories for me, fragments from books, movies.  Now I’ve stood where Hitler stood, saw what he saw.  In Nice I’ve visited the streets where the heaviest fighting took place at its liberation.  The war, what is left from it, is closer and its agony, for me, is also distilled in four songs.

“…some sunny day …”

We’ll meet again composed by Ross Parker (music) and Hughie Charles (lyrics) and sung by Vera Lynn.

” …. it’s a long long way …”

It’s a long way to Tipperary was composed by Jack Judge in 1912.

” … Underneath the lamplight…”

Lili Marlene was inspired by an earlier poem, composed by Norbert Schulze in 1939 and sung by Marlene Dietrich.

                                   Herm Niel

Erika was composed by Herm Niel in 1939.  It is interesting that each of these songs is a love song.  Is it that men fighting a war are more motivated to hate when they think of their loved one?

In We’ll meet again, the hope is expressed in sadness, a longing for “some sunny day” from under the dark clouds of war.   Tipperary is closer to the battlefront.  I hear boots marching between the lines, with the recurring longing in the words “it’s a long, long way …”  Lili Marlene was popular on both sides of the enemy lines.  I remember 15 years after the war when our family was listening to a long-playing record for the first time, the track came up unexpectedly and my father who seldom, if ever, spoke of his experiences in the war, suddenly left the room, deeply emotional.  With Erika (“Auf der Heide blűht eine kleines Blűmelein”) I have different feelings.  The song was belted out as the German troops marched under the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs d’Elysées, jubilant conquerors.  Later it was lovingly translated into Afrikaans and sung by the tenor Gé Korsten in a movie in the 1960s.  As a German marching song, it struck a particular note with people whose parents regretted that the Nazis lost the war.  I feel a cold breeze when I hear it.

Music makes war easier

I can’t hear any of these songs without sensing words from the poet when he speaks of “the still sad music of humanity”.

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

March, 2017

 

Source

Quotation from William Wordsworth :  “Lines written above Tintern Abbey”

 Wikipedia, for biographical details.  

Images

Vera Lynn – dailymail.co.uk

Jack Judge – History of Oldbury

Marlene Dietrich  –  andBerlin.com

Herm Niel – You Tube

Marschlieder – amazon.com

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: