The Blue Line – the Vosges frontier 1871 to 1914

The frontier separating Alsace from France before the Great War


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Three armies, one battle, one cross: le Croix du Moulin, Jebsheim.

Ils sont réunis dans la mort

Unissons-nous dans la paix

Sie sind im tode vereint lässt

Uns auch im frieden einig sein

They are together in death

Let us unite in peace

La Croix du Paix

Croix du Moulin

The memorial was built on the site of the old mill at Jebsheim, Alsace. The mill and the village were destroyed during the battle which raged from 02.30h on 25th January to 19.30h on 30th January, 1945, when the Americans pushed the German troops back towards the Rhine. In that time, in inhumane and bitter winter conditions, 1034 men were killed and more 2000 wounded. That is one death every fifteen minutes.

Croix du Moulin close upAs time has passed, there has been a spirit of reconciliation between the former adversaries and the memorial recognises the dead of all three armies: French, American and German. The three facets of the cross represent the three nations and the elegant, peaceful inscription is written in three languages. The armies and units who fought here are listed on bronze plaques, but these are only brought out for official ceremonies, as the first versions were stolen.

The monument was the concept of an American and two French men who fought at Jebsheim and it was inaugurated in June 1988. One aspiration is to bring the message of peace to young people and future generations.

Croix du Moulin bw

Le mur du souvenir

There is also a wall in memory of Alsaciens and Mosellans who were victims of war in violation of their international rights: those interned, those deported, those who were incorporated into the enemy army, those who were prisoners of war, those who were injured or permanently disabled, the fighters in the Resistance in Alsace and in the Free French Army. It recalls people’s long journey of suffering and sacrifices beginning in 1940 and leading to their tragic destiny.

Croix du Moulin victims panel

Battleground to place of peace

This was the battleground in January 1945. In the top picture below, I am standing facing the Vosges and the Rhine is behind me. You can just see a road sign at the right of the picture: this was roughly the position of the front line at the beginning of the battle, and where I am standing in the second picture (I’m by the millrace) is the point of progress made by the end.

Croix du Moulin view to front line    Croix du Moulin battleground

This is a very peaceful location, disturbed only by the occasional passing cyclist or tractor and one can sit on the old stones by the former millrace, thinking of the family who made their living here and the dreadful destruction which was the cost of liberation. It seemed strangely beautiful and appropriate that the mill site, now a place for peace and reflection, is now colonised by these stunning, iridescent damselflies.

Croix du Moulin damselfly

Croix du Moulin bridge    Croix du Moulin bridge close up

 


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Bitter grief: allegorical women on war memorials in Alsace. A post for Remembrance

Nancy    Le Souvenir, Nancy

Le Souvenir in plas Maginot, Nancy is a bronze sculpture commemorating the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine by Germany in 1871 . It was created by Paul Dubois and erected in 1910 after his death. The two women wear the coiffes of their respective regions and Alsace, on the right, stares with bleak unseeing eyes into the mid-distance. Lorraine is so preoccupied with grief that she rests her head on her companion’s shoulder, while the two embrace.

As a consequence of the time in which Alsace and Lorraine were part of Germany, Great War memorials in Alsace tend to be different from those elsewhere. They were built at a time when Alsace had been returned to France, but during the 1914-1918 war, many local men had been fighting as German soldiers. An image of a German soldier was unlikely to be palatable, so a device often used is a bereaved woman. She represents mothers, wives and daughters and may be carrying children. She is often dressed in Alsacien costume so that she is an allegory for Alsace mourning her lost sons, which takes on another layer of meaning if you choose to think of Alsace lost to France for nearly five decades.

Bennwihr’s memorial is called Fidelité, depicting the loyalty of Alsace (with the large coiffe: bow) and Lorraine (with the soft cap) to France. It was erected in 1925 and remained in place during the Second World War. The scars and marks on the memorial testify to the violence of the battle for the Liberation in December 1944: the village was almost entirely obliterated, as my postcard shows.

Bennwihr Fidelité            Bennwihr monument and church Bennwihr

Bennwihr Ste-Odile  Ste-Odile, part of Bennwihr’s Peace memorial

The grieving woman below is the figure on Illhausern’s memorial to the dead of both wars, though she was part of the original Great War memorial. Civilian deaths are listed on brass plaques on the wall of the church. Occupied by the Germans from 1940 onwards, my postcard shows that the village and original church were almost obliterated in the combats of December 1944.

Illhausern memorial 2     Illhausern

Illhausern memorial 1          Illhausern église sinistrée

Memorials showing bereaved women with their fatherless children include Kintzheim [below]

Kintzheim         Kintzheim scene

and Zellenberg [below].

Zellenberg

Sometimes a women is shown alone, distraught with grief.

Westhalten         Westhalten 2    Westhalten

And sometimes all she has is a corpse.

Thanenkirch A nos morts Thannenkirch

All photos and postcards my own.


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Un Malgré-Nous – 1945: the bleak ending to ‘A Summer Excursion’

My last blog post mentioned the role played by young René Oster working in his parents’ popular auberge at le Moulin de St-Hippolyte. During the Second World War, René was forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht, captured by the Russians and died in the prison camp at Tambow.

René was a Malgré-Nous – one of a hundred thousand Alsacien men and thirty thousand men from Moselle who were conscripted against their will into the Wehrmacht or the Waffen-SS after the forcible annexation of France in 1940 and compelled to fight against their country. (In a significant difference from the annexation of 1870, Alsace and Moselle remained legally French in 1940.) Malgré-Nous means ‘in spite of ourselves’. The majority who died in prison camps died in terrible, degrading conditions and near-starvation at Tambow. The fate of the Malgré-Nous is outside the scope of this blog, but there is considerable information available online, particularly at the excellent site http://www.malgre-nous.eu/ The list of names and their fates is harrowing and desolate.

By way of acknowledgement of the life of the young man who grew up at le Moulin de St-Hippolyte, I want simply to share the memorial to the Malgré-Nous at Ribeauvillé, Haut-Rhin.

Ribeauville 1

Ribeauville 2

Ribeauville3

Photographs my own, 2006.

 

Appendix

Inscription on the memorial

En hommage aux victimes de l’incorporation de forces des Alsaciens-Mosellans dans l’armée allemande lors de la guerre de 1939-1945. Ils étaient 130000 à partir contre leur gré, au mépris de toutes les conventions internationales, évitant à leurs familles d’affreuses représailles. Afin que le souvenir de cette tragédie jamais ne s’éteigne, ce monument leur est dédié. [Memorial donated by la Fédération de Tambow Brunstatt]

Location of the memorial

Jardin de Ville, route de Guémar, Ribeauvillé, Haut-Rhin

René Oster

These are René’s details taken from Tambov-Kirsenov, Une Liste de 1136 noms – a transcription from the Fiches du Volksbund – [Fiches du Volksbund transmises par Claude Herold sur la base d’une liste de 1136 noms publiée par Régis Baty dans son livre « Informations de Russie sur les Malgré-Nous »] which is available on http://www.malgre-nous.eu/

OSTER René 1925

◾ Nachname : Oster

◾ Vorname : René Daniel Martin

◾ Dienstgrad : Grenadier

◾ Geburtsdatum : 21.03.1925

◾ Geburtsort : Saint-Hippolyte

◾ Todes-/Vermisstendatum : 16.01.1945

◾ Todes-/Vermisstenort : Kgf. in Tambow