Friday, November 10, 2006

Remembrance Day, lighter posting to come

I will likely be falling behind in my postings here over the next week, as my good friend, former room-mate and erstwhile groomsman, the Fantabulous Jonny V will be descending upon us. Typically, his arrival will force me to get up at six to meet him at the airport, which will be a nice reminder of what living with him was like.

Incredibly, after four months with no visitors, our erstwhile nearly neighbour, husband-of-former-boss, gourmand and boulevadier Bio-Dave is also arriving in town, a slight diversion from a meeting in Germany where he is plotting with his colleagues to save the Blue Whale and it’s fellow threatened critters (the Blue Whale, is after all, the tastiest of the great whales).

Also tonight, I’m going to my first “live” French soccer… ahem, Football… match – RC Strasbourg vs some team from where our Bourdelais friend Sebastien is from. I plan to pretend I don’t know him if he starts cheering for the other guys.

So, probably no post tomorrow, which of course is Remembrance Day in Canada. Here it is Armistice Day, focusing strictly on WWI.

Both the wars are a particularly touchy subject in Alsace. The region was, after all, part of the German Empire at the outset of the Great War, and had been for 44 years. The Alsatian language remains very similar to German and the half-timbered houses that are typical of the area are seen as very Teutonic – so much so that France, upon re-occupying the area, plastered over many of them. At the end of the war, the French refused to allow Alsace to hold a referendum to determine which country would hold their loyalty, as they were fairly certain they would not like the results.

Hitler repeated the Kaiser’s tack of absorbing Alsace directly into the Reich, going so far as to rename Place Kleber – the main city square – after an Alsatian “separatist” that the French had executed for treason the year before the invasion.

Incorporating Alsace into the Fatherland meant, in both cases, that residents were subject to the draft. In World War II most went to the Eastern Front, spending years in Soviet prison camps after the Russian triumph there. Others ended up in the SS, and participated in a mass slaughter in a small village in Limousin, burning women and children alive in the parish church while punishing the townsfolk for the actions of the Resistance.

Needless to say, there were hard feelings after the war. The trial for the former SS members gave the Alsatians ridiculously light sentences, to the rage of the rest of France. They claimed that they were forced into their actions by the German officers. Theiy became known as the “Malagré Nous” – “despite ourselves” – and their name and opprobrium they earned was attached to all Alsatians that had served in German forces.

None of the Malagré Nous – including those that served, and suffered greatly in legitimate military units in the Eastern Front – ever received military pensions from either the French or German governments.

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