Voici les récits familiaux de la Deuxième Guerre Mondiale des élèves de 2M qui s’inscrivent dans l’échange avec l’Ecole 45 d’Azov à l’occasion de la commémoration des 8 et 9 mai 2021.
Here are some war stories and some opinions about WW2 contributed by 2M students. You may want to read the Russian stories posted next too.
On December 8, 1942, my great-grandfather Robert HUON was requisitioned for compulsory work by the German authorities. Faced with the threats and strictures of German occupation, he could not avoid being deported to a German war factory.
On December 10, 1942, he took a train from Gare de l’Est in Paris to Vienna in Austria. He arrived there on December 11, 1942. He was assigned to work in a factory in very bad conditions. The factory was a vast expanse of new buildings built by prisoners of war from all over Europe.
For my great grandfather the year 1943 was a daily struggle between this exhausting work and a constant quest for food while constantly expecting news from his family.
The danger was ubiquitous because the bombers of the U.S AIR Force and the Royal AIR Force made a lot of raids on Vienna. The German authorities decided to transfer Robert further east. He boarded a train on July 13, 1944 to Slovensko (Slovakia). He was expected to build German aircraft parts in the Skoda factories. The factory was built underground for protection against the frequent American bombings.
On April 3, 1945, the sound of cannon fire was heard and German soldiers ordered the workers to leave the barracks immediately. Robert was sent to the village of Prejta. On April 8, 1945 the Skoda factory was completely destroyed. Red Army soldiers were getting closer and closer and the bombing was now a habit.
In the nights of April 28-29, 1945 my great grandfather had to hide in a trench to seek shelter from the fighting and on April 29, 1945 at 11:30 a.m. Robert shook the hands of the first Russian soldiers. There were about 200 French people who were liberated from the Nazi camps.
Robert left on his way home on May 3, 1945, he took an overcrowded train and the travelling conditions were terrible. The journey went on for days as the train stopped regularly in several East European cities like Odessa or Budapest.
The train arrived in France in the morning on August 24, 1945.
I am Raphaël, I am part of the 2M class of Paul Lapie high school in Courbevoie. This is the story of Robert HUON, my great grandfather. I used the diary he wrote during the war to give a summary of his adventures. I am very happy to exchange stories and photos about our ancestors who participated in World War II. Commemorating the end of this dark period means a lot to me, I am proud to do it with you, Russian friends.
During the second world war, my great-grand-mother, Yvonne worked in a laundry in Bordeaux: her jobs was to clean German officers’ clothes. Her husband, Ismaël had been sent to the front and made prisoner in Germany and worked in a farm near Mönchengladbach, a city between Düsseldorf and the Dutch border.
He managed to take a photo of him in the farm in order to send to his wife. My great-
grand-mother stuck it on the wall of her shop. One day, one officer came in to collect his clothes: he immediately identified the photo as his parents’ farm and even his dog. After that, the officer and Yvonne got better acquainted. Thanks to the officer, Yvonne could receive frequents letters from her husband.
When my great-grand-father died in Germany, the German officer asked his family to bury him in dignity, and later on, at the end of the war, my great-grand-mother could go and say goodbye at her husband’s grave.
As most men in 1939, my great grandfather was mobilized for the war in the North of France. He got captured by the German army at the start of the war when my grandmother was only 3 years old. He stayed prisoner during all the war and when he came back to France, my grandmother who had no real memories of him didn’t recognize him and because of that they had a complicated relationship after. Also, my other great grandparent
s lived in Poland near Krakow at the start of the war so they immigrated to France and gave birth to my grandmother there.
At the end of 1940 during the Occupation, my grandfather was less than 2 years old and his mother was looking after him and his two older sisters.
The Germans had requisitioned their house because it had enough room to park vehicles but also because it was close to a V2 launch pad that they were building.
My great-grandmother was homeless with three children including a baby. Fortunately, a family living in the village agreed to take them in.
She was able to recover her house soon after the Normandy Landing. It was a complicated time for her because in addition to having her house requisitioned there was a lot of bombing near their village due to the proximity of the German base.
The year is 1944 in the village of Falck in Moselle, a few kilometers from the German border. The Moselle is under German control but the American troops are getting closer and closer to the village. However, SS troops are still around.
My great-grandfather, Eugène Rodoltz, was assistant to the chief of the Hargarten station (nearest village). On November 19, 1944, Eugène spotted an American plane that had been shot by a German plane and crashed. He rushed to the crash site 600 meters from the train station. Upon arrival, SS troops were already there and the American soldier had died. Somehow, my great-grandfather managed to convince the SS to show him the soldier’s military plaque: the name James A. Ryan was on it. Upon which the Germans ordered Eugène to leave quickly, which he did.
Despite the German ban and the danger, Eugène decided to return to the place with some villagers. Soldier Ryan had been stripped and beheaded, but the body was still there. The villagers decide to wrap James A. Ryan in a sheet, transport him and bury him in the village cemetery with a cross bearing his name.
A few days after the liberation of the village on November 28, 1944, the local authorities declared the presence of the body of the pilot in their cemetery. An investigation was then conducted and the Americans interrogated the witnesses. Eugène then made a written statement of what he had seen and done. The role of my great-grandfather stops after this statement but the story is not over.
On the US side, the mother of the pilot who had been without news from the military made a series of requests to obtain information on the death of her son. In 1946, the body was moved to the American military cemetery of Saint-Avold. Two years later, the mother received a letter telling her that they had found remains but the identification was still uncertain. In 1949, the identification inquiry finally bore fruit and the transfer of the body to Denton, USA was to take place on July 28, 1949. The soldier was able to return home and be properly buried with a ceremony. The pilot also received the Purple Heart posthumously.
During WWII, my great-grandfather who lived in Les Fourgs, east of France in the Jura mountains was active in the resistance together with people across the Swiss border. One day, the Swiss had to deliver food.
My great-grandfather had to meet them at night to collect the load. However, while passing by the cemetery, he found himself face to face with a German soldier. Fortunately, he was the first one to see him because both fired instantly. It was my great-grandfather who managed to win the duel and kill his opponent and then he joined the Swiss.
At the beginning of the war, my grandmother was seven years old and at the end, she was thirteen so she spent her childhood during the war. During these years, she lived in Courbevoie with her parents, her brother, her two sisters, her grandmother and her aunt. As there were the Hispano-Suiza factories which manufactured airplane engines, the city was bombed.
One evening, at dinner, in September 1943, a bomb exploded very close to where she lived. It was one of the biggest fears of her life. It was a terrible period for her but she wasn’t unhappy because she enjoyed the love of her family.
My grandfather was ten at the beginning of the war, and he was sixteen (my age) at the end. He spent the war in Lille with his parents and his two brothers. One day, after a bombardment, a piece of shrapnel went through the window and crashed into the dining room table. It has stayed there since this day; it has never been removed.
Students’ views of WWII
WW2 is one of the most important wars in human history, and probably the most tragic according to me.
It is at the root of most of today’s conflicts and it will mark humanity forever, it shows that racism is unacceptable even as a joke and as it leads to physical violence and must be obliterated from our society.
For me this war represents the madness of a man who destroyed half of the world in order to annihilate humans because of their religion, their ethnicity and their sexual orientation.
It takes a big place in school, and more generally in French contemporary culture. Actually, France was invaded by Germans in only two weeks, and experienced dictatorship from the inside. It is very interesting to see that for the French, this period of history is a taboo subject, although people who lived it testify to what they have experienced, people seem to avoid this topic. It is at the same time an engrossing subject and a highly sensitive issue.
I think history classes should broaden the subject, and not be limited to Germany. This war should be taught from all different angles.
As regards the way WWII is commemorated, I think we celebrate it as if we bravely fought Germans – which is not entirely untrue – but nobody talks about the Vichy regime or collaboration. At first sight WWII is about mass extermination, but at second thought, we become aware that the war was partly caused by WWI. To some extent, although Germans are responsible for this crime, we had a part of responsibility too – less than the Nazis of course.
Sure, it is a questionable view, which invites debate. Honestly, even with testimonials, we cannot assess the importance of this event, what it means to Jews and families who have lost loved ones, who have suffered injustice… That is why we must continue to commemorate this event on behalf of all those who fell for freedom.
Actually, World war II didn’t happen a long time ago, and it still leaves deep scars on some. Especially people with family who endured and/or survived this worldwide conflict. It is important to commemorate the ones who died during this long period, through concentrations camps or starvation. All these innocent people have to be commemorated.
It might seem like a duty, though in my opinion because of respect and honor we all have to pay tribute to the victims of this period.
However, some people do not feel concerned at all by these events. Probably because of their youth and the feeling that this could never happen in their lifetime.
Maybe it is also the lack of teaching in history classes. I do think WWII should be better taught by telling more stories of survivors but especially by getting into the details of the war.
When you ask someone what images come to their mind about this subject, it is soldiers or concentration camp. But I think there is more to it, for example how women were treated or gay people or East Europeans. Also, how other countries view this period, how they coped with the war, why and how the Nazis could come up with the crazy notion of a so-called superior race.
What WWII means to me
World War II did not affect me directly, because obviously I wasn’t born then and my family wasn’t involved directly. My grandparents were children and therefore did not go to war. I just know that my paternal grandmother had to move because there were bombings near her home, so she stayed to Burgundy with a host family. My maternal grandmother was in Switzerland, so no problem.
I can’t really realize what the World War was, six years of threats, anguish, fear, it’s complicated to imagine it in my comfort of the 21st century.
The Second World War inevitably reminds me of the fate of the Jewish people in the concentration camps, and I think it is extremely important to keep the memory alive, we have a duty to remember, to ensure that this kind of genocide does not happen again.
But in conclusion, I’m not directly affected by this war because I wasn’t there and I my grandparents didn’t tell me stories, but it seems obvious to me that we must continue to commemorate and think of all the people devoted to their country.
In my opinion, WWII is probably the worst war because it mostly killed innocent people and it seems like we didn’t learn about this, as China is doing the same thing to the Uyghur for example. I often wonder what would have happened without this war: what would Europe be like today, whether the USA would be so powerful, how the Jewish community would have fared.
I consider the war from a distance as my family has never really been affected by war, and very few of my friends’ families actually were. So, WWII doesn’t have an impact on my life and commemorations don’t impress me that much but I understand that it still has an impact on the lives of many people today.
In my opinion, the Second World War is the most painful episode in our history. It is related to massive deaths and above all to the horror of the genocide against Jewish people.
But for me, this event takes place in the distant past and does not arouse much my interest, certainly because of my lack of knowledge on this period.
Nevertheless, when the topic is raised, a jam of images comes to mind thanks to the transmission of memory through school.
At first, I imagine the groups of deportees in wagons traveling to the death camps and crematoria chimneys. Then, Hitler comes to mind, marching in front of the rampaging crowd in Germany, during the period of Nazism rise. Finally, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki scare me.
None of my family is directly involved in this war.
All the information I have, comes largely from school learning. However, I feel that the restitution of history teachers presents some gray areas. Probably they desire not to tarnish the image of France during events.
Actually, this annihilating war is definitively different from the others because of the disproportionate results with such a number of victims and the terrifying scope of destruction.
The Second World War belongs to the past, but not for those and their family members who endured the misfortunes of the war. For them. The memory hurts everyone today. On the other hand, for those not involved, the memory of this war can be easily forgotten. Being part of the second category, I never talk about World War II except in class.
The commemoration of May 8 in France remains very important and impossible to remove. Because it is necessary to remember and pay homage to war victims, and above all, to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again in the future.
WWII and me
My great grandfather on my father’s side took part in the Great War. He was mobilized by the French army in 1939, not long after he finished his military service in Algeria. He was an Algerian tirailleur. Eventually, he was taken prisoner in Germany. He was freed in 1941 and was sent back to Algeria. In 1943, he was mobilized again and was part of the “Operation Dragoon”, the landing of Provence. He stayed there till the end of the war and was able to go back to Algeria in 1945.
I have noticed while asking my family about World War II experiences, that be they my parents or my grandparents, they didn’t know much about it. As if the war stories had faded over time, or maybe they just had never surfaced in the first place.
I am not sure about the reason behind this. Maybe my great grandfather didn’t want to talk about it because it brought back dark memories that he wanted to forget.
Or it could be because of the historical context. Algeria was a French colony for more than a century, and Algerians were not treated the same as the French colonists. When the Allies won, Algerians were hoping for reforms that would grant them rights after fighting and risking their lives for France, but nothing changed. This is when the Algerian war broke out. The Algerian war was more important for the Algerians because it was their country, and they were fighting for their rights and independence. So that could explain why there aren’t a lot of memories and stories about World War II.
Personally, I don’t feel that much connected to World War II, probably because we don’t talk about it very often, either at school, with my family, or with my friends. I think I would have felt more connected to the war if I had lost a family member because I would have seen concretely the direct consequences of the war in my personal life.
However, it was a crime against humanity so I obviously cannot stay insensitive, and I feel concerned as a person knowing the atrocity that happened to the victims of the Nazis.
I think preserving memories is a duty as well as commemorating the different events in order to never let anything like that happen again. Letting “the dead bury the dead” would mean forgetting the millions of people that were killed, soldiers and civilians, as if they had died for nothing.