Alsace pushes rehabilitation of SS conscriptswith WWII village massacre ceremony

9th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

STRASBOURG, June 9 (AFP) - The people of Alsace, a French region annexed by Germany during World War II where young men were enrolled by force to fight against their kinsmen, will this week remember a war-time massacre that has fuelled bitter controversy for 60 years.

STRASBOURG, June 9 (AFP) - The people of Alsace, a French region annexed by Germany during World War II where young men were enrolled by force to fight against their kinsmen, will this week remember a war-time massacre that has fuelled bitter controversy for 60 years.

On June 10, 1944 German SS troops stormed the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in the central French Limousin region, killing 642 people, including 207 children.

Among the 60 troops who perpetrated the massacre were 14 French nationals from the eastern region of Alsace, of whom all but one had been conscripted by force. Most were under 18 years old.

After the war, it was decided that the village would never be rebuilt and would stand as a memorial to France's suffering under Nazi occupation.

The French fighters who took part in the Oradour massacre were considered traitors, and were handed forced labour sentences by a military court in 1953.

But parliament overturned the sentences following a public outcry in Alsace, where the fighters were seen as the victims of the Nazis.

Sixty years on, the tragic fate of these young Alsacians, known as the "Malgre-nous", which means "Against our will", remains little known in France.

With tacit agreement from France's occupation Vichy government, the Third Reich de facto annexed the regions of Alsace and Moselle, on France's eastern border with Germany, in 1940.

Forced conscription started in 1942, with a total of 130,000 to 140,000 young Frenchmen being enrolled into the German ranks. Those who refused saw their families threatened with deportation or even execution.

As many as 40,000 of the soldiers never returned home, most having died on the eastern front opposing Nazi and Soviet forces.

According to the French historian Eugene Riedweg, the people of Alsace consider the "Malgre-nous" to be the victims of a crime, forced to wear the enemy uniform and take up arms against their countrymen.

"It was unthinkable that they could be viewed as criminals," he explained.

In the Limousin, however, the families of the Oradour victims have struggled to accept that such a crime could go unpunished - a painful difference of views that has strained relations between the regions for decades.

On June 10 this year, the political leaders of Alsace will be present in Oradour for the 60th commemoration of the killings.

"Tensions have quietened down and it is time to build a common future, while working to remember," said Adrien Zeller, the centre-right head of the Alsace regional assembly.

"But for that to happen, both sides have to make an effort. Alsacians are tired of hearing about their 'so-called' annexation by Germany."

"The tragedy of the "Malgre-nous", although little known, was very real indeed, like that of Oradour. Neither should be underestimated."

© AFP

Subject: French news
 

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