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Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by beetle • Mon 21 Jul 2008 21:18

Being interested in history I am curious how the war affected the Limousin. I have come across small mentions of snatch squads seeking out young men and women for forced labour camps and retaliation executions. Oradour-Sur-Glane near Limoges "chosen for its innocence and insignificance" where 642 people were murdered.
How did people cope with it? or is it a topic best left in the past?
Families can be badly affected by such events and feelings passed onto their children (now adults).

If you never find what you seek, you never wanted it badly enough in the first place.
beetle
147
Dec 2007
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by Mikeovers • Tue 22 Jul 2008 00:17

Hi There,
the short answer is no. This is still a very emotive subject, even after so long. For those of us lucky enough to have no experience of having our country overrun by an enemy, this may be hard to understand, but it is as well to bear in mind that there were a substantial minority of French people, small businessmen, shopkeepers, self employed tradesmen, and so on, who positively welcomed the arrival of the Germans. This was because they saw the German presence as a powerful weapon against the tide of Communism and militant trade unionism that swept through France after the war of 1914-1918.

Much the same could be said of Britain, Italy, Holland & Belgium at the time, but the outcome for each was very different! Britain resisted both the rise of Communism, and at the same time Fascism, Italy embraced Fascism, with tragic results, Holland & Belgium were overrun. The French never surrendered to Germany, they signed an armistice, which effectively ceded control of much of France to Germany, and the Vichy Regime commenced to administer it on behalf of the Third Riech. Alsace & Lorraine became part of Germany once more, and parts of southern France continued, more or less, as before. If you attempted to devise a situation for wholesale national chaos and bitterness that bettered this, you would fail!

Nowhere was this more true than in Limousin, where Communism and Socilism were very much in the ascendant. Limousin was one of the most militant and resistant of all French regions, and together with Brittany, caused more damage to the Germans than the rest of France put together (the exception being the Greater Paris Area). Occupation, resistance, collaboration, all bring with them the potential for terrible divisions - within nations, within communities, within families even, and it is not surprising, that, to this day, this area still bears the scars of the Second World War.

I know that some of my neighbours sheltered Jews from the Gestapo, at terrible risk, not only to themselves,but also to their compatriots of, shall we say, less liberal persuasions. I also know people who were active supporters of the Vichy government, and I have been privileged to meet and talk with former members of the Maquis, but unless you feel very comfortable with your French friends, this is a subject best left untouched.

If you want to know more, there is a very good Museum of the Resistance, right alongside St Etienne cathedral in Limoges, A.J.P. Taylor's "The Origins of the Second World War" gives a somewhat controversial overview, with many references to France, and Max Hastings's wonderful book "Das Reich: The March of the 2nd Ss Panzer Division Through France", gives a graphic account of the events leading up to the tragedy at Oradour sur Glane, as well as the horrors in Tulle which preceded it. Any trawl through Google or Amazon will get you tons more results, but in the end, because we are foreigners, we will never understand.

It would be interesting to hear other views on this, it is, I think, quite fundamental to understanding modern day France, but maybe others think that it's just so much water under the bridge!

Regards,
Mike

Mikeovers
44
Nov 2004
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by Annik • Tue 22 Jul 2008 00:42

I agree with you entirely. We blundered about at the beginning thinking that our neighbours would regard the Resistance as heroes, etc., as my mother's best friend was in the Resistance and we thought it would be a point of contact to mention this. But the response was very ambivalent, including the cynical suggestion that lots of people claimed to have been in the Resistance after the war who were actually collaborating at the time. The local Maquis was also not universally supported as they used to requisition food from the local farmers who could ill afford to give it to them. Some were regarded as reckless idiots.

The son of the previous (deceased) owner of our house was in the Resistance at university, was caught and sent to a slave labour camp; he died at the end of a death march two days before the war ended. We were very sad for him yet fascinated by the story, but it was incredibly painful for his relations to talk about it and they approached it as if it were almost a taboo subject. Asking questions was like treading on eggshells.

On the other hand, some other neighbours lived in Arras during the war and we had a surreal evening with them the first time we went round for a apero, hearing about how it was best to be bombed by the British (who came in low and aimed) rather than the Americans (who stayed high up out of the way and dropped their bombs willy-nilly). They brought up the subject themselves. They were quite indignant that the Americans had blown up their privvy instead of the nearby marshalling yards.

So I think my advice would be like Mike's, "don't mention the war" - or at least, don't mention the subject first.

Annik

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. (Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.)" Groucho Marx
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Annik
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Jun 2007
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by Ann-et-Steve • Tue 22 Jul 2008 16:46

Hi beetle,
Just to pick up on your mention of Oradour-sur-Glane, there have been several books written about this terrible massacre, one of which I've read - I think it was 'Massacre at Oradour', by Robin Mackness. It's a gripping story, the gist being that a group of German soldiers had been looting gold from the French and had accrued a stock pile which they were now transporting to a Swiss bank. On passing Oradour the small convoy was attacked, the attackers and the gold vanished. The German commander then took his revenge on the people of Oradour.

The devastated village is a must visit. We found it the most eerie, silent, even when full of visitors, yet facsinating place we have been to.

It will effect you.

Steve.

Ann-et-Steve
39
Mar 2008
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by baywindowgirl • Tue 22 Jul 2008 22:25

We went to Oradour on our last trip over in June, it's well worth a visit. The visitor centre is excellent, it handles the subject matter with great sensitivity. The village itself is incredibly poignant. The thing that really got to me was the sight of a sewing machine in practically every house. Such an everyday domestic object - really heartbreaking.

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baywindowgirl
9
Mar 2008
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by thewrights • Tue 22 Jul 2008 23:35

I agree with both Mike and Annik - we've talked about the war with our 80 year old neighbours, but let them introduce the subject first (though OH finding an old shrapnel shell in the garden with his metal detector sort of led the conversation that way!!)

It made me realise that although I'm interested in history of all sorts, I was woefully ignorant of how it would have been in this part of France during the war years. So we let the neighbours lead the way. Just can't imagine how it would have been - all the men in our hamlet used to hide in the woods when Germans were spotted passing this way, for fear of being taken away (there was a maquis presence here).

Another neighbour can remember her mother being asked for 'oeufs' by a soldier in a passing german convoy. She thrust the whole basket of eggs at the soldier, and told him to take them, because she didn't want him in the house. He insisted on paying for them though because she had several children and he said it wasn't right to deprive them. The convoy had over 160 vehicles in it . . they were watched carefully to determine when it was safe for the men to return home.

Hard to imagine how such a wonderfully peaceful place as Creuse is now could have been so full of fear and uncertainty . . . .

"When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on." - Thomas Jefferson
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131
Oct 2007
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by tomdenne • Thu 24 Jul 2008 01:03

One of the saddest and most poignant things is to visit any church in France and to look at the enormous list of names on the First WW memorials. How could so many young men have been lost?

The scale of this 1914/18 massacre was so great, even greater than the huge losses we sustained, it seems hardly surprising that France was ill equipped to deal with a repeat, just over twenty years later.

Doesn't it put into proportion some of the relatively tame problems we face today?

tomdenne
133
Jan 2008
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by Mikeovers • Fri 25 Jul 2008 22:54

Tom,
I'm glad that I'm not the only one to be moved by this, the sight of those terrible lists, so many from the same families, is almost to emotional to bear, and you don't need to be an historian to imagine the awful lives that the bereft families must have faced. It was much the same in England of course, but the density of the population made the effects less obvious, but nonetheless pitiful.

My father spent his early days in abject poverty, because his father died on the first day at the Somme, and my other grandfather had his left leg blown off at Beaumont Hamel, and his three elder brothers also died in the same attack. The emotional shock of this was so great that my great grandmother simply gave up the will to live, and died in 1926.

Because my father stayed on in the army until 1947, and my mother worked for the RAF, my grandfather was a formative influence in my early life, and we became close friends, and as I grew older he told me a great deal about the horrors he had seen, but on strict condition that I never spoke of it to my grandmother or my mother, and although natural curiosity made me agree, I thought, even then, that I had become part of a conspiracy of silence.

I am sure that the same has applied in France in later years, and the same militaristic propaganda that led tens of thousands of young French boys to squander their lives at Verdun, equally caused English lads to die in their tens of thousands on the Somme. The numbers are mind numbing, between July 1916 and December the same year, 624,000 English, French & Colonial soldiers were killed, lost or injured, and 465,000 Germans.

The Somme was a largely British affair, designed to take pressure off the French defending the fortress city of Verdun, but in terms of human life, it only added to the misery. Verdun was the "Calvaire"of the French army, 70% of whom passed through the "Wringer of Verdun".262,000 French dead or missing, 216,000 injured, the Germans fared a little better, "only" 142,000 dead, and a "mere" 187,000 wounded.
It is not possible to imagine what effect this has had on European civilisation, or to begin to comprehend the horrors of that time, but whether you are English or French or German, we must surely hope that such senseless waste of life will never happen again.

One of the best (& most moving) accounts of Verdun is "The Price of Glory", by Alastair Horne, probably out of print now, but a search of Abe Books on the internet will get you a secondhand copy, and although it's a novel, "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks, is one of the most poignant books about the Somme that I have ever read.

Sorry, drifted off a bit there, but I know just what you mean Tom.
Kind Regards,
Mike

Mikeovers
44
Nov 2004
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by Annik • Sat 26 Jul 2008 00:58

I agree with you about the First World War and about the battle of Verdun, which had such an enormous impact on the French psyche - imagine the impact on the British if WW1 had been fought in the fields of Southern England for instance and how we would have felt at the time and subsequently. Those war memorials are heart-breaking.

I found Birdsong immensely moving. Another novel that affected me deeply was Carl Leckey's first book, The Angels of Mons*, which was published in New Zealand (where his children now live) in 2004. Carl is one of our authors but we had nothing to do with this book, so I am not being at all commercial here. It is an immensely moving novel about the horrors of the First World War, and the hero is a resourceful but illiterate under-age soldier who, like Carl's grandfather, is put into the Labour Corps - the lowest of the low. He is initially given the ghastly task of burying the battlefield dead and the body parts left over from field surgery, then graduates to becoming an ambulance driver, working with brave conscientious objector stretcher-bearers. One of them becomes his mentor. The shocking detail in the book is extraordinarily vivid and Carl feels the story was "channelled" through him by a dead Quaker stretcher-bearer as a means of bringing these terrible experiences out into the public domain. Most old soldiers have understandably avoided describing such painful and squalid circumstances in their memoirs about the Great War. It made me wonder how anyone - on either side - could have gone through all this and remained sane afterwards. Let's hope our children and grandchildren never have to face such horrors.

Annik

* The "Angels" are the stretcher-bearers.

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. (Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.)" Groucho Marx
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Annik
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Jun 2007
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by beetle • Sat 23 Aug 2008 12:35

Innocents caught-up in madness.
Many ordinary people died in both wars with few monuments to erected in their memeory.
01 Aug 1914, german soldiers cross into Belgium unopposed, 04 Aug attrocities commence. Villages burnt down. In one town rifle volleys were too slow, so a machine gun was used on the crowd of former inhabitants.
Cre de Oiseau was the first French village to recieve such treatment.
26th Aug Louvain (Belg - similar to Oxford) now it escalates from villages to a city.
As the army advances inhabitants are used as human shields en bloc. 27th Aug Malines is bombarded.
Somewhere in this my relatives decide to run leaving behind everthing. The train they catch does not go far before it can go no futher, as they leave it is shelled.
Eventually they make it to a port. The last boat leaving can only be boarded using wooden planks, people are falling off between ship and dock.
England a foreign land. Decision two famillies split up one stays the other goes on to America.
Glastonbury Somerset. War has ended children growing up, nothing to return too, titles and property aquired by surviving relatives "you left we stayed"

What did you do in the war daddy? Raced around the airfield in a bentley that had been requisitioned ! Strange? True he raced cars before the war.
Many, many years later I found out he was in his twenties when called up to serve as a flight engineer in bombers. The fact he survived suprises me. After the war the destruction wrought by bombers was held in revulsion (as if the crews had a choice!)
My mother could not stand the sound of german military music and cowered under the stairs during thunderstorms. In the war she survived a near miss under the stairs, the milkman ,horse and cart and a close friend did not.
Both families of the first and second world wars always kept these memories locked away and only little things slipped out (thats about the sum of it above!) - it was not something that could be spoken of.
Was it to protect themselves or a hope younger members would never have to experience such evil things.
I feel very lucky their decisions, made my exsistence possible, what are the odds against?

If you never find what you seek, you never wanted it badly enough in the first place.
beetle
147
Dec 2007
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by Mikeovers • Wed 27 Aug 2008 16:11

Beetle,
a wonderfully evocative and sad family narrative, which highlights the always unspoken question of - "Why did it happen again?" This really is a Pandoras Box, and I hesitate to lift the lid off on this forum, but we started by talking about using discretion when speaking of the second World War, we then drifted into the first World War as a natural follow on from that, so maybe it's not a bad thing to discuss the reasons, and the links, between the two tragedies, for that is certainly what they were.

In the end, we can only make a rational judgment if we understand the scale of the tragedy of the first World War. Be careful here, there is an old saying which goes: " There are lies, damned lies, and Statistics, in that order! Countless generations of politicians have used numbers to persuade electorates that they knew what they were doing, and countless generations of opponents have used the same numbers to prove that they did not!

With that caveat, here is a link to some serious figures, which at first sight are rather boring, but which tell, in all their neutral numeracy, of the full scale of this unimaginable horror.

If we accept the truth of these statistics, we can see that the Entente Powers suffered slightly more deaths than the Central Powers, but whilst those deaths were spread almost worldwide in the case of the Entente powers, a staggering 77% of deaths in the Central powers were borne by Germany and Austro-Hungary, Germany alone accounting for 52%. Of the Entente powers, Russia was hardest hit (31%), follwed by France, (25%) the British Empire(16%). The USA, which did not enter the war until 1917, (2%).

Boring as these facts might be, they resulted in world shattering events, the Russian Empire disappeared as a European power, and became the worlds first communist state, the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist, it's former dominions such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and so, on became nations in their own right again, and the USA, for the first time in it's history, became a player on the international stage. Large parts of Belgium & northern France lay in ruins. and Germany, although it's infrastructure was largely un-harmed, had seen it's male population devastated, and was to all intents and purposes, close to bankruptcy.

The Treaty of Versailles of 1919, was designed by the victors to punish Germany for its aggression, and to make Germany accept responsibility for the war, to accept total disarmament, to make huge territorial sacrifices, and to pay vast sums of money in reparations to certain countries of the Entente powers. There were originally 26 nations represented at the Treaty, Germany & Austria were excluded, as was Russia, because it had signed a separate peace with Germany in 1917, and in the end, the only players who mattered were Britain, France & the USA.

The aims of each of these were very different; To appease French public opinion, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau wanted to impose policies deliberately meant to cripple Germany militarily, politically, and economically, so as never to be able to invade France again.The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, took a similar, but less stringent line, probably because the decline of Germany would have left France as the most powerful country in Europe, something Britain would certainly not have liked! The American President, Woodrow Wilson, viewed the severity of the Treaty with grave misgivings, foreseeing a period of chaos in Europe as a result, and the destruction of it's lucrative trading partners. In fact the USA never ratified the Treaty, opposition in the US senate by Henry Cabot Lodge ensuring that Wilson was left almost helpless.

Of course the German Chancellor, Scheidemann, refused to sign the Treaty and resigned, saying of what he described as "a murderous plan": "Which hand, trying to put us in chains like these, would not wither? The Treaty is unacceptable" Eventually, the new German President Friedrich Ebert signed the Treaty under protest, and so began the terrible descent into economic & political chaos in the Germany of the twenties, the hyper inflation, the exploitation of the weak, the rise of extremism, and, in the end, the rise of the National Socialists, with Herr Hitler in control in the Reichstag. It wasn't quite that simple, but I imagine most people know what came next.

The question is " Did the Allies cause WW2?" My personal view is that it would probably have happened without Versailles anyway, revenge is a powerful motor, and even in 1918, Germany was still a strong industrial power, but the rise of Nazism may well have been caused by the almost universal sense of injustice felt in Germany against the Treaty, and the deprivations that followed it. I always think that as residents, or former residents, of an off-shore island, our view of history is often rather slanted, and a wider, European context will frequently result in a different perspective. What do you think?

Kind Regards, Mike

Mikeovers
44
Nov 2004
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by tomdenne • Wed 27 Aug 2008 23:52

Mike, I think your's was a balanced, informative and informed post; a pleasure to read. Congratulations. Similarly, this thread has produced some other great posts.

A small thing that has often puzzled me - can anyone help? Often right-wing extremists are called Nazis. Yet Nazi is the popular term for the NSDAP, the National Socialist German Workers' Party; by definition, hardly right wing!

tomdenne
133
Jan 2008
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by Mikeovers • Thu 28 Aug 2008 14:07

Tom,

Yes, it is a puzzle. Sozialistiche does indeed mean socialist in German, and its hijacking by the Fascists was a source of a great deal of anguish among the left in Germany in the twenties. Communists, Trades Unionists, the Social Democrats, all felt cheated that the word should have appeared in the name of an organisation that was anything but socialist in it's origins. The "National" bit of the title was spot on of course, and sadly continues to this day in the National Front in the UK, now sanitised as the "British Party", or whatever, and the Front Nationale in France. I came across the following article on the internet (Wikipedia again!), that gives a clue as to what went on:

On 5 January 1919, Drexler, together with Gottfried Feder, Dietrich Eckart and Karl Harrer, and twenty workers from Munich's railway shops and some others met to discuss the creation of a new political party based on the political principles which Drexler endorsed.[7] Drexler proposed that the party be named the German-Socialist Workers Party, but Harrer objected to using the term "socialist" in the name, the issue was settled by removing the term from the name, and it was agreed that the party was named the German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP).[8] To ease concerns among potential right-wing nationalist supporters, Drexler made clear that unlike Marxists, the party supported middle-class citizens, and that the party's socialist policy was meant to give social welfare to German citizens deemed part of the Aryan race.[9] They became one of many völkisch movements that existed in Germany at the time. Like other völkisch groups, the DAP advocated the belief that Germany should become a unified "national community" (Volksgemeinschaft) rather than a society divided along class and party lines. This ideology was explicitly anti-Semitic as it declared that the "national community" must be judenfrei ("free of Jews").

From the outset, the DAP was violently opposed to non-nationalist political movements, especially on the left, including the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and particularly to the newly-formed Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Members of the DAP saw themselves as fighting against "Bolshevism" and anyone considered to be part of or aiding so-called "international Jewry".

Although officially called a political party, the DAP was a tiny group with fewer than 60 members. Nevertheless, it attracted the attention of the German authorities, who were suspicious of any organisation that appeared to have subversive tendencies. A young corporal, Adolf Hitler, was sent by German army intelligence to investigate the DAP. While attending a party meeting, Hitler got involved in a heated political argument and made an impression on the other party members with his oratory skills. He was invited to join and, after some deliberation, chose to accept. Among the party's earlier members were Rudolf Hess, Hans Frank and Alfred Rosenberg, all later prominent in the Nazi regime.
Drexler was a political activist in the closing months of the war, and spread the idea that Germany's defeat was the result of a lack of patriotism at home, rather than military defeat. He was violently opposed to the Treaty of Versailles, as were most Germans, but unlike them, he chose to turn his anger into starting a political movement.

Thank you for your encouraging comments.
Kind Regards, Mike

Mikeovers
44
Nov 2004
Re: Second World War - should it ever be mentioned?
by tomdenne • Thu 28 Aug 2008 20:58

Thanks Mike!

tomdenne
133
Jan 2008
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