The elders’ memories

photo source : bbc.co.uk

As far as I can remember, I’ve always been really interested in History in general, but more specifically about the second world war. So at a very young age I started asking my grandparents if they had any memories from that time.

My paternal’s grandmother is born from Polish parents who fleed Poland to settle in a little village in the North East of France, near Verdun. My great grandfather worked as a minor and my great grandmother was a housewife. They’ve always wanted to integrate, so they got naturalized to get the French citizenship, though still spoke Polish at home. My grandma once said to me that the only thing she remembered about the war is when, in 1945, (she was only 3) while she was sitting on a embankment with her sister, she saw planes that went to the West : it was American planes that went to liberate the camps.

My maternal side is even more interesting. Both of my maternal grandparents grew up in a small village in Normandy. My grandma wasn’t even able to walk that a German soldier was ordered to live in her parents’ house. His name was Günther, he was only 17. My grandma remembers his kindness : he was taking care of her when he could and as she was peeing in the garden multiple times, he used to say to her : “Get your panties up Christiane! ”. She says that he used to hold her hands for her to learn how to walk. She remembers as well how it was hard to get food, and even today, she can’t help putting an enormous amount of food on the table for meals. Even though a German taught her how to walk, she can’t stand it when she hears the language, even though she recognizes that of course, not all Germans were as bad as Hitler.

My maternal grandfather was just a child as well when some Germans soldiers settled in his parents’ house. He remembers his older brother, who was about 11 years old, puncturing the Nazis’ vehicule’s tires. “I’ve always seen him as a little Resistant, kind of” , he once said. But one day, his sister died from tuberculosis and his parents decided to leave their house. They didn’t want to leave the poor girl’s body in the hands of the Nazis so they fleed holding a wheelbarrow with the body in it. They took refuge in a countryside’s house, sharing the food and the rooms with some other people. I think they stayed there for nearly 2 years.

My grandfather, now, 80, was taking a walk around this place that he could barely remember. He didn’t know he was standing in front of this house where he and his family lived in, when he saw that something was craved into the wall. It was his father’s name, with the year “1944” next to it, the year they left the house and returned home.

My grandma & grandpa were full of joy when they saw Canadian soldiers showing up in their villages. The D-Day happened the day before, and France was liberated.

Those memories are precious, like any others : the Holocaust survivors, the Resistants, the heroes who hid and saved Jews… We must never forget, we must relay those stories to the future generations, so the memory can be maintained.