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Wednesday
May052010

The Gathering Storm

 

By the early summer of 1944, dozens of escaped Indian POWs had passed through Etobon. Each had been fed and sheltered. When the villagers had surplus clothes, they shared them with their guests. The men had escorted the Indians to Chagey and from there they traveled in stages to the Swiss border. But as the summer wore on, groups began to return, telling how they had been stopped, or fought skirmishes with German patrols. The Germans had learned of the unprecedented numbers of escapees crossing the frontier and had closed it. The former POWs had to go back, deeper into the Franche-Comté to find sanctuary.

At Etobon, Pastor Marlier and the leaders of the maquis decided to set up a series of camps in the woods for the men. They would provide tools to build shelters and lean-tos and the village families would deliver food each day to an agreed-upon site. The men would at least be kept alive and away from the occupiers.

The idea of these exotic-looking men wandering the woods of eastern France always made me shake my head. How did they escape without being spotted? And what tales did they tell when they returned home to India? As I got to know my parishioners, I found how much the events of 1944 lived in them and their homes. One afternoon, drinking tea in Claudine’s salon in Chenebier, she told me she remembered these funny Indian men in the woods when she was a child. She said, “One got sick and died – right there where you’re sitting.” Then she pulled out an old magazine with pictures of soldiers dressed in rags, turbans in place, straggling out of the woods between Etobon and Chenebier at the end of the war. I understood then why the Indian government had placed two bronze plaques at the cemetery in Etobon, grieving with the villages of Etobon and Chenebier.  The plaque in French provided by the government of India. An identical plaque in Hindi is on the opposite wall of the cemetery at Etobon

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