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Monday
Oct282013

Banvillars

Banvillars is a village not far from Belfort. About 2 weeks after the massacre at Chenebier, the horror continued for the men who had survived. What happened at Banvillars did not become known as quickly as the horror of September 27 in Chenebier. After taking away those captives they did not murder at Etobon, the Germans chose to execute them in a field instead of in the middle of town. There was only one survivor, a priest from Giromagny, left to bring the story back home. Banvillars is located between Etobon and Belfort, in a series of villages that become closer to each other as they get nearer to the big city of Belfort. These days, Banvillars is a true suburb of the city, but in 1944 it was still an agricultural village, surrounded by fields and woods.

Emile Pierre, the curé or parish priest from Giromagny was the sole survivor of the massacre at Banvillars on October 10, 1944. He reported[1] that he was one of thirteen men from the region who had been imprisoned in the Friedrich barracks at Belfort.  The men were called out of their cells at eight o’clock that morning. They were pushed up against the walls of the hallway by German soldiers armed with machine guns, then forced into a large room. An officer had a list of their names, which he checked one by one as they answered the roll call. The men were forced to strip, all the while guarded by the machine gunners. Everything that could later be used to identify them, including dentures, wedding rings or religious medals, was removed from their bodies. Pierre reports that they used wire cutters to remove some of the items from the men. They were then given simple clothes to wear, which Pierre calls the uniform of the condemned:  open shirts, pants and shoes, nothing by which they could be identified. The soldiers opened the exterior doors of the room and the men were loaded into the back of a truck outfitted with benches along its sides. When they were seated, the Germans loaded a stretcher with a wounded member of the maquis in the center aisle.

The truck set off across Belfort. The men were silent, knowing what was ahead. Pierre led the men in prayer as they were driven toward certain death. He asked each of them their name, the name of their village and their occupation. He pronounced the absolution upon all of them.

It was not long before the truck left the main highway towards Héricourt. It went down a lane, through open fields, over a bridge, then along the edge of a wood. Finally, far from any houses or barns, the truck was stopped. A car that had been following pulled up beside the truck. A German officer, the commander of the prison where the men had been held, got out. The four soldiers who had guarded the men took up their stations and prepared their machine guns.

The first to get out of the truck were a Senegalese and a North African soldier. They climbed out of the back, walked a few paces into the field and were shot. Next, the man on the stretcher was brought down. Two of the machine-gunners walked over to his stretcher and shot him. Then, two more men walked out to their death. The next two to die were one of the Nardins and Pierre Goux from Etobon. Then two gendarmes, most likely among those who had hidden at Etobon. Each pair fell on top of the bodies of their compatriots.

Then, it was Emile Pierre’s turn. The officer, who was again checking names off the list, called him out, but then led him aside. Pierre knew they were saving him for last, letting him watch the others die. After a few moments, the curé too approached the machine guns, but the officer ordered his men to stop and turned with a few words to a fellow officer. After a moment’s discussion, Pierre was ordered to return to the truck. He was the only one to return alive to Belfort that day. 

Emile Pierre did not stay at the barracks at Belfort long. He was transported to the concentration camp at Dachau, where he remained until the end of the war. He survived and returned home in 1945. But Albert Nardin, Marcel Nardin and Pierre Goux, along with four of the gendarmes, were buried in the field at Banvillars thirteen days after they were taken from Etobon.



[1] Statement of Emile Pierre, October 10, 1945, as recorded in Ceux d’Etobon, Benjamin Vallotton, Librairie F. Rouge et cie., Lausanne, translated by K. Douglass.

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