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Quite a Day

The shelling that had been destroying orchards and roofs now began to create human casualties in Etobon. Even Aline, Jules Perret's daughter-in-law, was wounded. How much longer could they survive?

Tuesday, October 24

The lieutenant and the interpreter are back.  I have to have the potatoes dug, gather the apples that they will themselves put into barrels that I have to furnish, and send all the milk to Belverne.  The jerk even threatened me in German.  Karl, who heard everything, said as soon as they left, “Be careful, Papa!  The lieutenant is a real rogue!  Be careful!”  A little later, the interpreter came back and demanded some schnapps.  He’s a little guy, with no hair.  Once he had drunk his schnapps, his tongue loosened, he said to me in impeccable French, “Don’t do it.  I’ll be sent here every morning to help you in your work, and, between us, we’ll get around it.  Boy, your schnapps is good!  Do I dare ask you to pour me another?”

Wednesday, October 25

So, the interpreter came back.  I asked him pointed questions.  Then, we got our people together at the town hall and made them aware of the demands of the provisional victors.  A little later, a big superior officer, with several subordinates, came to my house and we held a war council.  (This colonel was the infamous Vonalt, who had our children shot!  Thank God I didn’t know who he was.)

So much talk!  Understanding reached on the potatoes, the apples, the barrels.  They will give us half the schnapps and pay us 100 francs per liter for the rest.  And every day we’ll furnish them with 100 liters of milk.  And the still, of course, and a team of men to make the schnapps.  What else?

During this whole one-sided conversation, the colonel had been relying on the interpreter.  Suddenly, in French, he says to me, “Mister mayor, I would like you to tell me, in all confidence, man to man, where my friend is buried, the officer who was killed in this village.”

Uh-oh.  Was he talking about the general or lieutenant X? The second, I imagine.  It was time to beat around the bush.  I took the tack that I had always been a pacifist, and my family as well, and for proof I showed him a clipping of an announcement I had placed in the newspaper in 1937, in which, to work for understanding between peoples, I had offered to welcome a young German into my home for 10 days.  The colonel read the clipping and shook my hand.  (I wonder what I would have done if I had known that the same hand had signed my son’s death order?)

It was understood that the interpreter would come every day by motorcycle to take care of things with me.  I’d share the work with three councilmen who had also escaped the massacre.  Jules Magni would take care of the leek harvesters.  Albert would take care of the shares of each household and the Germans.  Fernand Mignerey was in charge of transportation.  The milk, collected at the dairy, would be measured by Charles Surleau and the boche part taken to Belverne by hand-cart every day, at the price of 3 francs per liter.

As I was coming back from Julot’s house, following a Cossack officer whose dirty face I wanted to see, I met Aline who was going to make a little soup for the poor civilians taken from the foot of the Côtes.  Suddenly, BOOM!  I fell flat on my belly.  Aline, next to me, cried out, “Papa!  Oh Papa!”  “But, I’m not hurt.”  “It’s me – I’m wounded!”  “Where?”  “In the head.”  Blood was pouring down over her shoulders.  I grabbed her and dragged her to Albert’s cellar.  I had a bloody nose, too, from the explosion.  We trimmed some of her hair away and found a cut on the back of Aline’s head.  So!  We had both escaped and could thank God!  How Philippe cried, seeing his mother covered with blood!  Then we took her to the infirmary, where the doctor gave her a tetanus shot.  In the kitchen of the infirmary, the dead and wounded, all from the Mignerey house.  Other dead, Cossacks, behind Croissant’s house, along with nine sheep, all mingled together.

And when I went to set the clock, there was a new officer laid out on the pavement, covered with blood, under the steeple.

This was quite a day.

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Reader Comments (1)

The story continues through the liberation of Etobon and the return of the martyrs to their home villages ... Keep checking back for more posts!

January 14, 2014 | Registered CommenterKatherine Douglass

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