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The Etobon Project

The Etobon blog

This blog is written as a chronological narrative.The most recent posts are found at the end of the journal.

The graves of some of those who died September 27, 1944

The Etobon blog contains portions of my translation of Ceux d'Etobon, by Jules Perret and Benjamin Valloton. Perret was an witness to a Nazi atrocity committed in the closing months of World War II in the village of Etobon, France. Perret's son, brother-in-law and son-in-law to be were victims of the massacre. has posted an article in which I've given the basic facts of the story of Etobon. Please visit the site and see other stories related to World War II prisoners of war.

You can find post links, most recent first, on the right side of each page.



Entries in Chenebier (7)


Why I'm Sharing This Story

The story of the suffering of the people of Etobon needs to be told and I'm in a unique position to tell it. I am the American pastor whose eyes were opened to what happened in Etobon and the neighboring village of Chenebier. I lived and worked for two years among the people who were there, whose family names are on the cemetery wall in Etobon. I was privileged to hold the post of Pastor of Etobon and Chenebier, part of the Paroisse du Mont-Vaudois, which includes all the surrounding villages and countryside. I baptized, married and buried the people who were formed out of this tragedy. I preached on Sundays in the church where the resistance hid its weapons and food and in the church where 39 men were murdered. I took part in the annual remembrance of the massacre. I know the principals, their children and grandchildren. I have read and translated their journals and memoirs. I have wept at their graves. They entrusted me with their story. Now I must tell it.


The Church at Chenebier

 You can still see the bullet holes on the side of the Lutheran church at Chenebier. Even today, you can see where they pitted the stone of the church wall. Bulletholes in the church wall at ChenebierA few up high, higher than a man’s head. But lower, where a man’s head would be if he were on his knees, the wall is pocked with them. When I first saw them, I didn’t know what I was looking at. Monsieur Widmer called me over to the tiny pavement at the side of the church. It was sunny. I was dazed. He said, “Did you know, Madame, they shot forty men here?  Just here. During the war. I remember hearing the planes go over at night, going to Germany. How happy it made me. We love Americans, Madame. It makes me angry to hear them criticized.” My eyes teared up. What was he talking about, forty men, just here? The 27th of September, 1944, 39 Glorious Martyrs Were Shot Here By The Germans. France Will Not Forget.The pavement by the church wall was maybe 12 feet long and 8 feet wide – the size of a small room. But the bullet holes were there.  

Just a few months before that Sunday in August 2004, I was dreaming of my new life as a French pastor. The grit and poverty of western Pennsylvania would be just a memory. An historic parsonage waited for me. Baguettes would be delivered fresh each morning. There would be French yarn for my knitting needles. What I didn’t expect was to find an atrocity at the center of my parish.


Learning My Way

Houses near the church in Chenebier

The week after the ceremony, I began to explore the villages of my parish. While my colleague, Jean-Jacques, had responsibility for the town of Héricourt and the villages immediately surrounding it, I oversaw the more distant ones. During my work in France, I’d often “faire le tour” of my territory, just to see what was going on. Had the snow been plowed in Chagey? Was there still road construction outside Champey? Had they finished the work on the village square in Couthenans? I’d drive from one village to the next, on the lookout for people and events.

That last week in September, after driving the short distance from Couthenans to Chagey, I drove out through the woods towards Chenebier. It was the first time I’d driving out there myself without following someone who knew the way.

I turned left off the main road towards the village of Chenebier, and then saw a sign that said, Rue d’Etobon, Etobon Street, on my left. I thought, that must be the way to Etobon and the church at Chenebier. I knew the church was on the top of the hill on the left, overlooking the main part of the sprawling village. I followed the Rue d’Etobon for a while, until I saw it was leading me away from the landmark steeple instead of closer to it.

I turned around and retraced my route, something I did a lot of in France. I got back to the main road and followed it through the twists and turns, hills and valleys of Chenebier, trying to keep the “arrow” of the steeple in view. I finally turned one last corner and was in front of the church. I pulled into the tiny parking area and got out. I had brought my camera along, already feeling the need to document this story, the massacre, the mystery.


Chez Bonhotal

The Bonhotal family and their descendants live on the edge of the woods on the outskirts of Chenebier. A few kilometers' walk takes you deep into the forest, or to the village of Etobon. The Bonhotals had contact with the Indian soldiers' camps in the woods, and their children remember playing with those soldiers in the last months of 1944.

Daya Ram's headstone in the Chenebier cemeteryOne of the Indian soldiers, Daya Ram, a sergeant in an artillery brigade, had been ill since arriving at Etobon. Jules Perret reports that one of the soldiers was ill, and that he was given aspirin and tea to comfort him. Later, after living for months in the woods, Daya Ram's tuberculosis came to its crisis. The other soldiers brought him to the Bonhotal's home, where the family cared for him in their great room. With no medicines available, Daya Ram died there on October 15, 1944. Emile Bonhotal knew that they would all be in jeopardy if the Germans discovered his body. That night, Bonhotal and some helpers loaded Ram's body on a wagon and covered it with potato sacks. They moved Ram's body to the woods, where they buried it until it could be exhumed and buried in the Protestant cemetery in Chenebier. Ram's body rests there still.



Her Son's Grave

Now that Etobon was once again under French control, people were free to make the trip to Chenebier to see where their men were buried.

Monday, November 27

Mama went to her son's grave for the first time.   I’m too ill to go … The fighting has stopped at Belfort.  All the forts have been surrendered. 

We learned of the death of Dr. Pavillard, of Héricourt, wounded in the stomach by a shell blast.  An old friend.

How things have changed in a few weeks!  Generals de Lattre, Bethouard, LeClerc, have passed through here!  Others, too.  Only a few days ago, in an inspection tour around Belfort, the German general of the GQG of the Fuhrer wrote to his master, “Facing us, we have only French African troops, fatigued and decimated by battles in Italy and Provence, and poorly trained FFI, unfit for any combat.  No serious attack will have to be dealt with in this sector for several weeks, if not several months.”  The next day, the general was killed in the front lines, his report still in his pocket.  And it became, in record time, an avalanche:  Héricourt, Montbéliard, Belfort taken, our troops glide along the entire Swiss border and touch the Rhine!  And now they’ve announced LeClerc is at Strasbourg and on the Rhine!  One more kick in the pants around Colmar and we’ll be on their turf!  And they were chasing our cows at Etobon ten days ago and planning to burn us up nine days ago.  The punishment is beginning!  Those monsters have caused us enough misery.

Thursday, November 30

A card has arrived, written by Jean to his twin brother, Jacques, that damned day, September 27.  He says, “I have a creepy feeling that really bothers me.”  Is it possible?  To be so far from each other, yet have a premonition like that?  Ah! Twins!  What a homecoming our Jean will have.

Today they will bury the three sons of Chenebier who were killed at Ecurcey.  Just recently, three men from Frahier were blown up by a mine. 

What a surprise!  Here’s my sister’s Jacques, who fought in the Tunisian campaign of the 66th artillery and now serves in a munitions unit.  Imagine the joy of this boy, after years of silence away from home, when he sees his steeple, his roof, crossing the threshold of his house … only to learn that his father and his brother Samuel were shot two months ago.  To say they’re dead would be sad enough, but shot, taken to a slaughterhouse, horrible!