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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 Franche-Comté (2)


September 27

 Every September 27, the people of Etobon and the surrounding villages in this far eastern corner of France gather to remember what happened that day in 1944. The 60th anniversary in 2004 drew a larger crowd that in recent years, but the ceremony was the same:  prayer, the French national anthem, called the Marseillaise, and a poem read by schoolchildren. The centerpiece is the reading of the names, each followed by, “Mort pour la France,” “Died for France.”

      Each time the people of the villages gather for this ceremony, they are prepared for any weather. Sometimes September 27 is warm and sunny, sometimes cold and damp, sometimes pouring rain. Not far from Etobon, in Couthenans, the village where I was assigned to live, by mid-September the heat in the parsonage was already becoming a concern. The days had become cloudy, damp and drizzly. My colleague Pascal had told me one rainy morning, “welcome to winter in the Franche-Comté.” And when I asked if it would rain the entire winter, he said, “I hope there’ll be some snow.” The clouds, drizzle and cool temperature meant that I always felt just a bit chilled, and began to add a camisole underneath or a cardigan on top, and often both.


The Funeral

After the coffins arrived at the cemetery, it was time for the funeral. So much grief, so many tears ... Jules Perret's account is heart-wrenching:

Here we all are in the church.  The ones we are mourning came here to pray, to sing, to hear the message of the Gospel.  They used to sit there, there.  I see them again, I hear their voices rise at the psalm and the hymns.  Now they’re side by side again, hands joined, eyes closed, on the bottom of the immense grave where we just placed them …  Is it true?…  My Jacques!  My eyes are so full of tears that I can’t see anyone, and yet the church is full because people have come from near and far to surround us with sympathy.

A voice came to us from the high pulpit, the voice of M. Lovy, who had been our pastor for eight years, who knew, loved, drew into a brotherly circle our lost ones.  His voice trembles, he chokes on his words:

“Have pity on me, Lord, because I am without strength.  Heal me. Lord, for my bones shake …  From out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, hear my voice!  O that your ears would be attentive to my pleas … My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen wait for the morning … If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not raised … If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  Finally, this text:  “I say to you, who are my friends:  do not fear those who kill the body and who, after that, can do no more.”

No message, no sermon:  the cry of a wounded heart bending over crushed hearts, of a heart that knows that the cream of our parish has been mowed down, so many youth of whom the Lord said, “You are the light of the world …” to the other hearts to show that they know that the souls of believers never die.

We listen to these words that console us and tear us apart…  “Those who fell at the foot of the protestant church in Chenebier, their gazes fixed on the beloved heights of Etobon, left in a way that is reserved for very few martyrs, because they died – knowing them, I can affirm it – in the peace of their Lord.  O that that same peace would be yours, in the midst of your tears, dear friends of Etobon.”

In the midst of your tears … they flow, unstoppable.  Ah!  That God would be with each of us, that he would take us by the hand!  There is only Him to console us, to heal us …

I could see no more, I could hear no more, not even my own sobs, or mama’s or Suzette’s or anyone’s.  I could only repeat to myself, “Lord, hold us in your mighty hand …”

How we got outside, in the wind, the snow, the cold, I have no idea.

As soon as I could, I went back to the cemetery to photograph the coffins of Charles and René, at the bottom of the pit and bid them the supreme Adieu.  More tears!  The diggers started their work again.  And now all are hidden for this life …  awaiting the great Reunion.

The day is over.  We have supper.  And yes, we still have to eat!  All together, we talk again about them, always about them.