Etobon Project Blog - Journal posts are listed below
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.

sikhchic.com 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 Indian POWs in Europe (2)

Tuesday
Mar232010

The Prisoners from Epinal

During the early 1940’s, the Germans had established a prisoner of war camp in Epinal. The camp held hundreds of the British POWs captured around the Mediterranean, including Indian soldiers taken at Tobruk. In May 1944, as they were preparing for the invasion of Europe, the Allies bombed the prison camp. Hundreds of those held captive escaped, but having done so, found themselves wandering the French countryside, trying to make their way to Switzerland. They headed south and east from Epinal, searching for the Swiss border. The eastern border of the Franche-Comté forms the northern part of France’s frontier with Switzerland. The people of the Franche-Comté have a long history of smuggling people and goods into and out of that small nation. The prisoners who had escaped from Epinal knew that they were near the Swiss frontier, but had no idea how near or far it was. So, they began to walk, mostly in groups, hiding in the woods and making little contact with the villages they passed.

A garden in the Franche-Comte in MayMay in the Franche-Comté is lush. Peonies, iris and roses are in bloom, and the trees are in full leaf. By the end of the month, the first haymaking is in progress. The woods are green, and the underbrush can provide cover. Some of the forests are managed, though, and have been for generations. In those, the underbrush has been cut away and the trees are planted in neat rows. If someone wanted to pass through these woods unseen, they would have to keep well away from the main roads to avoid passing farm wagons or German patrols. In the late spring, the days have lengthened and the nights have lost their chill. It was not a bad time of year for the escaped POWs to be sleeping rough in the forest.

These POWs had to remain hidden because their appearance was so very different from the French. Most of these men came from northwestern India, part of which became Pakistan after India’s independence from Britain. Some were Sikhs, some were Muslims and some were Hindus. All were dark-skinned. The Sikhs, mostly from the Punjab region, wore turbans to cover their long hair and beards. The remnants of their British Army uniforms were giveaways, too. It would be almost impossible for them to blend in with the local population. So the escapees took to the woods and wandered, some for weeks, trying to find Switzerland.

On the few farms they passed on their way from Epinal in May of 1944, the escaped soldiers found little to eat. The fruit trees were still in bloom – no apples or pears yet. Even though the Muslim soldiers might kill an occasional rabbit or chicken, the Hindu soldiers refused to eat meat. Eventually, their only hope for survival was to make contact with the French.

 

Wednesday
Mar312010

Shelter at Etobon

The escaped Indian POWs came to Etobon by two’s, three’s and sometimes more. They were dark-skinned; many were Sikhs, with turbans and long hair. They were obviously not Franc-Comtois, but the Etobonais fed them, hid them and protected them. That’s how the Franc-Comtois are. Whether you are a Sikh soldier from India or an American pastor from Pennsylvania, they care for you. When you are their friend, you will never lose their love.

The people of the Franche-Comté have a reputation among the rest of the French of being closed and cold. “The little boches of the north,” the southerners say. Whether or not they know the depth of the insult of being compared with the boches, a derogatory term for Germans, the Franc-Comtois know. Despite their undemonstrative nature, these people shed their blood for their country and for the sake of their allies.

When the families of Etobon had fed and clothed the escaped POWs, the village leaders had to decide what to do. If they stayed in Etobon, they’d be noticed right away. The Swiss border was their only chance. It’s at least a day’s walk, but the Franc-Comtois were used to smuggling across the border. Also, between Etobon and Switzerland there was a chain of maquis. They could hand the POWs off from one to the next, making sure they wouldn’t be lost or captured before they reached the frontier.

The next stop for the first group was Chagey. Two men from Etobon led the first escapees out of the village by the fields and into the woods. Dressed as French peasants, with caps pulled low, the Indians might not be noticed if they were seen. Once they had reached a trail, their guides pointed the way to Chagey, knowing that the maquis there would see the foreigners to the next town.