By Nicole Morgan, CACOR Member. Translated from her original French publication in the Journal Le Monde on November 11, 2005. “My Little Uncle”
Every November, my little uncle that I have never known, when artificial poppies glow red on the decorated button-holes of those who have almost forgotten, I promise myself that I will write to you, just to you, who lies in the limbo of the stateless somewhere in Alsace, between France and Germany. You were born into the world of a German father who out of love for your Lorraine mother founded his family on the neutral territory of the Meurthe and Moselle. Handsomely full-bodied, she gave him seven little ones, three sons and four daughters, the last of which in a white dress smiles forever from a yellowing family portrait: my mother. She is two years old and we are in 1914, the year when raving throngs invaded the streets of Paris howling “À Berlin” while a passionate mob of Berliners screams its hatred “Nach Paris”. They mobilize, and your older brothers Joseph and Leon put on the blue uniform of France that they are not to take off for four years. The “spiked helmets” invade Alsace and caper in the streets of Lorraine villages that they annex in passing through. German teachers are sent into the re-painted schools where speaking French is from then on forbidden and punished severely. You are going on fifteen, the fateful age when you can be conscripted by the new masters. Your despairing mother has not even the time to tell you good-bye; they dress you up in a green uniform and haul you off with a band of terrified kids toward the blind front of a plain where indistinguishable trenches are cut into the mud.
Surviving witnesses have recounted the scene for us a thousand times: the trembling little silhouettes, rifles in their hands, bayonets at their backs, rifles in their faces, hesitate for a moment. One by one the arms lower and the hands disappear under the too-long sleeves of uniforms without stripes. The French fire, and slaughter their little brothers who they have not recognized. When they come back to the front in 1918, Joseph and Leon will dissolve into tears, then and ever after at the recall of that impossible vision.
The Germans sent your identification bracelet the next day. My grandfather uttered not a word, but his broken heart ceased beating in the night, which resonated with the cries of my grandmother. He was 42 years old.
On a bridge at Strasbourg, a weeping mother is congealed in a statue of bronze. In each arm she holds the naked body of one of her two sons, killed for fatherlands symbolized at the feet of one by the French peaked cap, at the feet of the other by the spiked German helmet. She weeps forever over fratricidal wars.
But they are all fratricidal, are they not, my little uncle? On this November 11, 2004, rest in peace on the earth of all humanity.