Showing posts with label Kientzheim. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kientzheim. Show all posts

Remaining Nazi Sites in Alsace-Lorraine

Alsace 1944-2015
At the beginning of the Occupation, French leaders expected to pay a price for France’s defeat and accepted German measures with a degree of resignation. The annexation of Alsace and Lorraine surprised few observers. French policemen turned over common enemies and undesirable refugees to Himmler’s ϟϟ. Laval passed legislation that sent hundreds of thousands of French workers to Germany in exchange for a few prisoners of war and short-lived exemptions for select Vichy supporters. 

Rethondes
 France surrendered on June 22 in a humiliating ceremony in the very same railroad car that they had made Germany sign the armistice November 11, 1918.
The Compiegne Wagon being pulled into position for the signing of the Armistice
From William L. Shirer's account in Berlin Diary (419–25):
On the exact spot in the little clearing in the Forest of Compiègne where at five a.m. on November 11, 1918 the armistice which ended the World War was signed, Adolf Hitler today handed his armistice terms to France. To make German revenge complete, the meeting of the German and French plenipotentiaries took place in Marshal Foch’s private car, in which Foch laid down the armistice terms to Germany twenty-two years ago. Even the same table in the rickety old wagon-lit car was used. And through the windows we saw Hitler occupying the very seat on which Foch had sat at that table when he dictated the other armistice.
The humiliation of France, of the French, was complete. And yet in the preamble to the armistice terms Hitler told the French that he had not chosen this spot at Compiègne out of revenge; merely to right an old wrong. From the demeanour of the French delegates I gathered that they did not appreciate the difference.
... The armistice negotiations began at three fifteen p.m. A warm June sun beat down on the great elm and pine trees, and cast pleasant shadows on the wooded avenues as Hitler, with the German plenipotentiaries at his side, appeared. He alighted from his car in front of the French monument to Alsace-Lorraine which stands at the end of an avenue about two hundred yards from the clearing where the armistice car waits on exactly the same spot it occupied twenty-two years ago. The Alsace-Lorraine statue, I noted, was covered with German war flags so that you could not see its sculptured work nor read its inscription. But I had seen it some years before – the large sword representing the sword of the Allies, and its point sticking into a large, limp eagle, representing the old Empire of the Kaiser. And the inscription underneath in French saying: “TO THE HEROIC SOLDIERS OF FRANCE ... DEFENDERS OF THE COUNTRY AND OF RIGHT ... GLORIOUS LIBERATORS OF ALSACE-LORRAINE.”

I saw the Führer stop, glance at the monument, observe the Reich flags with their big Swastikas in the centre. Then he strode slowly towards us, towards the little clearing in the woods. I observed his face. It was grave, solemn, yet brimming with revenge. There was also in it, as in his springy step, a note of the triumphant conqueror, the defier of the world. There was something else, difficult to describe, in his expression, a sort of scornful, inner joy at being present at this great reversal of fate – a reversal he himself had wrought.
Now here aches the little opening in the woods. He pauses and looks slowly around. The clearing is in the form of a circle some two hundred yards in diameter and laid out like a park. Cypress trees line it all round – and behind them, the great elms and oaks of the forest. This has been one of France’s national shrines for twenty-two years. From a discreet position on the perimeter of the circle we watch...The time is now three eighteen p.m. Hitler’s personal flag is run up on a small standard in the centre of the opening. Also in the centre is a great granite block which stands some three feet above the ground. Hitler, followed by the others, walks slowly over to it, steps up, and reads the inscription engraved in great high letters on that block. It says: “HERE ON THE ELEVENTH OF NOVEMBER 1918 SUCCUMBED THE CRIMINAL PRIDE OF THE GERMAN EMPIRE ... VANQUISHED BY THE FREE PEOPLES WHICH IT TRIED TO ENSLAVE.”
 Hitler reads it and Goering reads it. They all read it, standing there in the June sun and the silence. I look for the expression on Hitler’s face. I am but fifty yards from him and see him through my glasses as though he were directly in front of me. I have seen that face many times at the great moments of his life. But today! It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph. He steps off the monument and contrives to make even this gesture a masterpiece of contempt. He glances back at it, contemptuous, angry – angry, you almost feel, because he cannot wipe out the awful, provoking lettering with one sweep of his Prussian boot. He glances slowly around the clearing, and now, as his eyes meet ours, you grasp the depth of his hatred. But there is triumph there too – revengeful, triumphant hate. Suddenly, as though his face were not giving quite complete expression to his feelings, he throws his whole body into harmony with his mood. He swiftly snaps his hands on his hips, arches his shoulders, plants his feet wide apart. It is a magnificent gesture of defiance, of burning contempt for this place now and all that it has stood for in the twenty-two years since it witnessed the humbling of the German Empire...
Now we get our picture through the dusty windows of that old wagon-lit car. Hitler and the other German leaders rise as the French enter the drawing-room. Hitler gives the Nazi salute, the arm raised. Ribbentrop and Hess do the same. I cannot see M. Noël to notice whether he salutes or not. Hitler, as far as we can see through the windows, does not say a word to the French or to anybody else. He nods to General Keitel at his side. We see General Keitel adjusting his papers. Then he starts to read. He is reading the preamble to the German armistice terms. The French sit there with marble-like faces and listen intently. Hitler and Goering glance at the green table-top.
The reading of the preamble lasts but a few minutes. Hitler, we soon observe, has no intention of remaining very long, of listening to the reading of the armistice terms themselves. At three
forty-two p.m., twelve minutes after the French arrive, we see Hitler stand up, salute stiffly, and then stride out of the drawing-room, followed by Goering, Brauchitsch, Raeder, Hess, and Ribbentrop.

Hitler and his aides stride down the avenue towards the Alsace-Lorraine monument, where their cars are waiting. As they pass the guard of honour, the German band strikes up the two national anthems, Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles and the Horst Wessel song. The whole ceremony in which Hitler has reached a new pinnacle in his meteoric career and Germany avenged the 1918 defeat is over in a quarter of an hour.

 Strasbourg
Place Kléber, renamed Karl-Roos-Platz  by the Germans, then and now. After the ceasefire following the Fall of France in June 1940, Alsace was annexed by Germany and a rigorous policy of Germanisation was imposed upon it by the Gauleiter Robert Heinrich Wagner. When, in July 1940, the first evacuees were allowed to return, only residents of Alsatian origin were admitted. The last Jews were deported on 15 July 1940 and the main synagogue, a huge Romanesque revival building that had been a major architectural landmark with its 54-metre-high dome since its completion in 1897, was set ablaze, then razed. 
In September 1940 the first Alsatian resistance movement led by Marcel Weinum called La main noire (The black hand) was created. It was composed by a group of 25 young men aged from 14 to 18 years old who led several attacks against the German occupation. The actions culminated with the attack of the Gauleiter Robert Wagner, the highest commander of Alsace directly under the order of Hitler. In March 1942, Marcel Weinum was prosecuted by the Gestapo and sentenced to be beheaded at the age of 18 in April 1942 in Stuttgart, Germany, his last words being "If I have to die, I shall die but with a pure heart". From 1943 the city was bombarded by Allied aircraft. Whilst the First World War had not notably damaged the city, Anglo-American bombing caused extensive destruction in raids of which at least one was allegedly carried out by mistake. In August 1944, several buildings in the Old Town were damaged by bombs, particularly the Palais Rohan, the Old Customs House (Ancienne Douane) and the Cathedral. 
On the left is the wife in front of  le maison des tanneurs and the site during the occupation. On November 23 1944 with permission from the British and Americans, the city was allowed to be 'officially' liberated by the 2nd French Armoured Division under General Leclerc. He achieved the oath that he made with his soldiers, after the decisive Capture of Kufra. With the Oath of Kuffra, they swore to keep up the fight until the French flag flew over the Cathedral of Strasbourg.  Many people from Strasbourg were supposedly incorporated in the German Army against their will, and were sent to the eastern front, those young men and women were called Malgré-nous with some said to have tried to escape from the incorporation, join the French Resistance, or desert the Wehrmacht but many couldn't because they were running the risk of having their families sent to work or concentration camps by the Germans. Many of these men, especially those who did not answer the call immediately, were pressured to "volunteer" for service with the ϟϟ, often by direct threats on their families. This threat obliged the majority of them to remain in the German army. After the war, the few that survived were often accused of being traitors or collaborationists, because this tough situation was not known in the rest of France, and they had to face the incomprehension of many. In July 1944, 1500 malgré-nous were released from Soviet captivity and sent to Algiers, where they joined the Free French Forces.
University Palace of Strasbourg in 1941  with Nazi flags 
The University Palace of Strasbourg in 1941 during the annexation 

Molsheim
Nazis in Molsheim
The staircase of the Metzig, Nazi headquarters in annexed Molsheim, adorned with swastikas and Nazi eagle during the Kreistage of October 20, 1941 and today. Here a speech in front of the Metzig was delivered to arouse enthusiasm towards the annexation. As Matt Bera writes in Raise the white flag: Conflict and collaboration in Alsace,
In the early days of the occupation, the population of Alsace began to adapt as they had after conflicts twice before in living memory. Like French citizens all over occupied France, Alsatians were relieved to discover that the German troops, from whom they expected terrible acts of brutality, were in fact well disciplined, clean and orderly young men.6 This revelation was particularly poignant to the refugees returning after having been evacuated from Strasbourg and the areas surrounding the Maginot Line. These families returned to Alsace to discover that their homes and wine cellars had been plundered by unruly French, rather than German, troops while their livestock was requisitioned without compensation by the French high command. Many of these Alsatians were at least thankful for a swift end to the war and a return to their homes.
Mulhouse
Adolf-Hitler-Platz then and now. After the Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian War Mulhouse was annexed to the German Empire as part of the territory of Alsace-Lorraine. The city was briefly occupied by French troops on August 8, 1914 at the start of the First World War, but they were forced to withdraw two days later in the Battle of Mulhouse. 
A fierce battle lasted all night, forcing General Bonneau's troops to leave the city the next day. The citizens of Alsace who unwisely celebrated the appearance of the French army, were left to face German reprisals. Alsace-Lorraine was invaded and annexed by France after World War I. Despite a new French offensive from August 16- 19, marked by violent clashes in front of Dornach and an ephemeral return to Mulhouse, the Germans retook the city for a long time from August 24; French troops wouldn't be allowed to return until nearly a week AFTER the armistice. As for the civilians, they suffered from the taking of hostages carried out by the two belligerent camps and were divided between German “immigrants” who were more favourable to the Kaiser and “natives” who were more Francophile. In November 1918, as Germany was losing the war, insurgencies broke out among the soldiers who were inspired by the Soviet model to set up "councils". In Mulhouse, a "comrade Gallem" was the spokesperson for an ephemeral "soldiers' council", soon followed by a later attempt at a workers' council on November 13. The reaction of the bourgeoisie and of Mayor Cossmann, who set up a bourgeois militia, then the entry into town of French soldiers put an end to this revolutionary agitation. On November 17, 1918, Mulhouse became French again, liberated by the troops of General Auguste Édouard Hirschauer. 
From 1940 to 1944 the city of Mulhouse was, like the rest of Alsace, de facto annexed to the Third Reich. Although never formally restored to Germany after the Battle of France in 1940, it was occupied by German forces until returned to French control at the end of the war in May 1945, after Mulhouse had suffered major destruction in 1944.

 Colmar
The corner of Rue Kleber and Boulevard du Champ de Mars in 1940. 
The Germans entered Colmar on June 17, 1940. What followed was a brutal process of reGermanisation and Nazification. Monuments were ransacked, such as the monument to Admiral Bruat and the monument to General Rapp. About 20% of the street names were changed such as "Avenue de la République" which became "Adolf Hitler-Straße" . However, the region remained legally under French sovereignty. In 1942, the Germans dismantled the Colmar resistance network, which had been active since 1940, and imprisoned its leaders. On August 25, an ordinance made military service compulsory, and 123,000 young men were forced to put on the uniform of the Wehrmacht or the Waffen-SS. 
When the Germans arrived in Colmar, they took possession of the city in the name of the Führer as they tore the tricolour of the City Hall's balcony and replaced it with a swastika. The kommandierender des Sturmtruppenregiments Adolf Hitler, Colonel  Koch, and his men thus accomplished the first act: changing the flag and made it clear that Colmar was German again.Within a few days Colmar became Kolmar. By July a working group was being set up to determine how best to start Germanising the town chaired by Stadtkommissar Hellstern and moderated by Albert Schmitt, city librarian since 1924 and specialist in the history of Colmar, whose sympathies for the Nazi regime would be revealed- under the pseudonym Morand Claden he published in August in the Strassburger Monatshefte an ode to Hitler. In the end, over three hundred street names, places or localities, were changed. Adolf Hitler-Strasse, now avenue de la République Ahnenplatz. Strasse des 17 June now replaced by another military event- avenue de la Liberté. Schillerstrasse replaced rue Victor Hugo and Robert-Koch-strasse replaced rue Pasteur. Avenue Foch was replaced with the name of another general- Hindenburgstraße. 
On September 18, 1944, an ammunition train exploded at the freight yard, causing damage within a radius of about a mile. By February 1, 1945, the German lines were pierced north of Colmar by the American infantry of the 21st corps. Being the last Alsatian city to be liberated from the Nazi occupation, the colonel of the 109th American infantry regiment, on the orders of General Milburn, magnanimously allowed the first step into Colmar to General Schlesser who commanded but a fraction of the tanks of the 5th DB of the 1st French  Army, giving de Gaulle yet another excuse to claim French glory from previous capitulation as well as the official tourist office of Colmar which gives the French all the credit alone for liberating themselves from their own capitulation.

Kaysersberg
On the bridge at the Château de Kaysersberg with an American cavalryman with the castle ruins rising behind. 
During the war, the crew of an American tank fired on the keep because German soldiers had barricaded themselves there. The resulting damage was repaired in 1955 as part of repair work. 
The roots of the complex go back to the 13th century, when Emperor Friedrich II gave the order to secure the strategically important location with a fortress. The emperor chose to build one of the most imposing fortresses of his line of defence there to protect himself from the Dukes of Lorraine who could have taken advantage of this easy passage to invade the Empire. Along with the castle, a suburb was also built which is said to have been able to accommodate the burgher seats of forty  knights and today forms the core of the city of Kaysersberg. Expanded in the 14th century, it received the last structural changes in the second half of the 16th century. During that time the complex had shown itself strong enough to withstand a siege during the Hundred Years' War as well as two more sieges in 1635 and 1636 during the Thirty Years' War. However, the fighting contributed significantly to the further decay of the complex, so that in 1648 it was completely ruined and uninhabited. Today only the keep and parts of the ring wall are preserved.
Through the Treaty of Frankfurt of May 10, 1871, the area was annexed to Germany and the village assigned to the district of Rappoltsweiler in the district of Upper Alsace. 
On December 4, 1944, Kaysersberg became the 'lock' of the Colmar Pocket. The city was put under siege by elements of the 189th ID under the orders of Major Georges Herbrechtsmeier. By December 16 , 1944, elements of the 36th infantry division accompanied by a platoon of the 1st regiment of French cuirassiers from Aubure , occupied the heights above the castle. Two days later on December 18 the tanks of a Combat command arrived from Riquewihr through the vineyard, whilst the legionnaires descend through the Aspach valley. That evening after bitter fighting the Germans  surrendered and all the allied elements took Kaysersberg. The town had been damaged by artillery fights and street fights with the commune eventually given the Croix de guerre 1939-1945 on February 12, 1949.

Beside the church with an M4 Sherman Tank accompanied by soldiers of the CC5 in the Grand'Rue - Today incongruously Rue de General de Gaulle 

Ammerschwihr
la Tour de Fripons Ammerschwihr



Standing in front of la Tour de Fripons and what was left of it during the war. Ammerschwihr has undergone numerous invasions throughout its history beginning with those of the Armagnacs in 1444, the Peasants' War in 1525, the Thirty Years' War, and then the invasion of the Lorrains in 1652. During the Second World War Ammerschwihr was burned down by the bombings of December 1944 and January 1945 during the Battle of Alsace. 85% of the village was destroyed during the liberation by French and American troops. The town hall, the old houses in the Place du Marché and the Grand'Rue were destroyed. Only the relatively undeveloped Church of St. Martin, the high door and two towers of the fortifications still bear witness to the picturesque interest which this little town was once known for. It was after particularly bitter fighting that the city became French again on December 18, 1944. The commune was decorated on February 12, 1949, with the Croix de guerre 1939-1945.
 
Looking at the church from the place de l'Ancien-Hôtel-de-Ville
 
The fountain before the war and today

Riquewihr
A M4 Sherman next to the Catholic church. The history of Riquewihr, a picturesque Alsatian town, took a dramatic turn during the war when it came under Nazi occupation and subsequently experienced liberation by American forces. Though superficially unchanged, with its medieval architecture and charming cobblestone streets, the town bore silent witness to the ideological and military clashes that marked the era. The Nazi occupation of Riquewihr was part of a larger strategy of annexing Alsace and Moselle, regions with contested Franco-German histories. Upon occupation, the Reich administration imposed strict regulations, including forced conscriptions of Alsatian men into the German army, and pursued a policy of Germanisation that entailed the substitution of German for French in official communications and schools. Despite its idyllic façade, Riquewihr became a centre for anti-Nazi resistance activities, hosting various underground movements which cooperated in acts of sabotage and intelligence gathering. This was largely facilitated by the region’s topography, which offered ideal conditions for covert operations. Weinberg notes that Nazi policies in Riquewihr were deeply rooted in a longstanding cultural battle between Germany and France over Alsace. Nazis viewed the region as inherently German, and this ideological conviction guided their administrative policies, from the renaming of streets to the curriculum in local schools. This extended to the local Jewish population, which faced increasing persecution following the occupation, including deportations to concentration camps.
The same Sherman tank in today's rue de la 1ere Armee with me and Drake Winston on the right. Although the Nazi regime sought to assimilate Riquewihr into its vision of a Greater Germany, the attempts met with stiff resistance. Ambrose chronicles that the local populace often resisted Germanisation measures through non-compliance and subtle forms of disobedience, including the continuation of French language instruction in clandestine settings. The Alsatian identity, a complex blend of French and German cultural elements, proved resistant to easy categorisation and, by extension, to the Nazi agenda. Moreover, acts of sabotage against railway lines and communication infrastructures were undertaken, often in collaboration with the Maquis, the French resistance groups. The impact of the Nazi occupation on Riquewihr's civilian life was profound. Aside from the immediate imposition of a foreign administrative and legal system, the local economy suffered due to resource allocations for the German war effort. Many families faced hardship, as men were either conscripted or had joined the resistance, leaving the women, children, and elderly to cope with increasingly stringent conditions.
Riquewihr under the Nazis
1942
Allied cars on Rue de la Gen de Gaulle. Unlike other villages in the region (such as Mittelwihr, Bennwihr or Sigolsheim), Riquewihr miraculously escaped the destruction of the Second World War because of its cul-de-sac position. This preservation of its ancient heritage makes it one of the most visited villages of Alsace. The turning of the tide in the war marked the beginning of a new chapter for Riquewihr: its liberation by American forces. In late 1944, as part of Operation Nordwind, the American 12th Armored Division advanced into Alsace with the aim of liberating towns like Riquewihr. The operation was critical not just for its military objectives, but also for its psychological impact on both the occupying forces and the local population. The initial American advance was met with resistance from entrenched German units, turning Riquewihr into a battleground. Streets that once bustled with tourists and locals were transformed into strategic points, as both sides engaged in intense urban warfare. The arrival of American forces signalled an immediate shift in the dynamics of occupation. Whereas Nazi policies had sought to enforce a strict ideological regime, the Americans focused on stabilisation and the restoration of civil order. Ambrose argues that the American liberators were viewed as saviours by the local population, their presence heralding the end of years of oppressive rule. This sentiment facilitated cooperation between the American military and local French resistance groups, which proved crucial in intelligence gathering and subduing remaining pockets of German resistance.
My GIF on the right shows German troops in front of the Obertor and my bike in front today. For Riquewihr, liberation brought an immediate sense of relief but also challenges in transitioning back to normality. The Americans implemented a range of humanitarian efforts to address immediate needs, such as food and medical supplies. Meanwhile, local administrative structures were reinstated with the aim of returning to pre-war norms. Weinberg points out that American policies in Riquewihr were notably different from those of the Nazi occupiers. Unlike the latter, who had sought to subsume the town's identity under a broader ideological project, American authorities endeavoured to restore a sense of autonomy and dignity to the community. However, it is crucial to note that the American occupation was not without its complexities. As historian Zelizer articulates, the military governance model implemented by the Americans, while benign in its intent, often clashed with local traditions and existing administrative systems, resulting in occasional tensions. The liberation of Riquewihr also led to the confronting of war crimes and the meting out of justice. Those who had collaborated with the Nazi regime were tried and, in some cases, executed. This process of purging and reckoning was important for the community to move forward and served as a form of cathartic closure for many residents.
 
German PoWs in today's Rue de la 1ere Armee
American Stuart tanks in today's rue de la 1ere Armee
The first Americans arrive in Riquewihr - December 5, 1944 and wife and son today
The Altes Fachwerkhaus on the left. The liberation of Riquewihr cannot be fully understood without considering its longer-term implications, both for the town and for the broader region of Alsace. Post-liberation, the town faced the gargantuan task of reconstruction—physically, economically, and psychologically. The question of identity also re-emerged as a prominent issue. For years under Nazi rule, the town’s unique Alsatian identity, a blend of French and German elements, had been subject to manipulation and erasure. In the post-war period, Riquewihr began to reclaim this identity, but it did so within a new geopolitical context: Alsace was unequivocally reattached to France, and the broader shifts in European governance and borders significantly influenced local dynamics. The post-war period also brought forth questions about memory and commemoration. How would Riquewihr memorialise its experience under Nazi occupation and American liberation? Ambrose suggests that the process of memory-making was fraught with tensions. On one hand, the community wished to forget the traumas inflicted by the Nazi regime; on the other hand, it also felt a responsibility to commemorate the resistance and the eventual liberation, as these were formative experiences for the town’s collective identity.

Bergheim
German PoWs marching along the Rue des Chevalieres in Bergheim, January 1945 in front of troops from Combat Command 6

Bergheim German Cemetery
Inaugurated on June 7, 1975 Bergheim German war cemetery, surrounded by vineyards, lies on the Grasberg 337 metres above sea level upstream of the Vosges. Behind lies the Hoch-Königsburg only a few kilometres away. The 15th century fortress was destroyed during the Thirty Years War by the Swedes and from 1901 to 1908 it was rebuilt for Kaiser Wilhelm II. The 5, 308 dead here lie in four grave fields. Originally they were buried in 225 villages throughout the Haut Rhin. The cemetery is four hectares large and is partly limited by a retaining wall. The gravestones of natural stone carry the names and data of three fallen soldiers each. At the top, a six-foot high cross overlooks the cemetery. In the entrance building with a covered entrance hall is an orientation plan as well as an inscription with the number of dead whilst in the room next to the cemetery administrator's office is the book of names of those lying here. Only thirteen kilometres south of the German war graveyard, the French grave service has created the national cemetery Sigolsheim "Blutberg". The dead of Bergheim and Sigolsheim largely fell in the winter of 1944-45 during the fighting in southern Alsace.

Kientzheim
Kientzheim during the war and todayCycling into the town and from the same position in the aftermath of the battle. The Germans occupied Kientzheim on June 18, 1940. Four years later at the end of 1944 the German mayor of Kientzheim had ordered the evacuation of the town hall and the transfer of the archives to the Turckheim building, located in the west of the town. On December 5, mortar shells fell on the town, the beginning of an intense bombardment by the American artillery causing havoc and fires. The first of the destroyed buildings was Reichenstein Castle . On the night of December 7, a hail of incendiary shells fell on the castle, resulting in the framework catching fire whilst the German soldiers took refuge towards the bottom of the city. By December 9, the building was in ruins and the hospital and other buildings also subsequently burned down. On December 17 the American artillery stopped to permit tanks of the 5th Armoured Division of General de Lattre de Tassigny's First Army to approach as they fanned out through the vineyards, starting from the Col de Riquewihr. Around 15.00 they entered Kientzheim, supported by the Foreign Legion. For six weeks the locality remained exposed to the fire of German shells. Finally on February 2 saw the liberation of Colmar and with it the end of the bombardments. Today the architecture of the village is remarkably preserved, and in particular Kientzheim retains its traditional aspect, in particular because of the very well preserved rampart enclosure.
 
 
The town church with the plaque commemorating 51 of its citizens who were apparently press-ganged into the Wehrmacht
 
Maison Rittimann then and now


The M4 Sherman "Renard" then-and-now

Le Bonhomme
Le Bonhomme The rue du 3eme Spahis Algeriens then and now.

The rue du 3eme Spahis Algeriens then and now. In 1871 after Le Bonhomme was annexed by Germany, the village had two official names- the French Le Bonhomme, and its German name Diedolshausen. The village had already suffered from bombardments during the First World War, taking place at Tête-des-Faux, from which shells reached the village. The Germans had fortifications built , including a one mile-long tunnel dug into the rock from the Roche du Corbeau to the top of the Tête des Faux. The village was first occupied from the August 15 , 1914 by French troops, then by German troops. In June 1940 , the town became part of the German Third Reich. During the bombardments, several houses were destroyed as young men were forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht. The town was liberated on December 24 , 1944.
 
  Illhäusern
The bridge over the Ill, since rebuilt after the war
 
 Remains of an anti-tank emplacement 

Haguenau 
Haguenau   then and now war
In November 1944 the area surrounding Haguenau was under the control of the 256th Volksgrenadier Division under the command of General Gerhard Franz.  On 1 December 1944, the 314th Infantry Regiment of the 79th Division, XV Corps, 7th U.S. Army, moved into the area near Haguenau, and on 7 December the regiment was given the assignment to take it and the town forest just north that included German ammunition dumps. The attack began 6.45 on December 9, and sometime during the night of December 10 and the early morning of the next day the Germans withdrew under the cover of darkness leaving the town proper largely under American control.  Before they withdrew, the Germans demolished bridges, useful buildings, and even the town park. However, as experienced by Haguenau throughout its history, the Germans came back and retook the town in late January. Most of the inhabitants fled with the assistance of the American Army. The Americans launched an immediate counterattack to retake the town. The 313th Infantry Regiment of the 79th Division was relieved by the 101st Airborne Division on 5 February 1945. The 36th Infantry Division would relieve the 101st on 23 February 1945. On March 15 the Allied Operation Undertone, a combined effort of the American Seventh and French 1st Armies of the American Sixth Army Group was launched to drive the Germans back along a 75 kilometre line from Saarbrücken to Haguenau. The last German soldier was not cleared out of the town until March 19, 1945, after house-to-house fighting. Much of the town had been destroyed despite the Allied reluctance to use artillery to clear out the Germans. Technical Sergeant Morris E. Crain, Company E, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division was posthumously awarded the American Medal of Honour for providing covering fire for his men on March 13, 1945.

Sigolsheim  
The liberation of Sigolsheim was particularly dramatic on December 19, 1944 when the village was conquered by the five tanks of 1st Platoon, 2nd Squadron of the RCA first under the command of Camille Girard. But the American infantry had not followed with the result that three tanks were destroyed and 25 men killed, three wounded, six captured and Girard himself
mortally wounded.
The church of Sts. Peter and Paul after the battle and today
The door after the battle, still displaying a rare version of the theme in which Christ holds keys out to St. Peter (Traditio Clavium) at the same time that He holds an open book out to St. Paul (Traditio Legis). The bullet holes remain as a reminder of the savagery of the fighting that took place here when the American 1st Battalion, 15th Regiment was charged with taking Sigolsheim, "the anchor of the enemy line on the northern perimetre of the Colmar bridgehead."
 
Rue Principale with a tank roadblock in front 

The Capuchin Monastery in ruins 
  
 
Showing the utter destruction of Sigolsheim through these two GIFs. At the crossroad with the Grand Rue on the left, and Rue Sainte Jacques on the right.
Sigolsheim today as seen from Hill 351, known also as Bloody Hill. Atop Mont de Sigolsheim is this monument honouring the American soldiers who fought for the liberation of Alsace, ignored completely by the official tourist office of Colmar which gives the French the credit for liberating themselves from their own capitulation. The Germans had captured it on on December 14 during Operation Habicht (Hawk), taking them three days of fighting with the American 36 Infantry Division earning it its nickname. When they arrived here from the east from the direction of Kientzheim at 7.30 on the morning of December 23 they found the Wehrmacht enmeshed deep within the rubble, fanatically resisting. Their job was made all the more challenging after a German counterattack from nearby Hill 351 between Sigolsheim and Bennwihr. The commander of the 15th Regiment, Lt. Col. Hallett D. Edson, described it as a “miniature Cassino" which was "defended by 200 crack SS troops under orders to hold their positions to the last." The Americans launched their attacks from December 24- 26, the last attack stalled by ferocious artillery and mortar fire resulting in the men of B Company forced to dig in for cover a mere 150 metres from the crest line of Hill 351. During this time fifteen Americans had been killed followed by another twenty the next day trying to take this hill. Finally at noon Lt. Colonel Ware arrived with his S-3 and the commander of D Company and 25 men to take the German surrender.

Jebsheim 
German Field Hospital.  Jebsheim
The residence at 7 Grand Rue further up the road that had served as the German Field Hospital. 
Jebsheim gained notoriety in January 1945, when Allied troops and German Panzergrenadiers - the latter under the command of Heinrich Himmler - fought fierce final battles there. In a speech on September 21 to the commanders of the military districts and those in charge of training the previous year, Himmler had reported proudly how he had criss-crossed the areas under threat "down the whole of the western front from Trier to Mühlhausen (Mulhouse), Colmar, Metz", spoken with "thousands of soldiers", and wherever he considered necessary had intervened, taking to task the negligent commander of a troop transport and personally demoting the incompetent commanding officer in Trier. As recommended to the officers present, "[b]rutal action against signs of indiscipline in the rear area" was required.  As his biographer Peter Longerich (711) points out, "the fact that in his entire military career Himmler himself had never made it beyond precisely this rear area (and never would do) did not seem to trouble him." During the war and today JebsheimSuch brutality is shown in my GIF on the right showing what was left in the area around St. Martin's church in January 1945 and my bike beside it today. For the Americans, the capture of Jebsheim was necessary to protect the north flank of the 3rd Division's advance. With the 3rd Division advancing ahead of the French Infantry Division on the 3rd Division's north flank, General O'Daniel committed the American 254th Infantry Regiment, serving as part of the U.S. 63rd Infantry Division but attached to the American 3rd Infantry Division for the duration of operations in the Colmar Pocket, to capture Jebsheim. Any reference to American involvement in the battle and the town's subsequent liberation is ignored in the French-language Wikipedia article. On January 26–27, troops of the German 136th Mountain Infantry Regiment defended Jebsheim against the advance of the 254th Infantry. On 28–29 January, Jebsheim was taken by the 254th Infantry, French tanks of Combat Command 6 (French 5th Armoured Division), and a battalion of the French 1st Parachute Regiment.
 
The intersection of Rue des Vosges and Grand Rue where the Germans had established a roadblock and, right, a dead German soldier at that same roadblock

 Riedwihr 
Riedwihr during war and today
The main road into town with some of the houses still recognisable today such as that directly behind my bike. The war caused considerable damage in the village and the bombing of the liberating American army had left a lasting impression on the population which had been forced to take refuge in the bunkers at the entrance of the village. Located on the bank of Wickerschwihr, these bunkers are still visible.
 
A German anti-tank gun January 23, 1945 beside the river outside the town

Ostheim
The war was disastrous for Ostheim. Located in the Colmar Pocket (“Poche de Colmar”) it was shelled for almost two months from November 1944 to January 1945 in order to free the passage over the River Fecht which was bitterly defended by the Germans. 
District by district, the houses were pounded by artillery leaving Ostheim 98% destroyed, making it impossible to try to get a good sense of the then-and-now. The village was awarded the 1939-1945 Croix de Guerre.
Ostheim war 
The houses built since the war now obscure the church, the ruins of which are shown behind the tank. 
Ostheim during the war  
The ruins of the church serve as a memorial to the town's liberators. As with the next photo, a stork's nest continues to be enjoy the same location then and now.
The storks' nest, built on the gable wall, the only remaining part, of the Ostermann house - former Relais de la Poste aux Chevaux - defied the storm. The storks returned to their old nest and the surviving"wall became the monument to the dead of the 1914-18 and 1939-45 wars. 

 

Rouffach
Rouffach in world war twoA light tank of the 12th Armoured Division in what's now the Place de la République February 5, 1945 and today. The Witch's Tower, built in the 13th to the 15th centuries to serve as a gaol sports a stork's nest in both photos. During the time of Nazi annexation, a Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalt (National Political Institute of Education, NEPA, popularly known as Napola) was housed in a former sanatorium of the city from October 1940. In 1941, the Reich Ministry for Science, Education and National Education set up a "Reich School for Volksdeutsche" here, a boarding school where around 600-650 boys from South Tyrol were taught until 1944, whose parents had opted for Germany. (A corresponding school for girls existed in Achern). In fascist Italy, teaching the German language was strictly forbidden, and so these young people had to spend their schooling far away from their parents' house in order to learn to write their own mother tongue correctly. This Reich school for ethnic Germans then existed parallel to the Napola and separated from it in terms of space and teaching program until the events of the war gradually led to its dissolution.

Verdun
Nazi German victory march past the Verdun Memorial to Victory in June, 1940
The victory monument in June 1940 draped with the German war ensign and today. In 1916 the Germans tried to ’bleed the French dry’ in a battle that lasted for 10 months and which brought France to the verge of collapse. Both sides lost tens of thousands of soldiers. To reduce the pressure on Verdun, a joint Anglo-French attack was launched on the Somme. Tanks were employed for the first time but the offensive was a fiasco. On the first day of the battle alone, the British lost 60,000 men, killed, wounded or missing. By the end of 1916, casualties on both sides were horrendous.
Between them both sides lost half a million men and how many still lie buried in that charnel soil may never be known. Verdun remained in French hands. For the French it was a magnificent victory, but one that had almost shattered their army. For the Germans it was their first undeniable setback, a heavy blow to the morale of both army and people.
Howard (77) The First World War

On the right the German victory march past the Memorial to Victory in June, 1940 and today. Already by 1939, André Maginot had the idea of ​​building a memorial-museum on the war, but the project was interrupted by the start of the Second World War. Nazi German victory march past the Verdun Memorial to Victory in June, 1940The Verdun Memorial today serves a museum dedicated to the history and memory of the 1916 Battle of Verdun, located in Fleury-devant-Douaumont, a few miles from Verdun. Created in 1967 on the initiative of the Comité National du Souvenir de Verdun and its president Maurice Genevoix, the museum was then a place of remembrance for veterans of the First World War. From late 2013 to early 2016, the Memorial closed for renovations and expansion work. It reopened on February 21, 2016 on the occasion of the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of Verdun and was the focus of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Verdun on May 29, 2016, attended jointly by French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The scenography of the museum is modernised and more educational, and the conflict is now presented from a Franco-German point of view. Indeed, the museum enriched its collections most notably supplemented by objects lent by German institutions. For example, a German artilleryman's jacket pierced by a projectile comes from the Dresden Military History Museum. Serge Barcellini has described the site's mission statement as "[m]ore than a museum dedicated to the glory of French warriors, it bears witness to the combined efforts of French and German soldiers."
Nearby is the Monument Maginot, erected in September 1966 to the memory of politician and soldier André Maginot and inaugurated in 1935. Although born in Paris, Maginot had spent a part of his youth in Alsace-Lorraine, the region where later on the line of fortifications that he advocated would be constructed. He had served as Under-Secretary of State for War just prior to the outbreak of the First World War but then enlisted in the army and was posted along the Lorraine front. In November 1914, Maginot was wounded in the leg near Verdun and was awarded the Medaille Militaire, France's highest military award, an event depicted in the sculptured group placed in front of the central symbolic shield. After the war Maginot returned to the Chamber of Deputies and served in a number of government posts, eventually serving as Minister of War three times between 1922 and 1932 and was the principal advocate of a new line of impregnable defences against a future German invasion, completed after his death and which bore his name. He had expressed concern that the Treaty of Versailles did not leave France with sufficient security, continually pushing for more funds for defence as he grew more distrustful of Germany. He thus came to advocate building a series of defensive fortifications along France's border with Germany that would include a combination of field positions and permanent concrete forts, no doubt influenced in this decision by his observations of successful fortifications employed at Verdun during the previous war. He was also probably influenced by the destruction of his home in Revigny-sur-Ornain, which made him determined to prevent Lorraine from ever being invaded again. In 1926 Maginot was successful in getting the government to allocate money to build several experimental sections of the defensive line. But it was 1929 that would be the pivotal year for the fixed defences that would come to be known as the Maginot Line. During the debate that year on the 1930 budget, Maginot lobbied very heavily for the money needed to construct the enormous line of fortifications, finally able to persuade Parliament to allocate 3.3 billion francs for the project. Work on the project progressed rapidly. Maginot visited a work site in October 1930 and expressed satisfaction with the work. He was especially pleased with the work in Lorraine, site of his family's home and where he spent his childhood, and fought for more funding for construction in that area. Though Maginot was the main proponent for the project, most of the actual designs for the Maginot line were the work of Paul Painlevé, Maginot's successor as Minister of War. In fact, Maginot never saw the line completed; he became ill in December 1931 and died in Paris on January 7, 1932 of typhoid fever. It was only after his death that the line of defences which he advocated came to bear his name. However, in the end the line was ineffectual for its intended purpose as Germany was able to circumvent the line by passing its Panzers through hills and marshlands which had been impenetrable to tanks when Maginot made his recommendations.
Maginot line then and now Maginot line then and now
Germans around part of the Maginot line fortifications
Douaumont
Douaumont war cemetery
 This nearby village was destroyed during the Great War. It is home to less than a dozen people but is famous for the terrible battle that took place there from March to October 1916 and for its military ossuary of the Great War. It became a target again of the Germans in the Second World War. Today the Douaumont Ossuary, which contains the remains of more than 100,000 unknown soldiers of both French and German nationalities found on the battlefield, stands high above the landscape. It is a monument to the soldiers of the Battle of Verdun of 1916, designed in the aftermath of the armistice of 1918 at the initiative of Bishop Charles Ginisty of Verdun. Inaugurated on August 7, 1932 by the French President, it is made out to be the site of one of the symbols of Franco-German friendship as symbolised by the handshake of François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl on September 22, 1984. It was classified as an historic monument on May 2, 1996.  Opposite the ossuary, the national necropolis of Douaumont gathers 16,142 graves of French soldiers, mostly Catholic, including a square of 592 stelae of Muslim soldiers.

Munster (Münster im Elsass)
President Raymond Poincaré visiting Munster, badly damaged during the Great War, on Tuesday August 19, 1919. From 1871 until the end of the First World War, Münster belonged to the German Reich as part of the Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine and was assigned to the district of Colmar in the district of Upper Alsace. During the Great War, the city was 85% destroyed and the commune was decorated on November 2, 1921 with the Croix de Guerre 1914-1918, and in July 1948 with the Croix de Guerre 1939-1945. the Anglo-Americans allowed Munster to be liberated by the Zouaves of the 9th regiment on February 5, 1945
The church at Lauterbourg, seen from across the road from the hotel where I stayed at whilst watching France defeat Germany in the semi-Finals of the Euro 2016 championships.  It is the easternmost commune in Metropolitan France (excluding the island of Corsica), across from the German town of Neulauterburg. In the crossfire between France and Germany in numerous wars, it had originally been developed in the early 18th century, into a French fortification of the Lauter-line, defined as the border of France in the Congress of Vienna of 1815. On August 13, 1793, it was the site of a battle of the War of the First Coalition.  After the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, Lauterbourg passed to the German Empire. Lauterbourg was now developed industrially and attached to a railway line. After World War I, the town passed to the French Third Republic. In the 1930s, Lauterbourg was in an uncomfortable position between the Maginot and Siegried-lines. Its population was evacuated immediately upon the outbreak of World War II. In May 1940, the lower town was destroyed completely. Part of its population returned to Lauterbourg in 1942. There was an attempt at taking Lauterbourg on December 15, 1944 by the US 79th Infantry Division, who were forced to hold out against Operation Nordwind until the German offensive was stopped on January 25, 1945. Lauterbourg was taken by the French 1st Army and U.S. VI Corps on March 19, 1945 after assaulting the Siegfried Line fortifications in the Bienwald during a week of heavy combat.  The town was rebuilt after the war in a rudimentary fashion.

Boulay (Bolchen)
Shown during the German occupation when Place de la République was Platz des Führers. On August 9, 1870, the Battle of Boulay took place during the Franco-German War of 1870, when the 2nd Hussars regiment was engaged. Like the other communes of the present department of the Moselle, the town of Boulay was annexed to the German Empire from 1871 to 1918. In 1871, the commune of Boulay, or "Bolchen", became a sub-prefecture of Bezirk Lothringen Within the Reichsland Elsass-Lothringen. During the First World War, the Bolshoi conscripts, like most Mosellans, fought under the colours of the German Empire. Boulay became French again in 1918. At the time of the second annexation, the municipality was renamed "Bolchen" and became the seat of the "Landkreis Bolchen". Much of the city was destroyed by the Americans in November 1944, during the progression of Patton's Third Army to the Saar. Thus, the old town hall of Boulay, built in the 18th century, place de la Vendée, was destroyed on November 8, 1944 by an Anglo-American bombardment. The city was eventually liberated by the Anglo-American liberators on November 27, 1944.