Painful legacy of World War II: Nazi forced enlistment Alsatian/Mosellan Prisoners of War and the Soviet Prison Camp of Tambov
Abstract: This dissertation concerns the legacy of the Nazi forced enlistment during World War II and focuses more precisely on the case of Alsace/Moselle. Many of these French men, enlisted by force from 1942 in the German army, were sent to the Eastern Front and experienced Soviet prison camps.The aim of this thesis is to examine how knowledge and memories about forced enlistment and Soviet captivity have been remembered, commemorated, communicated and passed on since the Alsatian/Mosellan POWs (Prisoners of War) carried the tokens of enemies or traitors when reintegrating their motherland, France.Four strategies dealing with the experiences of forced enlistment and of internment in Soviet prison camps are examined. I present how the first and most common strategy, i.e. avoidance, is contributing to an individual and collective construction of silence. Then I argue that a second strategy, the constitution of families of remembrance, is helping them to articulate and narrate their experiences (third strategy). The fourth strategy is the organisation of pilgrimages (emic term) to the former prison camp of Tambov, where the majority of the Alsatian/Mosellan POWs were gathered during the war. This last strategy actualises the issue of the transmission of the war experiences given that pilgrimages bring together three to four generations. Through fieldwork observations of the journeys I show how the pilgrims engage with a sense of the past. They remember and reassess the meaning of the past in terms of the social, cultural and political needs of the present. The importance of place and the aspect of self-in-place are thoughtfully analysed in order to highlight the process of passing on the memory of Tambov.I conclude by arguing that the agents of remembrance interviewed for the purpose of this thesis are engaged in turning the tangible and intangible legacies of World War II into heritage. This is done by releasing the legacy of forced enlistment and internment in Soviet prison camp from the private/familial sphere and inscribing it in the public sphere. Yet, the agency of the former POWs and their descendants shows how to let pass a past “that does not want to pass” in a contemporary European context.
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