66 years after his birth, Daniel Rouxel was granted German citizenship at the end of last week. Rouxel, who was humiliated as a child for being the ‘son of a Boche’, was the first to sign up to a German scheme to recognise war children born in France, which was launched last February when German authorities agreed to grant joint citizenship to those fathered by German soldiers during the Second World War. He collected his new identity papers from the German consulate in Paris on August 5th.
Rouxel was born to a French mother and German solider in occupied France in 1943. His mother was employed in a German airbase canteen in Brittany when she met Lieutenant Otto Ammon. Ammon was later killed during the Allied invasion of France and Rouxel was brought up by his grandmother in a village in Brittany. He remembers how his grandmother forced him to sleep in a henhouse and how, aged six, he was publicly humiliated by the local village mayor. He is quoted in an article published on the BBC website.
‘Which one of you knows the difference between a swallow and a Boche?’ The mayor
asked. ‘I'll tell you. When the swallow makes its babies here in France, it
takes them with it when it leaves. But the Boche - he leaves his behind.’
Rouxel described how:
‘I wept and wept […] I was so ashamed that I ran and hid under a bridge for the
whole night. I even thought of doing away with myself.’
It is estimated that as many as 200,000 French children may have been born to illicit liaisons during the German occupation. In the aftermath of the war, neither the French nor the German authorities recognised the parentage of these war children. The children were registered as ‘father unknown’.
Ms Nivoix-Sevestre is the president of the French association Amicale Nationale des Enfants de la Guerre (ANEG), or the French National Association of War Children. She too was born to a French mother and German soldier in 1942 and described how in the worst cases some children were even forced to eat cockroaches or to drink their own urine. Ms Nivoix-Sevestre’s mother was killed during the Allied bombardment of Caen during the summer of 1944. She was brought up by a foster mother and discovered her father’s identity when she was 13. She first began trace her father in 2003. She is still searching and believes that her father died on the Eastern Front.
The ANEG was founded in 2005 to provide support to war children and their descendants and to help them retrace their families in Germany or Austria. It currently has 384 members and has helped over a third of them to locate their paternal families in Germany. The association works closely with the Deutsche Dienststelle, the Wehrmacht Information Office for War Losses and Prisoners of War (WASt), which was opened in Berlin shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War and currently holds some 18 million index cards on Second World War German soldiers.
One of the main tasks of the WASt was to register and process German Wehrmacht casualties. The organisation was transferred to Thuringia in central Germany in August 1943. From April 1945 onwards, following the occupation of Thuringia, it worked under the supervision of the American Military Commission and was moved, once again, to Furstenhagen near Kassel in the north of the state of Hessen. The WASt returned to Berlin at the end of January 1946. In June, the Allied Control Commission declared that the WASt was to carry on its work and its administration was taken over by the French section of the Control Commission.
Alongside the launch of the German scheme to grant citizenship to children born to German fathers during the occupation in France, there were also moves in France in February towards increased recognition of some aspects of its difficult and controversial past during the Second World War. On Monday February 16th, the French council of state officially recognised, for the first time, the responsibility of the Vichy government in the deportation of Jews during the Second World War.
Have these recent measures put an end to the fights for increased recognition fought by some of the victims of the Second World War and German occupation of France? The answer is far from simple and for many the battle of historical memory continues.
For further information on some of the recent debates in France over resistance to the German occupation, read our article The Aubrac Controversy