Monday, October 18, 2010

what to write & Field Trip # 4: Fort de Queuleu

I never considered myself much of a writer. I've never before experienced writer's block. I suppose there is a first time for everything. I've wanted to write this past week but could never bring myself to. I also had the duel problem of not being able to get Michael off of his computer and not being able to pull myself away from knitting Michael's sweater/watching an embarrassing tv show; the two activities are one to me and they tend to become addictive. But Michael is in class now and then he will be working on research until our afternoon class and I have already watched 3 embarrassing episodes today and am 2/5 of the way down Michael's sweater's sleeve. I think it's time to write.


Fort de Queuleu

You may vaguely remember Fort de Queuleu from this earlier post. Can I just interrupt myself right here and  say that those old blog posts embarrassing -- not that I've ever been confident in writing. Anyway, reading that old post I can't help but remember how strange it seemed to me that such a seemingly historically significant place, an interrogation camp where the Nazis held prisoners just down the road from our dorms, be turned into a fitness course. At the time, over a year ago, it seemed almost blasphemous to hide the story of the fort in that way. Looking back over our time here though, my feelings on the subject have softened. I still can't say I'm completely comfortable running a lap or two around the camp (not that I could run that far if I tried) but I think I get it in some vague way.

Part of the problem is funding; money's always a problem though, right? Everywhere you look, every corner you turn there is another WWII site, another Roman ruin. We don't have the problem to such an extent in the US because of our comparatively shorter and less....extensive history, but with so many historical sites, funding will eventually run out and only so many places will be preserved.

The other problem is the memory, the memory of a scarred region. In many ways, I get the feeling that people want to forget. They want to forget that once again, France collapsed under the pressure of Germany.  They don't want to think about the people tortured and killed right across the street from their house. And that feeling is completely understandable. But some wanted, some needed to remember. And the volunteers that are now running the association that keeps the fort up and safe (and doing so for free, taking care of the funding issue) are those that needed to remember because you see, the association was formed by those who lived through the terror of imprisonment at Fort de Queuleu, they lived through the interrogation, were sent to a concentration camp and lived to return. They needed to remember because they couldn't forget. Their families and friends have carried on the memory after them.

As I mentioned before, the construction of Fort de Queuleu began 1867 when the Minister of War acquired 4 pieces of land surrounding Metz in order to build fortifications around the city in anticipation of the war with Prussia that was seeming more and more likely. Construction was continued by the French up until Metz was annexed by Prussia (Germany) during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. The treaty of Frankfurt made Metz a Germany city in 1871 and construction of the fort was continued by the Germans from that time on. They named the fort Goeben after the Prussian general who was best known for winning the battle of Spicheren, the first victory of the Prussian army over the Moselle region (our region). In 1918 France re-entered Metz and after the treaty of Versailles in 1919, Metz was officially returned to France. For the most part, the fort lay dormant until WWII.

In 1943 Metz was once again Annexed by Germany and fort de Queuleu was turned into a top secret interrogation camp where members of the French resistance (including active rebels such as Joseph Derhan, those French people who simply didn't want to be forced to speak German and everyone in between) were tortured and interrogated before being sent to a concentration camp (most often to Natzweiler-Struthof, which was the only concentration camp within France's borders). It is thought that 1500-1800 people went through the camp, 36 were killed and 4 escaped through a ventilation shaft before American troops began to advance on Metz in 1944 at which time the prisoners were forced to march to the concentration camp. Those interned there called it "Hell of Queuleu" (Enfer de Queuleu).

SS Sonderlager feste Goben, Fort de Queuleu casemate "A" camp de concentration 1943-1944

The Entrance

Never That or Never Again or just Never

"c'est en ce lieu que 1800 patriotes ont ete veux bandes pieds et mains lies durant des jourd des semaines des mois assis sans bouger sans parler maintenus en prevention avant d'etre transferes dans les camps de concentration     
ici point de chambre a gaz de crematoire un hauptscharfukrer hempen commandant ce lieu suffisait condamne a mort par le tribunal militaire de metz le 10.4.51 pour le meurtre de 36 patrioted on le retrouvera plus tard officier de police a Oldenbourg R.F.A."

after very very rough translation:

"it was here that 1800 Patriots were kept with eyes, feet and hands bound for days weeks months left alone without moving or speaking before being transferred to concentration camps
here no gas chamber of crematorium hauptscharfukrer a hempen (something German, couldn't translate) this place's  commander was sentenced to death by a military court in Metz on 4/10/1951 for the murder of 36 patriotes he was later found, the police officer Oldenburg Germany"
Prisoners were forced to stand with their arms raised for hours before being given their number (in German) which they had to remember lest they be beaten.
The interrogation room
A solitary confinement room for the "really bad" ones
The normal chamber. The prisoners were made to sit with blindfolds on these benches with their backs straight against the bed for hours every day.
Where 4 managed to escape; the last remaining of these 4 men passed away just last year.
The prisoners were bathed here by having buckets of freezing cold water thrown on them. The only bathed once when they arrived and never after, some going almost a year in without washing int he same clothes they were brought in.
Where they used the bathroom, it was right in the middle of the communal bedroom.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Love the pics at the top of the post! The ones at the bottom made my face all squishy. Yikes! I'm impressed with your translation skills! Congratulations (in French!):)