In a World War II martyr village, efforts to forge Franco-German ties do not come naturally.
In Maillé, even by the mid-1990s, it was still difficult to imagine hearing German being spoken, or seeing a German-registered vehicle, in the street. And yet, the opening of a criminal investigation by the German courts and the visit to the village of the prosecutor heading up the case marked the first step towards a shift in the perception of the enemy of the past. For the prosecutor Ulrich Maass’ sincerity when he came to speak to the survivors of the massacre was proof, if such was necessary, of the sense of guilt that still haunted Germans today, even though they were not responsible for the tragedy of August 25, 1944.
North Rhine-Westphalia Land and Alpha e.V.
In 2009, the Maillé municipal team was approached to help with plans for a Franco-German exchange. Dedicated to young adults in particular social, family or legal hardship, the aim was to give these French and German youth an opportunity to meet up and discover a different language and culture.
The aim was also to make them aware of the need to maintain Peace so as to avoid further conflict. The highlights of their stay in France include a visit to the Maison du Souvenir and meeting with the survivors of the Maillé massacre. The youngsters also take part in a community project (crafting furniture and upkeep around the river for example), which they then present to the area’s local officials, to survivors and to the village community during a major ceremony in Maillé cemetery.
This exchange, which took place annually from 2010 to 2019, is conducted in close partnership with the German association Alpha e.V. A number of press articles and documentaries have also been produced in connection.
Bodensee (district of Lake Constance)
In 2012, the Bodenseekreis cultural department contacted the Maison du Souvenir about curating a Franco-German exhibition for the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.
Through the letters written by six soldiers (three French and three German) to their families during the war, the exhibition sought to shine the spotlight on the similarities between the concerns of soldiers “on either side” of the Rhine, and on either side of No man’s land.
Inaugurated a few days apart in Germany and France, the exhibition was shown simultaneously in Kressbronn and Maillé. The fruit of two years of careful planning, a bilingual book 1914-1918 : des deux côtés, Armand, Wilhelm et les autres, une guerre partagée de la Touraine au nord du Lac de Constance came out in 2014, published by Anovi.
Gegen Vergessen & Pax Christi
In 2018, as part of the preparations for the August 25 ceremony, the Maison du Souvenir in Maillé invited the association Gegen Vergessen für Demokratie (which combines remembrance of the past with hands-on efforts to promote democracy) to take part in these commemorations. Accepting this invitation, Professor D. Friedhelm Boll was anxious to meet the people involved in remembrance of the massacre before the day of the ceremony itself. The tragedy made such a profound impression on him that he rolled out all sorts of initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of Maillé’s history in Germany. In January 2018, he organized for a delegation from the martyr village to visit Germany, with conferences and meetings arranged for the occasion.
This trip began in Bonn, where a conference on Maillé was given before some one hundred high school students, and continued in Berlin where, in addition to a conference before nearly 400 young people, the delegation was invited to meet with the directors of several museums devoted to the Nazi period. One of the highlights of this trip was a meeting with Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe, who promised to come to Maillé.
On November 24, 2018, Michael Roth became the first representative of a German Government to pay tribute to the 124 victims of the Maillé massacre. During this particularly symbolic and extremely moving visit, the German minister awarded the Federal Cross of Merit to the President of the Pour le Souvenir de Maillé (For the Memory of Maillé) association, explaining that, through this honor:
“[…] we Germans are also bound to keeping the memory alive of the atrocities committed under National Socialism. Maillé is a place of shame for Germany, a place which, unfortunately, has not achieved the rightful recognition it deserves among my compatriots.” 1
1 Excerpt from Mr. Roth’s keynote address in Maillé, on November 24, 2018.
In 2019, a major German delegation of representatives of Gegen Vergessen e.V., Pax Christi and Hamburg’s Franco-German Friends’ Society took part in the commemorations of the massacre. The next day, an altogether special event was organized, when this delegation was invited to meet and chat with survivors. These hugely emotional encounters left a lasting impression on all of the participants.