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The Etobon Project

The Etobon blog

This blog is written as a chronological narrative.The most recent posts are found at the end of the journal.

The graves of some of those who died September 27, 1944

The Etobon blog contains portions of my translation of Ceux d'Etobon, by Jules Perret and Benjamin Valloton. Perret was an witness to a Nazi atrocity committed in the closing months of World War II in the village of Etobon, France. Perret's son, brother-in-law and son-in-law to be were victims of the massacre. has posted an article in which I've given the basic facts of the story of Etobon. Please visit the site and see other stories related to World War II prisoners of war.

You can find post links, most recent first, on the right side of each page.



Entries in German occupation (8)


Etobon: A True Account of Courage and Sacrifice

The burial place of the Etobon martyrs          

        Thirty-nine men of Etobon were lined up against a church wall and shot, ten by ten, on September 27, 1944, for daring to defy their Nazi occupiers.

Etobon:  A True Account of Courage and Sacrifice is the story of a small village in eastern France whose people risked everything to resist the Germans during World War II. They rescued and sheltered escaped British Indian prisoners of war. They formed their own unit to fight the German army. When their actions were uncovered, the Germans executed almost all of the men of the village between the ages of 16 and 60. Their pastor, one of the leaders of the local resistance, was sent to the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald.

The village of Etobon is in one of the last regions of France to have been liberated at the end of the Second World War. The inhabitants who survived the massacre suffered bombardments, hunger and cold until the Germans were finally driven out in November 1944. The scars on the community are still visible. What happened at Etobon deserves a full telling. This tragedy continues to affect the lives of its people, as if it happened only a few years ago.



Death of an Occupier

The German officer who had fought to escape capture in Etobon lies in a field. Jules Perret had gone home to supper, but had to return to the place where the officer fell to see what would happen next:

"When I come back, I ask [my son] Jacques, “Is it over?”  “I think so, but he’s not completely dead.”  It’s the cook who has the sad honor to put an end to this battle.  They bring Besson back in a coma.  M.P. then tells me that they’ve killed another officer on the road at the head of a column of troops, as he gave orders to stop the retreat and hold their positions.  OK.  We can’t celebrate yet.

"Another German car.  It’s fired on.  It escapes on roads that aren’t even worthy of the name.  We’re paying attention now!

"We go to bed.  What a day!  We’re up again early.  A few of us are going to bury the officer.  We decide to put him in a dip in the ground, in Charles Suzette’s field, near my poplars.  We dig a little and then go to get him.  It’s raining.  It is a moving sight.  There he is, lying on his back, stretched out, hands folded on his chest, eyes closed, helmet on his head.  Alfred says, “I’m the one who closed his eyes when he died.”

"I gather up his papers, his photos, to let his family know, later on.  He has a pretty wife, beautiful children.  This awful war!  We carry him on two shovel handles and lay him out with respect in his little grave, not deep enough, but we had to do it quickly.  According to his papers, he was a Catholic.  (I kept these papers a long time, but since I had to hide them, I can no longer find them.)

"I’ve been at war more than four years, the other one for five years, but it’s the first time I’ve seen a German soldier killed."


Covering Their Tracks

Thursday, September 14

The men of Etobon had to dispose of the body of the German officer, and Jules Perret knew there might be serious consequences to the village if it was discovered. They had already heard of the murder of a child at Chenebier following the death of a German soldier there. The Etobonais knew the Germans could uncover their clandestine operations if they searched the parsonage: it served as the central kitchen for the camps of resistance, the British solders and German prisoners in the woods surrounding the village. The men had to work quickly before anyone came to investigate the Lieutenant’s whereabouts. Perret writes:

"I spent part of my morning arranging the Lieutenant’s grave so that it wouldn’t be spotted, adding dirt, putting dry leaves and branches on it.  Three militiamen, supposedly joining the resistance, killed a German at Chenebier.  To avenge themselves, the survivors set fire to Pierre Goux’s house, completely destroying it, and savagely killed little Gérard Pillat, a child of nine or ten years old.  What news for his prisoner father!

"Everything happens at once.  We are hurrying to remove everything from the parsonage that could tip someone off.  M. Marlier and I carry casseroles and mess kits full of food to the church, and hide them under the communion table.  Four veal heads, cooked, in a basket hidden in the brambles of the old cemetery.  At Isaac’s Mill, stoves and boilers, jars of preserves, wheels of Gruyere, sacks of sugar and coffee.  And they brought the wounded Germans to the same mill!  As for Besson, he is dead.  Mama dressed him in one of my suits and we brought him to the church. 

"The cannons are getting closer.  Hope is returning.  As soon as I was in bed, Fernand Goux came to tell me that, without electricity, he couldn’t make Besson’s coffin that night, so that we could bury him at first light.  We decided to take the body to the cemetery and put it in the Coulon family tomb, where he can wait.  11:30 p.m.  I’m home.  It went well.  Poor boy!  His brother is very upset."


It's Not a Good Sign

Saturday, September 25, continued ...

The bombardment of Etobon continues, as does the rain. Mme. Picard, from Clairegoutte, told me how it poured rain nonstop during these last days of September, 1944. As the Etobonais are forced to provide shelter for German/Cossack soldiers and their horses, Jules Perret and his family can only watch and wait. He writes:

"Whoever might read these lines one day might wonder how I can take such precise notes.  Here’s how I do it:  I write a summary, often in patois, of what happens to us, on little squares of paper, well numbered, which I put in my wallet.  Then, when I have a moment, I bring out the notes and slip them into little bottles that I bury under the feeding trough in the stable. 

"We have five of the Cossacks’ horses.  To one of the cavalrymen, who is from Kouban, I said, “No go back Kouban.  Stalin hate Cossacks, kaput Cossacks.  Why Russky deutsch soldier?”  He says to me, “Cossacks not bolsheviks, not communists.”  That’s how we talk to each other!

"These Cossacks, even though many of them speak German, are really Russians.  Excessively polite.  They wear big red astrakhan hats.  The two that are staying here are 42 and 44 years old.  They are big, handsome men.  One has a son who’s an officer in the Russian army.  And he’s a boche soldier!  Philippe is always in his arms.  He kisses him and puts him astride their little horses - lively, but gentle as lambs.  When you do a favor for Siriés, the older of the two, he takes both your hands and weeps.  But these Cossacks are demons when they’re drunk!

"A hail of shells in the woods.  The boches set fire to Isaac’s Mill to drive out the “terrorists.”  Machine gun fire can be heard all around.  I’m writing these lines at the skylight in Jacques’ attic, where I can see without being seen. 

"Going back to the Cossacks, there is one very small one, a real runt, Sicilian, with a dark face.  How did he get in with this nice troop?   (We didn’t imagine, seeing this runty kid in front of the house, that two days later he would kill my son and thirty-eight of his comrades!)

"At my sister’s place, four Cossacks sleep in the room that’s over the basement.  One has his bed over the trap door over our pig in a barrel.

"Near evening, the cannon shuts up.  A missed offensive.  What bad luck!

"Eleven o’clock.  The cannon fire starts up again, very near, maybe a tank advancing from Lyoffans against la Pissotte?  Oh, I wish they’d come quickly!

"Without having to ask, our Cossacks brought their doctor to look at Suzette’s arm, swollen from an abscess.  He changed the bandage.  And polite!  We’ve never seen anyone so amiable.  It’s not a good sign.

"We go to bed partially dressed, the window open so that we can follow what’s going on.  It’s still raining.  “Pow, pow” everywhere!  We get stuck in the mud up to our ankles every time we go out to see what’s happening. 

"Four o’clock in the morning.  Jeanne, my wife, scolds me for sleeping like a log while the cannons are so loud.  The house is shaking from them."



In an earlier post, I wrote about Elisabeth Matthieu, who as a young nurse, risked her life with one of her friends to save the children of Etobon. They drove a truck with a piece of fabric marked with a red cross over the bed to Etobon, through artillery fire, loaded the children and then took them to the Swiss frontier. Jules Perret writes of the urgency of the mission.

Saturday, October 28, 1944

A note from the Red Cross for the evacuation of the children to Switzerland.  It’s urgent because the shelling is getting worse.  Dr. Rudy Rauch, that unwashed bear, is beginning to become human.  The reason?  He just moved in with a pretty lady with lovely hair, a refugee at Etobon, whose husband is at the front … French.  Some others are becoming more human, too, because they’re ashamed of the massacre in September.  At least, they realize they may be on the losing side and are looking for sympathy that might be useful when the final destruction comes.  An example:  they’ve given us three thirty-liter buckets for the 100 liters of milk that we have to deliver to them.  So 10 liters are left at the dairy.  And the interpreter says to me, “We’ll pay for 100 liters and you keep 10 that I’ll hide.  No use telling the colonel about this little irregularity.”

New orders:  be ready to send the snowplow out in bad weather from here to the Grille de Champagney; put piles of sand on the sides of the roads, in case of ice.

These idiots like schnapps better than vegetables!  They’ve deferred the transport of the potatoes so that the barrels can be put in place more quickly at the distillery near the school of the Vieille Verrière.  Drink the schnapps, messieurs les boches, drink!  The Americans will only get here more quickly.

Sunday, October 29

It’s ten o’clock.  I’m stretched out on the sofa, resting my knee.  There’s a nice fire.  Next to me, Aline, her head bandaged, Philippe;  Suzette comes and goes, Mama is making soup.  You could almost forget that it’s wartime, until you hear, outside, rough voices, the pounding of boots on the pavement, the sound of the German guns being taken away, the crashing of the American arrivals … You get used to everything… “Rest, much rest,” the Franco-Boche doctor Rauch-Deville has ordered.

Philippe says, “That’s Lucie’s gun.  That’s the Americans.”  And he’s only six!

This afternoon, Suzette and Aline went to Chenebier, where they were told more details of the drama.  They talked of the mayor, marching courageously at the head of the line, followed by René and eight others.  At that moment the thugs didn’t yet know where to conduct the killings.  They looked around, and finally decided on the church.  Manu says he saw, in the second group, Kuntz embracing Jacques, then getting into a car while a boche pushed Jacques, very pale, into the ranks of the condemned.  That’s what you get for being human and not killing prisoners …

The Germans are constantly interrogating the people of Etobon to try to find out where X is buried.  They often search, here and there, in the fields.  Ah!  If only the infamous Colonel Vonalt had known that it was I who buried him!

Yesterday, one of Morel’s sons, from the sawmill, came home with two Germans.  A shell whistled.  Morel hit the ground.  The Germans laughed.  Not for long.  The shell killed both of them.