×
Logo Land of Memory
Logo Land of Memory

Five people - four student film-makers and their teacher - try to track down their forebears, themselves a mix of active participants and passive witnesses to the tragic conflicts of the 20th century. Their goal is to make a film commemorating the men and women who fought so that the Europe we know today could come into being and a long-lasting peace be established. Follow the progress of these young people and their ancestors through lands steeped in history, and eye witness accounts.

Where France, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg meet, explore once-devastated places, battlefield heritage sites and memorials in stunning countryside around Liège, Verdun, the Saarland, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and until the unique Ardennes’s forests. These places continue to bear witness to our shared history and the sacrifices of those who went before us.

This is where the story begins.

Chapter 1 | Lara SCHÄFER

In 1914, Europe is the dominant global force.

Fevered spirit of nationalism, imperial ambitions, thirst for revenge...
Rivalries between the great powers of the European continent seemingly guaranteed an outbreak of war.

The assassination of Franz-Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria and heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, on June 28th by a Serbian student nationalist sparked things off. In the space of a few weeks, the complex system of alliances resulted in multiple, successive declarations of war. One by one, the countries of the 'Triple Alliance' (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) drew up in opposition to the countries of the Triple Entente (France, Russia and the United Kingdom) and their allies (Serbia and Montenegro).

August 4th, 1914, in order to circumvent French defensive lines, German troops invaded Belgium, thus violating the neutrality of the Kingdom, which had hoped to escape the impending explosion of violence.

The forward positions around Liège were the first to be hit, its forts receiving a deluge of artillery fire. A wave of shelling hit the Outremeuse district of Liège with many civilians being killed in the town center. To the invaders' surprise, the Belgian forces held out courageously from the so-called Fortified Position of Liège (F.P.L). Their stubbornness touched public opinion abroad and slowed down the progress of the German army, giving the French more time to prepare. However, under the rain of enemy artillery fire, the forts fell, one after the other.

The Great War had begun.

lara SHAEFFER

Chapter 1 | Lara SCHÄFER

quote

It all started three months ago, when the French gendarmerie phoned me. They told me that they may have found my great-grandfather. And they wanted to do DNA tests.
First, I did not understand anything ...

I did not even know that they still found the remains of the soldiers of the First World War. And then I remembered: yes, according to the family stories, my great-grandfather would have disappeared, in Verdun, in 1916. I did the tests and, indeed, it was him!

I first went to Fort Loncin because, according to his military record, it is here and all along Fortified Positions of Liege, that my great-grandfather, Bernhard Keller fought at the beginning of the war in August 1914.

Modal-text-picto
Lara bg Sequence 1

Then I travelled to Verdun, where his remains had been found in a wood.
There were, of course, remnants of his german army officer uniform.
But an old military trunk was also found containing, amongst other things, a novel ('Le Grand Meaulnes') and a love letter...

lara SHAEFFER
Lara bg Sequence 1
Lara bg Sequence 1

« My beloved Bernhard, I can't stop thinking about you and the wonderful weeks we were able to spend together in Paris at the beginning of the year, then in Ethe, at my parents'.

Those days seem so far away now, almost like a dream, with the war that's now raging.

I tremble with fear to think of you on the frontline. You're so gentle, you've nothing in common with the outpourings of rage that are swallowing up our two countries...

Lara bg Sequence 1
Lara bg Sequence 1

... I tremble at the thought of you getting wounded, and of never seeing you again...

Every day I pray to God that He would spare you and bring you safely home to us.

Oscar, our son, also thinks about you every day, as you can see from the drawing that he's sent you - he did it this morning.

We miss you, my love. I can't tell you how much we miss you. Your Yvonne»

quote
Yvone

It's unbelievable! It would never have entered my head. This woman, Yvonne Nicolas, and my great-grandfather could have fallen in love - a Belgian and a German who met in Paris before the war.

It's certainly true to say that among Germans who had gone on to higher education many loved French literature. That must have been why he kept this book with him.

Yvone
Copain Yvone
Livre le grand meaulines

I went to see the tomb of the author of the book, Alain Fournier. He too died here, and he too was found a long time after. In 1991!

I took the opportunity to visit the surroundings. I walked a lot. It is a beautiful region!
Many other writers and artists have died here.
Seeing their burials was like diving into this rich time, in the heart of this beautiful nature.

Alain Fournier
1886 - 1914

Modal-text-picto
Photo Alain Fournier
Cimétire Alain fournie

I returned to Belgium to see the village of Ethe mentioned in Yvonne's letter. There was fierce fighting here in August 1914 - the so-called Battle of the Frontiers. In Alsace, Lorraine, the Ardennes, as far as the Meuse and Sambre rivers, tens of thousands of soldiers were killed, wounded or left permanently disabled.

A great number of civilians were also murdered on the margins of the fighting, in Nomeny, Gerbéviller, Rouvres, Rossignol, Tintigny and Dinant... Yvonne's entire family was killed in Ethe, Gomery and Latour. Only she and her son Oscar survived.

Modal-text-picto
Yvone
Yvone

To be closer to her lover, she worked in a German military hospital. The most important thing that I learned in the course of my research, however, was that she became a secret agent for the Dame blanche intelligence network.

Yvone-espione
Yvone-espionne-bg

She was unmasked and imprisoned in 1917. She was even sentenced to death and her son, Oscar, was taken from her by the Germans. A few months later, her sentence was commuted because she had cared for and saved many German soldiers. Thankfully, she regained her freedom at the war's end in 1918, but she never found her son, who had been taken away to Germany.

Yvone-prisonniere
Yvone-prisonniere-separe

This is how for the first time I found out about the mother of my grandfather, Oscar, son of Bernhard and Yvonne.

seq-10-bg
Oscar soldat
Lara SHAEFFER Seq 10
mere Oscar

Chapter 2 | Seydou SAMAKE

The Great War devastated Europe and swept up peoples and nations, one after the other.

From the four corners of the earth, millions of people came to die in the trenches and on the battlefields.

Chapter 2 | Seydou SAMAKE

When Lara told me about the Memorial to Muslim combatants in Verdun, I immediately wanted to see it.
Naturally, I was already familiar with the fields of white crosses in French military graveyards, but to see hundreds of Muslim headstones, was really impressive!

seydou-grotte
tombe1-seydou
seydou-grotte

Then I went to see the citadel of Verdun and fort Douaumont. I can hardly bring myself to imagine what the soldiers there must have undergone in these passages dripping with moisture, with the terrifying din of explosions and shells.

Then there's disease, swarms of rats, head lice so itchy you want to tear your hair out! To think that my great-grandfather, Ousmane Samaké fought here.
He was a Senegalese tirailleur. At home, he was a totally harmless story-teller, surrounded by musical instruments which he played constantly - a bit like me, in fact!

bg-seydou-grotte
seydou-grotte

He had for intance a strange-looking kind of bagpipe and a small accordion which now belongs to me. I still play it sometimes - just like he did, surrounded by his brothers in arms behind the frontline.

oussmane-accordeon
oussmane-accordeon-soldats
oussmane-accordeon-seul

He also played music in the countryside, in Belgium. In 1917 he was captured by the Germans. Before being brought to a prisoner of war camp, he had to work on the harvest. He was even able to learn a few traditional songs from the area. I feel that although this time was short-lived, it offered him a little respite.

oussmane-prisonnier
oussmane-prisonnier
oussmane-prisonnier

However, once the harvest had been gathered in, things became decidedly less pleasant. The prisoners were sent to Germany to work in the coal mines of the Saarland, near the Luxembourg border. This industry was a major one in this region.

quote
oussmane-prisonnier
oussmane-mine-fer

From that time my great-grandfather preserved a collection of musical sheet published in Saarbrücken. And it's in that book that I found the last picture of him in Europe. Of course, he poses with his accordion in front of the camera!

In fact, I fully intend to play some of this music for the film that I, Lara and others are making.

Modal-text-picto
livret-oussmane-photo
livret-oussmane

In fact, I fully intend to play some of this music for the film that I, Lara and others are making.

Chapter 3 | Camille BRISSARD

Following the traumatic experience of the Great War, European countries attempt to rebuild and establish peace on the continent.

However, new threats are in the offing.
The Great Depression of 1929, the growth of nationalism,
the emergence of fascist political parties, border incidents ...

A new war is brewing.

Chapter 3 | Camille BRISSARD

quote
Camille et Seydou

It's possible that the tune that Seydou is playing is one that my great-grandmother heard Seydou's great-grandfather play on the same accordion.

That would be incredible
But it's not impossible!

oussmane
juliette

That's right. Ousmane Samaké, his relative, caught the Spanish Flu in 1918 when he was a German prisoner of a war camp.

My ancestor, Juliette Bloch, was a nurse volunteer at around the same time, in Lorraine. They could have come across each other when he got back from the war.

We've largely forgotten this now, but the outbreak of Spanish Flu just after the First World War was absolutely devastating.
It killed many more people than the war itself.

juliette
juliette-2
juliette-2

My relative was quite a woman! She was one of the first female engineers in France. Can you believe that it took the war and the mass call-up of men for the universities to accept female students. She studied at the Institut Electrotechnique of Nancy. She was the only woman in her class!

More importantly, sickened by the horrors of the First World War, she got involved in pacifist movements during the mid-1920s. She had a very similar vision to those who wanted to create a new Europe and avoid conflict on the continent. This was the time of the Locarno Treaties and the Kellogg-Briand Pact. She was even a member of a local League of Nations committee.

juliette-2

However, following the economic crisis of 1929, she had to turn her back on political activism to devote herself to her engineering career. From the 1920s onwards, authoritarian regimes were beginning to establish in several European countries. Some of them represented a real threat to democratic states.

nazi-1
nazi-2
nazi-3
bg-nazi
symbole-juif

Fate sometimes plays cruel tricks. The company for which she worked as a secretary was involved in building the Maginot Line !

It was the same story everywhere - in Belgium and Luxembourg, bunkers were under construction all along the border; in Germany, Hitler ordered the Siegfried Line to be built. In the space of a few years, Europe went from hoping for a lasting peace to fearing a new conflict.

Modal-text-picto
juliette-secretaire
carte-juliette-secretaire

However, if you think she threw in the towel at this point, well, you'd be getting her all wrong. In 1939, with the general mobilization and the evacuation of civilians underway, she decided to play her part once again. She joined up as a volunteer nurse, based near Sedan in the Ardennes, on the border with Belgium. That's right, there was a first battle of the Ardennes took place, in 1940.

juliette-secretaire
quote

My name is Juliette, Juliette Bloch. I'm back to being a war-time nurse again. Casualities are mounting up and it's hard to keep up with the workload, looking after people night and day, everyday, without a break. People are afraid, they're terrified by the German advance.

They're fleeing on foot, on horse, by cart, bringing with them the bare necessities, whatever they need to live on, or rather, survive on for a few days or a few weeks. Tens of thousands of people are on the move.

Modal-text-picto
juliette-infirmiere2

Chapter 4 | Nicolas FEUILLEN

In September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland.
This marks the beginning of the Second World War and the 'Phoney War' in the west.
In May 1940, it's the turn of Belgium, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France to be invaded by the army of the Third Reich.

June 6th 1944, the Allies landed in Normandy, liberating France, followed by Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in September. They push Nazi forces back to the borders of Germany. It's thought the country is on the brink of collapse. However, the freedom that has been gradually regained cannot be taken for granted. Flying bombs fall on Liège and Antwerp as late as November.

December 16th 1944, Hitler surprises the allied forces and goes for broke with a major offensive through the Ardennes region , which had only been liberated a few weeks before. Hitler aimed to divide the Allied armies and take the bridges over the river Meuse before advancing on the port of Antwerp with its fuel reserves. In the north, German troops advanced towards Baugnez, Stavelot, La Gleize, Stoumont.. In the centre, Hitler's tanks reached St-Vith and Houffalize, sped on torwards Clervaux, then Wiltz. By December 22nd, Bastogne had been completely surrounded!

NUTS! US General McAuliffe refused to surrender and his soldiers pushed back daily German attacks on the town until General Patton's reinforcements arrived. Hitler's last big push was finally halted just outside Dinant. The Ardennes region is liberated for the second time.

Casque nicolas feuillen sequence6

Chapter 4 | Nicolas FEUILLEN

Nicolas Feuillen
quote

To be honest, war's not really my thing…violence, misery, massacres… I'm only here because Camille, my girlfriend, really wanted to go round the museums telling the story of the Battle of the Bulge as part of our graduation project.

What's more, the war is a sensitve subject in my family. That's partly to do with the story of my grandfather Desmond. He was born in the Belgian Ardennes in 1945, just him and his mother. A baby with no father around, bearing a name like that, that sets tongues wagging! My grandfather never wanted to talk much about the circumstances of his birth. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

musee ardennes
aieuls nicolas

Thanks to Camille, at this occasion I discovered an amazing photo in a little museum in the Ardennes of the Province of Liège. In it are depicted a farmyard, civilians and an American army doctor. So far, so normal.

Except that the farm belongs to the Feuillen family - my grandparents! And there was a striking family resemblance between my family and the woman standing closest to the American doctor.

Modal-text-picto
Ferme aieuls nicolas

Naturally, I wanted to find out more. I told my story to the staff at the museum, who were able to give me some more details about this photograph and about my family.

It's crazy! They'd preserved an incredible number of eyewitness statements and documents.

And it was indeed my relative - she'd got a job in autumn 1944 as a cook in the American army.

Not to boast, but my family has had a real talent for cooking stretching back many generations!

quote
couple aieuls nicolas

Like everyone else, she was completely taken by surprise by the Germans' December offensive in the Ardennes. She never thought that the Americans would have such a hard fight of it, even having to retreat as far as Bastogne.

They spent the entire winter of 44/45 there, with the inhabitants also stucked in the encircled town. They took refuge in shelters and cellars, going to ground for weeks whilst they waited to be liberated from the invading forces by Patton's troops.

Modal-text-picto

As for the army doctor, he was called Desmond Thompson and he was in the 28th Infantry Division of the US Army. Finally, I had an explanation for my grandfather's first name!

But why did this doctor disappear? Did he return to the USA, leaving behind him a pregnant woman? Or was he killed during the Battle of the Bulge?

According to the archives I was able to view, it was here, in the place called Schumannseck, that the army doctor Desmond Thompson went missing. We got to underline that the fighting was horrendous! I can barely imagine the sheer awfulness of that experience for Desmond Thompson...

Background Nicolas Feuillen sequence 6

Chapter 5 | Matthéo WEBER

After the defeat of Hitler's last offensive in the Ardennes, Nazi forces fell back on all fronts. The Allies bombed one German town after another, with devastating effects.

The end of the war drew near. On the ruins of this battlefield, it's time to build a new conflict free Europe of peace.

Never again !

Chapter 5 | Matthéo WEBER

I've wanted to make this documentary for so long! It's great that everything has just fallen into place with Camille, Seydou and Nicolas, as well as our teacher, Madame Schäfer, who also got really into what we were doing. We all had family members who lived through the war in this part of the world. For me, it's my 95 year old grandmother, Rose Thill, who's still as sharp as a tack! I wanted to make this documentary for her.

Matteo WEBBER
Matteo WEBBER BG
Matteo WEBBER BG
Matteo WEBBER

There you go gran, that's great, you can seated. I'll stand beside the camera and I'll ask you some questions. Look at me, don't look at the camera.

So, during the Second World War, you were in the Resistance, here in Luxembourg. You hid fugitives, people who didn't want to submit to the Germans, that's right, isn't it?

Matteo WEBBER
Matteo WEBBER BG

Gran has a strong character. She needed it, given that she was in the Resistance. When the Germans came back in December 1944, she hid in a friend's cellar, along with other locals from Clervaux. She was captured by German soldiers while she went out to look for food.

When they checked her identity papers and discovered she had been in the Resistance, they wanted to execute her on the spot. Thankfully, their officier stopped them and took her to Clervaux prison.

Modal-text-picto
Matteo WEBBER
Matteo WEBBER BG
Matteo WEBBER BG
Matteo WEBBER BG

According to my grandmother, this German had received medical treatment a few weeks before from an American doctor who had been taken prisoner during the clashes in Schumannseck. Of course, I couldn't help thinking of Nicolas' great-grandfather. How crazy would that be - what an ending! In any case, since the war, my grandmother has been a real believer in the idea of Europe.

Matteo WEBBER
Matteo WEBBER BG
Matteo WEBBER BG

They put me in the prison of Clervaux for a few days, then when they retreated, they brought me across the border, to Saarbrücken. The town was in a terrible state of devastation. Nothing was left standing, not one house. Everything had been knocked down and blown up. The few people who were still there roamed the streets. They looked thin and very hungry.

Matteo WEBBER BG

Seeing these borderlands so devastated convinced her that Europeans absolutely needed to reconcile. She was freed quite quickly, in 1945. When she returned to Luxembourg, she got involved in politics. She stood in local elections just after the war.

She was even a member of Joseph Bech's cabinet a few years later. He was one of the founding fathers of the European Union. She worked towards implementing the first European treaties, most importantly, the creation of the ECSC. This was the forerunner of today's European Union.

Modal-text-picto
Matteo WEBBER BG
  • Lara SHAEFFER

    lara

    Professor of cinema

  • Seydou SAMAKE

    seydou

    Musician

  • Camille BRISSARD

    CAMILLE

    Scriptwriter

  • Nicolas FEUILLEN

    Nicolas

    Sound Engineer

  • Matthéo WEBBER

    matthéo

    Director

Our team's travels through the Land of Memory territories continue.

Fascinated by this subject, delighted and surprised in equal measure at what they've found out and the people they've encountered, they continue to recount their adventures in France, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg.

The story continues here

Logo Facebook