Ever hear of the Battle of Colmar? Neither had I, and when I was younger I used to read a lot of Second World War histories.
One of the great things about not having an agenda when you travel is that you are open to unexpected discoveries. You don’t have to get back on the tour bus to zip to the next attraction.
We were in France, which is not all that unusual given that the border is less than half an hour from our home in Sulzburg. We were heading home after a visit to Kaysersberg (more on that in future posts). My wife had heard there were military cemeteries in the area, so when we spotted a sign pointing to the “Necropolis” we left the main road and headed up the hill.
At the top we found a monument dedicated to the Americans who helped liberate the area from Nazi Germany in 1945. Beside it was a French military cemetery.
Turns out, it is the anniversary of the battle, which lasted from January 20 to February 9, 1945, so there were fresh flowers in some places. It may be a forgotten battle in most of the world, but it is still fresh in the minds of the citizens of the Colmar area.
Seventy-four years ago today, young men were fighting and dying in the hills above Colmar. Very few, if any, were from the area. Many had come from thousands of kilometres away to fight for what they saw as right, to defend freedom as they understood it. They were of different nationalities, races and religions and died together in the cold days of battle.
I don’t think I had ever been to a French military cemetery before. I remember seeing one in Belgium one time, but the train wasn’t going to stop just because I wanted a closer look. I have been to a number of Canadian and Commonwealth cemeteries, especially those from the First World War. They are very different, but maybe that is something to discuss next time.
A lot has changed, I think, in the past 74 years. The Alsace region, where Colmar is located, was a political football for years, passing from French to German control and back again, depending on who had won the most recent war.
Now France and Germany are not only neighbours but friends. The idea of war between them is unthinkable. Unless you know where the border is you probably won’t realize you have crossed it – there are no guards, no customs officials.
Seventy-four years is not a long time in a region that has thousand-year-old buildings. But it is long enough for change to take place.
The young men who fought the Battle of Colmar were fighting for freedom. From here it looks like they were successful.