One aspect of the military cemetery in the hills above Colmar and Sigolsheim that I hadn’t considered before was just who fought in the Second World War battles to liberate France. I guess that is a bit of Canadian blindness on my part.
Canadian war cemeteries, or at least the ones I have visited, have a generic tombstone for those who fell in combat. They list date of birth and death and the regiment. They don’t list religion. The French do.
At the Sigolsheim cemetery you can see row upon row of crosses as tombstones, indicating the soldier was Christian background, most probably Roman Catholic. But there are others.
There are 15 graves of Jewish soldiers, with headstones resembling the tablets of the law given to Moses. The reason there are so few is probably pretty simple: By 1945 Hitler had exterminated millions of European Jews. There weren’t many left free to join the French army.
There are 1574 other graves on the side of the hill. Some of them, 88 in all, are of soldiers whose remains were never identified. That leaves the graves of 1486 other combatants killed in action. More than half, 792, were Muslim, with tombstones shaped somewhat like a mosque’s minaret.
I had never thought of there being a large Muslim contingent fighting battles on European soil. My knowledge is mostly of what Canada did during the war, and we had few minority participants because back then we had few minorities. Our immigrants were mostly Europeans.
I don’t know the history, whether these soldiers, mostly from North African colonies like Algeria and Morocco were conscripts or volunteers, but they fought and died for freedom, to liberate France from oppression and dictatorship. Even if they were conscripts, they still could have refused to fight and taken those consequences instead.
France today has struggled with an influx of Muslim immigration , especially from those former colonies. There is a fair amount of fear and suspicion. Anti-Muslim legislation has been passed.
Not that long ago things were different. The Battle of Colmar Pocket ended 74 years ago today. Muslims, Jews and Christians fought side by side in common cause to liberate France. Those viewed with suspicion today were valuable allies then. Maybe there is a lesson that can be learned from that history.