What It Takes Not to Be a Nazi

Fourth of July a fellow on a bicycle saw me photographing the parish war memorial in Sigolsheim.  He asked me where I was from, and I told him the US, and he proceeded to thank me for coming.  Periodically throughout the conversation he thanked me again, and before leaving he repeated merci about seven times.  There was a reason for that, which I’ll get to.

A typical way of inscribing a war memorial in France is to write Mort Pour La France, but in Alsace that’s not usually the case, for the obvious reason.  A Nos Morts is the common alternative that glosses over the whole question of whom you died for, and gets to the point: You died.  Here’s the memorial outside the parish church in Uffholtz, A Ses Enfants Victime de Guerre:

Uffhotz War Memorial

Here’s Sigolsheim, in two parts.  You’ll notice WWII was disproportionately bloodier than WWI for Sigolsheim, including a significant number of civilian deaths:

Sigholsheim War Memorial 1

Sigolsheim War Memorial 2

That’s because the Nazis dug in and held hard, and a giant set of battles were held in the village itself, which you can read about in extensive detail here.  When German empires decide to assert themselves, annexing Alsace is the default method.  (And why not throw in Lorraine while you’re at it?)   This is the reason that headquartering European postwar peace initiatives in Strasbourg is so symbolically important.

Persuading the Third Reich to retreat from Alsace was bloody-difficult, and American soldiers played a major part in that work, which is half the reason the fellow on the bicycle was so profuse in his thanks for my coming to visit and taking an interest in the local history.

Here’s the village of Kayserberg’s thank-you plaque:

Kaysersberg Allies LIberation Memorial

The American flag flies above Sigolsheim at this war memorial:

US War Memorial Sigolsheim

Everything in red on this map of the the Allies’ Alsatian offensive is American forces:

Map of the Allied Offensive to Retake Alsace

American soldiers aren’t buried at the Sigolsheim memorial (there are American war cemeteries elsewhere).  There is a cemetery, though, for the French forces killed in battle in the immediate vicinity:

French war cemetery Sigolsheim

You’ll notice in the picture above that most of the graves are crosses, and a few are not.  Here’s a detail of the rounded-rectangle gravestone in the bottom right:
Detail of Jewish headstone

It would obviously not be kosher (pun intended) to use a cross to mark the grave of a Jewish soldier.   It is not only American and native-born French soldiers, however, who were instrumental in liberating Alsace.   The Zouave soldiers buried at the Sigolsheim war cemetery have grave markers like this:

Detail of Muslim headstone

In other words, if you’re grateful France is free, don’t just thank an American — thank a Muslim.  Ah, but how much did those Muslim soldiers contribute?  About like this:

As the video shows, the cemetery is built on a hill in a half-circle, and the graves are laid out in four equal sections.  The two flanking sections are Muslim graves, and the center two sections are mixed Christian and Jewish graves.  History is complicated.

Whether the fellow on the bicycle would have thanked me so profusely if I were a North African tourist I couldn’t say.  I’m not one.  What we do get mistaken for in Alsace is German tourists.  We look the part and come by it honestly, if distantly.  German tourists come up and ask us directions, in German, which doesn’t get them very far.  Locals either attempt to speak German with us or else apologize that they have no German (neither do we — how about French?).

So here are a couple of my cute German kids walking towards the gate out of the KL-Natzweiler Concentration Camp, up near the village of Struthof in the Vosges mountains:

Walking towards the gate - KL-Natzweiler (Struthof) concentration camp

People who didn’t walk out might have died here in the cell block:

Cell block, Natzweiler-Struthof

At which point they would have been incinerated in this crematorium:
Crematorium Natzweiler - Struthof

When we talk about concentration camps and the evil of the Nazi regime, the usual thing is to tell kids, “If you were Jewish . . .”

Struthof, as KL-Natzweiler is often called locally, is different, in that it was chiefly used not for eugenic purposes but for those who resisted the Nazi regime.  Thus more to the point for our nice German boy in the photo above: Let’s talk about the draft.

His great-grandfathers were all about his age (17) at the start of World War II.  They had the luxury of being second- or third- or more-generation Americans, and they all volunteered and served in the War for the US.  It was not a difficult decision.  They were the age your brother is now, I told the girls.

Had he been seventeen and American, the boy would have signed up too, I’m fairly certain.  But what if he had been seventeen and German — which, after a week of being mistaken for a German tourist (or an Alsatian local), is not at all a stretch of the imagination?  He would have had to decide between going into the Nazi army, or going to Struthof.

Which is why a guy on a bicycle, about my age, resident of a nearby village, passing by on July 4th evening outside the war memorial in Sigolsheim couldn’t stop thanking me for being an American who came to Alsace.  He saw I was interested in history, and started suggesting sites.  “Do you know there’s a US war memorial up on the hill?” he said.

Yes.  Just came from there, actually.

“And have you seen the three castles down by Eguisheim?”

Yes.  And the other one, and some other ones . . .

“Let’s see, so maybe you should go to –”

“Well actually,” I tell him, “we only have a few more days here.  We’re going to try to go to Mont Sainte Odile and to–” I try to remember the name —  “Struthof–?”

He stops.  “Oh.  Struthof.  That’s hard.”

I know.

But you can’t really appreciate the significance of the war unless you know the whole story.

“The concentration camp,” he says.  “Struthof.”


“My grandfather was there.”

White flowers with red centers.detail of white blossom with magenta-red center.

Flowers at the Sigolsheim war memorial, in bloom on July 4th.

3.5 Time Outs: Vocation Reality Show

Thanks once again to our host Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy, whose plan for internet domination will no doubt culminate in underground bunkers.  Every indication the  Alvin- and-Chipmunks warning is not an idle threat.

Click the Picture to Learn about the Secret Lair


Byzantine Christmas.  A friend sends in this link to a Byzantine Christmas menu.  Yummy.  FYI for those who can’t get enough of all things Byzantine, she forwarded it from the Byzantium Novum yahoo group.

Double FYI: No, I am not planning to cook all this.  I just like thinking about these things.  My 9-year-old has baked some cookies, though.  That’s a step up from last year, in terms of our ratio of homemade-to-store-bought Christmas foods.  Thank you  nice religious ed family who sent the mason jar of cranberry cookie mix.

Oh, and look what my DRE gave me (and all the other catechists, I’m pretty sure) for Christmas:

Mine is not this exact one. Mine is smaller and has just the Holy Family, and the stable is an arch shape.  But it’s from the same project and very similar. It looks super cool.  Maybe I could get some photographer guy I know to take a picture.


If five-year-olds had to choose their vocations:

“I do not like most boys.  Most.  They make you play army all day.  But there is one boy I do like:  Jesus.”

The boy who makes her play army all day still doesn’t like girls, either.  Except when he can get one to run around the yard brandishing weapons.   In eight years I will have four teenagers.  Seriously enjoying the easy years.


SuperHusband points out that hunting season only lasts two more weeks.  During which he will be designing and building shelving for the living room.  Not shooting things, and maybe his friends won’t be shooting things either?  Maybe the dog does not need her own stock pot from Santa after all?  Also, maybe my living room will not have the “Tornado Strikes Shed, Library, Toy Store, and Art Museum, Deposits Contents in Suburban Home” look?

Okay, no, let’s not overreach.  But at least I’ll be out of excuses.  That’s a start.


. . . they said she had torticollis.  In a five-year-old?  I’d only heard about the newborn kind.  I had no idea about the sort that makes a small, non-complaining, previously perfectly happy (if resistant to bedtime)  child suddenly start moaning and kicking her feet in intense, intractable pain.  The worst of it lasted through the night, and it took nearly a week of Rapunzel Therapy to effect a complete cure.  But she’s good now.  Next time we’ll know what it is.


Remember last week when I mentioned a vague specific prayer need?  This week, pick your favorite saint-who-suffered-slander-from-enemies, and ask for a little assistance on that same job.   Thanks.  Have a great week!

Kolbe update, week 5

We just started week 5, thought I’d give a little report on how things are going.  Re-cap: This is our first year using Kolbe.  6th and 4th grader are enrolled, and mostly following the plan with a couple substitutions.  2nd grader and kindergartener continue to do the home-grown, relaxed-schooling thing.

Overall Impression: Very happy with the decision.  On a day like today (evil dictator felled by an evil-er cold), wow it is SO MUCH BETTER having the plans ready-to-go.  Oh I know, it is so easy to make your own course plans.  Oh, I know, it only takes a few minutes to type them up each week.  But wow, being able to growl at a child and say, “Where are you in your homework?” is even easier.

–> Without ready-made, day-by-day plans, two big kids would definitely still be on the relaxed-schooling plan, which I really love for the little guys, but is not the ideal choice for our older kids.  Way too many disruptions in the school year so far (exhibit A: evil dictator with evil cold), no way I could have held together a formal curriculum if it relied 100% on my willpower alone.

Some comments on specific subjects:

Latin: Mr. Boy is doing the first year of New Missal Latin.  I like it pretty well.  Like the kolbe-published supplemental resources.  Will say this: In my opinion, the teaching parent needs to either have a smattering of Latin under the belt, or be ready to learn-along.  Having already done the intro to classical Latin in previous years, these first few weeks have been largely review for Boy & myself, and yes that is very nice.  Now is not my time to be learning a new language.  No really.  Sometimes it is not that time.

(Remind me also I have some other comments on this particular Latin program and the pro’s and con’s.  For a post another day.)

Grammar:  No shock here, I’m one of ten people in the known universe who actually likes Voyages in English.  So far, no difficulties.  Definitely if you haven’t diagrammed sentences before, you want the intro to diagramming booklet as a supplement.

Composition: I failed to observe that there is a separate composition book for 6th grade in addition to the vocabulary and grammar books.  Kolbe plans call for one assignment a week from that book.  I’d already maxed out the book budget.  So I typed up 36 composition assignments for the Boy, and stuck those in his plan book.  Conveniently, 6th graders do not use the composition portion of VOE, so I borrowed from there.

Spelling / Vocabulary:  The kids hate this.  Lot of work.  I keep reminding them that a good PSAT / SAT score is worth cold hard cash.    They get that.  We’ve used Spelling Power in the past, and have good results with using that study method for studying the words missed on the pre-test.   The whole amount of Kolbe-assigned words is a lot, though.  And we’ve had a couple weeks with enough disruptions that I couldn’t keep up my end on this one through the whole week.  We just move on to the next week, rather than piling up.

Word Study:  Oh, yeah, and word study.  Gee these children get a LOT of language arts.  They tell me this one is easy (MCP Plaid).  It is also good for them.  Happy there.  Decided this was one workbook the kids could write their answers in, would be a royal pain to have to do the assignments on a separate page.

Geography:  Lovin’ the geography books.  Short, easy assignments, genuinely useful map skills.  Makes me happy.

Religion: Of course I like it (Faith & Life), I was already using it anyway.  This is the other activity book I let the kids write in.  Pretty happy with the addition of the St. J’s Balt. Catechisms as well, serious retro power going on there.  My DRE also likes the program.    She’s experimenting with one section of F&L for 8th grade CCD this year.  (Rest of us are using our same Loyola Press books from previous years.  Which are fine.  But I’d still make my kids do F&L at home.)

Science:  Not a demanding program, which works for me.  We skip the Monday “investigation” every week, so far there hasn’t been one worth the hassle.  Also, I have the workbooks but the course plans don’t call for them, and both kids have decided we are happier not doing them.  I’m good with having them do just the textbook reading and review questions, and they can unschool any other science they desire. I like that balance.  [Recall: Two real microscopes in my living room.  Engineer at the dinner table every night.  Unschooling science is a viable option.]

Literature:  Um, where are the study questions? Apparently they are in some other place than the course plans.  I guess a Kolbe booklet I was supposed to buy?   For the uninitiated: You acquire the book you are studying — White Fang and Misty of Chincoteague to start, for us — and then the course plans give you chapter reading assignments and a weekly short essay to write, book report at the end.  And those plans also mention these “study questions” and “vocabulary” and stuff.  But they aren’t in the plans.    And no, I can’t be bothered to go look back at the Kolbe catalog, nor to post a question on the Kolbe forums.  Because, um, my magic pen of you-don’t-have-to-do-this works great!  I just cross out assignments!  We love it!

–> As a result: I let the girl take her final exam open-book and open-dictionary (Misty only takes 5 weeks), since it would be requiring her to have memorized study questions she’d never seen.  Flipped around the final week course plans to have her do the exam first and write the book report second.

Math: Not using Saxon.  Nothing against it.  We’re just still happy with Math-U-See, didn’t see a reason to switch when that was already working. 

History: Recall everyone’s doing Rome this year, which would ordinarily be the 5th grade course.  Very happy both with using the program as written for Mr. Boy, and subbing in History Pockets for the first two quarters for the girl.  Not much else to say.  The Kolbe-recommended course is very good.  And one of my children really needed to meet Ancient Rome in a perkier manner.

[But yes, I had to pick up a library book on the Aztecs, because HP fails to mention the, er, human sacrifice, those amazing wonderful ancient Aztecs were practicing during the European renaissance.  Yeah, I’m a western culture snob.  Facts are facts.  I vote for the no-live-beating-human-hearts-in-the-hands-of-the-priest every time.  Give me self-flagellating, slightly sore-backed penitents over flayed-alive sacrificial victims any day.]

Funny story though: We’re planning to go see our local Roman legion when they gather not so far from us in November.  Except the girls only want to go if they get to dress up.  So a certain growing 4th grader is going to be let loose with some discount linen between now and then.  Luckily the rest of us already own passable garb that still fits.

Venison and Democracy

So the SuperHusband went to a couple 3-D archery shoots this summer, and came to the realization that maybe it was time to set the sights on something more lively than foam. Enter a friend whose vineyard is being over-browsed, another friend unloading a Spigarelli re-curve, and a wife who does a modest impression of the Spouse Who Doesn’t Mind You Are Gone Hunting EVERY NIGHT After Work . . . and after a month or two, voila: Dinner.

Wow. One little doe = a lot of meat.

Living history on so many levels. There’s the whole butchering the animal thing, which was pretty interesting. There’s the waste-not-want instinct that kicks in — hence there is a nice doe skin sitting in my freezer, waiting for some boys to tan it. Or, watch some children amuse themselves with the spare parts, that’s a real eye-opener.

But the real kicker to me is land rights. Because, wow, the deer, they’re just out there. And the lower-tech counterpart of the SuperHusband’s bow is a relatively accessible weapon, for your average medieval european or native american or so on. Which means that if you can obtain the right to hunt on the land where the deer are, goodness! That’s a lot of food to be had.

It is hard to appreciate feudal Europe (or, the commandeering of North America) for an average resident of the industrialized west. Landholding means so little to us — we live in a little neighborhood, or an apartment, and yet magically have all the food we could want and nearly everything else besides. We lose track of how important the land = power equation was throughout most of history.

Depending on who gets to use the land, and under what conditions, your economic structures are going to be totally different. And of course, political structures are both the source and the result of the economic structures.

[And then there’s the bit about how the same weapon used to harvest Bambi is can be turn against fellow man, as needed. Handy in a pinch — though I don’t honestly expect our compound will ever be raided by despots on account of our archery arsenal.]

So that’s been our autumn living history lesson here. Things you sort of know, but don’t really quite get the hang of until you have it in hand.


BTW: Our best recipe so far: Put a random slab of venison in the crockpot with a little liquid, to slow cook all day, pot-roast style. In the evening, shred and use in the _Joy of Cooking’s_ beef stroganoff recipe. Wow. Just wow.

Indoor Plumbing

I am largely persuaded that indoor plumbing is Wonderful Thing.  However I noticed today one of the side-effects: the demise of outdoor plumbing.

I, being one of those old-fashioned mothers, send my children out to play.  As in “go outside and stay outside”.   I use often use this playtime to do activities better done without loud, slovenly, inquisitive bystanders.  (There’s me of course, loud, slovenly & inquisitive; but I haven’t figured out how to, say, pay the bills with *me playing outside* too.)

It is my understanding that mothers have operated this way for millenia.   And I do not envy my forbears in their rustic simplicity.  Just don’t.  But, I’ve noticed a modern bladder problem.  Children who can hold it for twelve hours straight suddenly need to visit the facilities every ten minutes if There Is A Parent Inside.

And then I realize:  Hmmn.  Outdoor plumbing.  It had it’s uses.


And next I think: What did people do before wasp spray?  If anyone knows, do tell.  I’m curious.  Because wasps seem like they would really love a good latrine.  And my rule is that any place I am exposing my flesh is not a place a wish to share my little wasp friends.  So I’m wondering how people used to address that inevitable clash with the stinging-set over who gets to use the facilities.