33 Days

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Book: 33 Days by Leon Werth Read Free Book Online
Authors: Leon Werth
the war is a sad thing, traurig  …  traurig †  … Another soldier comes to talk with him. They look furious. It seems the Lerouchon woman has insulted the soldiers. It’s hard to believe there have been a disagreement. Or Lerouchon, who earlier was joking coarsely with the Germans, must have ventured some joke that was misunderstood. The two women come back. Thetwo Germans are “giving them hell.” Lerouchon wants to respond, but Soutreux restrains her. All this in the glimmer of dawn. It’s as if two girls were being chased out of a guard post.
    We leave the farm. The barrage continues, but very listlessly. Soutreux and Lerouchon take fright, turn back and vanish behind a hedge. They know the side paths and the location of their house. We’re trying to rejoin them via the main road. That house is not home for us, but for the moment it’s our only refuge. The road is lined with woods, and these woods are full of cannons, horses and German soldiers. The soldiers force us to turn back.
    We pass a dead horse (it looks as if it were rearing upside down); we pass near the grave of a German soldier. We cross the village of Dampierre. The ground is strewn with the broken stocks of French rifles. We’re no longer hearing cannons. We won’t hear them again.
    We are resting quite a distance from the road on the edge of some woods. The solitude, the silence are such that the war seems far away. But a telephone wire, laid by the Germans, runs along the ground, hidden in the grass. A soldier comes from the roadway. He approaches and hands us a can of monkey meat. ‡
    I felt humiliated. I was the conquered, who receives his food by the conqueror’s generosity. Such is war: it imposes gross simplifications, it thinks poorly, it forces poor thinking, in gross categories; it pits nations against each other in an excess of unity that’s nothing but insanity; it contrasts victor and vanquished; it eliminates subtle conflicts and replaces them with a fistfight. As big as the fistfight may be, it’s only a fistfight. But at the moment nothing can change the fact that this soldier is victory and I am defeat.
    It was a French can of monkey meat. “They” had looted it, stolen it … That appeased our conscience.
    On the road, with a small detachment of German soldiers in front and behind, two Senegalese infantrymen pass by, prisoners, like two handsome black princes escorted by their ungainly white slaves.
    We set off again. A hundred meters down the road we discover a house. A game warden was housed here before the evacuation ofthe area. It’s now inhabited by a young blond giant, his wife and their seven children. The mother is petite and sweet-tempered. The oldest of the children is not yet fourteen. They play on the grass, in the sun, all of them in shorts or bathing suits. They’re not the haggard, pitiful refugees that we left the day before. In fact, they did not wind up here by accident. The father knew the area, the house. He chose this refuge.
    We ate the canned monkey. And some peas picked from an abandoned garden. They were good people; all they could give us without depriving the children, they gave us … Even a little bread, even some salt, even some wine, even some coffee. And good-heartedly. We’re five adults. As for the baby, its mother had brought a box of baby cereal and made it some porridge.
    A few stray soldiers come to draw water from the well. One asks for a pan from the kitchen, another a spout to tap a barrel of beer. And he tells us in passing that there is “ eine andere Regierung ” § in Paris. He’s very large, his eyes very small, his eyelids swollen. I understand what he says; it’s simple, like the grammar exercises in secondary school: “Yesterday the French killed three German soldiers …” But it’s impossible for me to grasp whether he is angry, sad or indignant. I have more the feeling that he is reproaching me for a violation of the rules. What a bizarre idea, killing

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