The Enemy

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Medium: Video
Owner: Veterans Affairs Canada and Testaments of Honour
Duration: 8:37
Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

Subjects – in order of appearance:

  • Nicholas Dimitroff
  • Aurèle Ferlatte
  • Jacques Raymond
  • Joseph Albert Gérard Arsenault
  • Basile Rotoff
  • Gwendolene-May Carette
  • L’honorable Gilles Lamontagne
  • Edgar Doiron
  • Claude Gibson
  • André Lord
  • Maurice Audet
  • Wilson Dionne

Transcript

I'd look at the Germans, those who were there at the front, like us. When you're forced to go because someone higher up… because there were kids, 14 or 15 years old, who were forced to go to war. It's sad to see a 14-year-old kid with a gun. I'd think privately: Why, why shouldn't I like him? Why bear a grudge against someone who hasn't done anything to us? Those people-and I'm not talking about the higher-ups-the people at our level hadn't done anything.

The workers had little to say, it was the military system that was in control. So these guys fought. It must be admitted that they fought well and they were very well trained. They had their cause, and they thought they were in the right.

I had great respect for the Germans as soldiers. Even when I saw prisoners; at the end, 2,000 or 3,000 at a time were being taken prisoner. The men were surrendering. But when you know that you're looking at a human being and that he's your own age, perhaps a little older, and he's completely disarmed… he's in a field where all of them were put, sometimes all on their knees or sitting down in fields. These guys had families..

You have to remember that these two guys would much rather have been home instead of in the army, even though they were Germans.

In '40, when the Germans entered France. Everyone was afraid, everyone was hiding. There were refugees everywhere, on the roads and all that… They were afraid because there was… It was said that the Germans cut the breasts off women and things like that. Everyone was afraid. There were big stories going around. Basically, when the Germans came, they were more or less normal, soldiers like any soldiers..

For a while there were German prisoners of war who had come to Québec and then they took them to the Plains, and us, we liked that. We would look out the windows. We would see them… Big, handsome fellows [laughter] who had fun, ran, played ball…

When it was the German air force, we relaxed a little because there was a degree of affinity between us. You know, we were all flyers together. But when it was the Gestapo, we took one for the team, so to speak.

There were both good and bad Germans. The bad guys, they were spread out all over Normandy. The Hitler Yugend, they were dyed-in-the-wool soldiers. And then there was the SS.

Even when they were surrendering they gave the German salute. They often got taken down a peg or two, but they were really seasoned fighters who had been indoctrinated and they had a very nasty job. It was to push on their troops. If a guy wanted to retreat or if he looked like he wanted to retreat, they shot him. They were the elite troops, trained to push on the men…

I remember there was a little German, he was barely fifteen years old - they called them the German Youth - the little fella was all opened up, his whole chest was open, and we took him to our first aid thing. He was a little boy of fifteen, and he was about to turn sixteen. It's shocking. About…three years, two years later…I had given him my address, I had left him my address, he sent me a Christmas card. Three years later, I think. I wanted to keep it as a souvenir, but I don't have it any more…

If there’s one thing I remember, and it’s not something I’m proud of … even today, I don’t like Germans. I have never been friends with a German, and if I go somewhere and there is someone there who is German, I turn around, because I don’t like them.

In Paris, I remember, in the metro, there were posters that said hostages had been taken. So there was a whole list, yellow posters, and on the posters were the names of all the hostages they had taken. So if someone killed a German … the resistance … the resistance killed a German, they took those hostages and shot them. There was a red poster beside them, “A German was killed today. We have taken four hostages and shot them” and there were the names of the hostages shot.

When Germans surrendered, it had to be during a quiet time, because when you're on the front line and two of your buddies … like you, you're with me, and one is wounded and the other gets himself killed … you feel pretty mad because your buddies were like your brothers at that particular time. For one or two Germans trying to surrender at a time like that, it was very dangerous. There wasn't much chance that the guys would live. They would approach, and some of your buddies or some person-whoever-would say, "We'll take charge of them." How could you leave your buddies on the line who needed you just to escort two prisoners who could very well have killed ten of yours? In those cases, you didn't see them again. Probably the same was done on their side, too; I don't know but, with us, that's how it was done on the front line. If they don't put that in the books, it's because they are liars or they're just not saying.

I climbed a tree above the gate and told the crowd, "We don't kill people. We have no love for the Japanese, but we're not going to stop … kill a Japanese because you want revenge. You're not going to get this man. He was a man, a human being and an employee. He was doing his job. He wasn't a director, he wasn't a governor, he was just a plain employee doing his job. And I can't kill him because he received orders to be harsh or anything … Whatever he did, he was obeying orders … He wasn't responsible for how he acted.

As a human being, I did not want someone to shoot them for no reason, when it was not the time. They weren’t like the leaders … they endured the war much more than we did. It’s true that they killed people. But a soldier is a soldier. He does what the commander or the government tells him to do.

There are the good ones, who know what's right, who don't want to kill their … their counterparts, and they ask the same of us. Even though we were at war with Germany, there were guys who weren't in favour of the war, there were good guys.

There's something good in every human being. Sometimes it doesn't develop, but it's there, it's there anyway.

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