May 8, 1945 – Those who never returned home

May 8, 1945 – This day celebrates the liberation from the National Socialistic terror rule and marks an essential cut in the history of Europe. In 2020, 75 years after, this war went down into history books as the cruellest and violent armed conflict in the 20th century, where over 50 million lost their lives. 


“Help us to find them” – These calls were very common after the war in Luxembourg in magazines like “Ons Jongen” (1944-1951) of “Ligue des conscrits luxembourgeois réfractaires au service militaire allemand”, here: Ons Jongen, May 1948, p. 8.

While the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht finally marked the end of the National Socialist regime for most of Europe, Luxembourg dealt with reconstruction and the concern of the missing and the captured forced recruited, who had to fight (and die) for the German armed forces.

The final victory over the National Socialists made the long-waited dream of liberation true and brought hope to the families, who waited for their missing sons and daughters to come home. 

In May 1945, the exact number of dead and missing who had to die in prisons and concentration camps or on the battlefield was unclear. 

Thousands of families remained uncertain about the fate of their loved ones. The largest group among the missing were the “Enrôlés de force”. The young men and women born between 1920 and 1927 were forced by the Nazis to work and fight. 11. 168 men alone were drafted into the Wehrmacht, and 3,614 girls called into the labour service (Reichsarbeitsdienst). [1] Among them, 2.848 had died or were missing, 1.000 had been taken, prisoner.[2]

Obituary Emile Heuertz, 1926-1945 (http://www.ons-jongen-a-meedercher.lu)

Thousands remained hopeful, the brothers, sons and husbands will return, or they had waited for any sign, notification or message.  Some of the death notices were delayed, others were missing. As soldiers of the Wehrmacht, the Luxembourgers were registered as ordinary soldiers in the military apparatus. In the event of death, in the military jargon “loss”, the family was informed of death directly by the commander of the unit, with an exact burial site and a description of the circumstances of the death. If there was a bequest, personal things like photos or the wedding ring, this would ideally be sent to the family. The Wehrmacht authorities registered the loss and completed a civil death certificate. However, numerous families did not receive such news. Either the letters were lost in the mail or a proper registration of the “loss” could never be made due to combat effects or capture.

Thousands of families in the Grand Duchy were hoping for information on the whereabouts of the missing. Prisoners of war detained in Tambov should return in the fall of the same year. But numerous fates remained uncertain. The ignorance of whether the relatives were still alive or had already died, in addition to grief and pain, also raised practical questions about orphan’s or widow’s pensions. Without an official declaration of death, for example, no inheritance could be assumed or transferred, or remarrying was denied.

The community, ministries, embassies and non-partisan bodies such as the Red Cross were flooded with inquiries. Calls were started in newspapers and exhibitions were organized with photographs and details of the missing persons to find information about their whereabouts.

However, numerous survivors soon held the missing person’s death report. Many posted death and commemorative notices for their brothers and sons. In addition to the name and the photo, the ad often contained an addition, such as for Emile Heuertz (born in 1926 in Schifflange, killed on March 2, 1945):

Sein enzege Wonsch, seng Elteren an seng sche’n Hémecht Letzeburg erömzegesin, ass him oberföllt bliewen

“His last wish, to see the parents and his beautiful homeland of Luxembourg, was not fulfilled”

The war cost the lives of over 5,500 Luxembourgers, 2,800 at the front alone.[3] After the war, a decades-long dispute broke out over the role of the forced recruits who had to die in German uniform. Various representative organizations debated the patriotic stance and whether the title “Mort pour la Patrie” should be given to the dead who ultimately died in German service. The inequality of treatment of the forced recruits had not only financial consequences for the families but also social and moral ones. Accordingly, their death was initially worthless (even financially) than that of the other victim groups. The discussions about whether the recruits should be recognized as “Victimes patriotiques” made it difficult for the bereaved to process their grief. The dispute continued until the 1980s when recognition and equality were officially introduced in 1981 as the “Victimes patriotiques” for Luxembourgish forced recruits.

The last wish of 19-year-old Emile Heuertz to see his homeland and his family again was denied to him and a thousand others.

[1] LIVRE D’OR Des Victimes Luxembourgeoises de La Guerre de 1940 à 1945 – Ministère de l’Intérieur. Luxembourg, 1971, 18.

[2] Quadflieg, Peter, Zwangsrekrutiert ins Großdeutsche Reich Luxemburgs nationale Identität und ihre Prägung durch den Zweiten Weltkrieg, in: Lingen, Kerstin von. Kriegserfahrung und nationale Identität in Europa nach 1945 Erinnerung, Säuberungsprozesse und nationales Gedächtnis. Paderborn : Schöningh, 2009, 181.

[3] LIVRE D’OR Des Victimes Luxembourgeoises de La Guerre de 1940 à 1945 – Ministère de l’Intérieur. Luxembourg, 1971, 11.

Read more: http://3000luxembourgeois.uni.lu 

 


 


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