Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Picture from Frankfuerter Allgemeine Zeitung
The daily L'Alsace has an article on Charles Kuentz, a man of 107 years from Colmar. Kuentz has become a celebrity for several reasons. First, he was a soldier for Germany during WWI, fighting in Russian, Champagne, and Flanders. Second, he was a soldier for France in WWII, defending against the German invasion. Third, he is the last surviving German veteran from WWI despite his French nationality. His life epitomizes the experiences of Alsatians as they have been fought over and exchanged between nations, but in the end he says, "I am an Alsatian and will always be."
Kuentz reflects on his life as just an example of the history of Alsace as it changed back and forth between nations. He even credits his survival to the distrust that he experienced as an Alsatian. His German captain suspected that Kuentz would desert after he refused to return to combat; the captain gave Kuentz a leave, sparing him from several days in which he company was heavily shelled and suffered massive casualties. After WWI, he returned to Colmar to work for the French postal service.
After the 1940 invasion of France, Kuentz was demobilized and allowed to return to Colmar. His son became a malgré-nous (a forced conscript into the Waffen SS) and died in 1944 in a German uniform. Kuentz himself received the Iron Cross, but the French government will not give him the Legion of Honor given to WWI soldiers who were still alive after 1995 because he served a foreign army.
Kuentz shows little bitterness about the war. He is surprised that he has become something of a celebrity, in France because he did not win the Legion of Honor, but also in Britain among survivors of Flanders. Many British soldiers have befriended Kuentz even though he fought against them. The only thing that appears to move him to tears is the memory of the comrades he lost when he went on leave.