A Plea for Return of Records!
Graven with an iron pen.
It was a very early waking up, that October Sunday Morning of 1944,
in the village of Arraye-et-Han (Lorraine, France). The noise of
cannons shooting unceasingly, long before dawn, had caused us to
rejoice at the thought that perhaps deliverance was close at hand.
Two weeks spent in a dark, poorly aerated and overcrowded shelter
of a little French village, had seemed like an eternity for two 12
and 16 year old refugees, my brother and myself, who had become
separated from our widowed mother.
The tension increased with the noise. An enemy soldier was seen
walking outside in front of the small cellar window, a grenade in
his hand. "What if he notices us and gets the idea to throw the
grenade though the hole?" I asked myself. Many of the 114 people in
the small room would get badly hurt or killed. Someone placed a
board in front of the opening, and darkness returned inside the
Finally the cannons stopped. The silence outside caused us to
think that the Allies had moved in and had indeed won the battle.
It must have been about noon that Sunday when we were finally
permitted to go outside and breathe the fresh air. What a new
feeling to see the sun shine. It seemed wondrous to see the day
light and fill my lungs before having to go back inside. Just then,
I noticed, sitting under a porch, several American soldiers in
combat outfit, their guns resting between their knees. And the
thoughts flowed freely in my mind. "These are the Americans I have
heard so much about ever since D-day, all the way from America! So,
that's how they look! America is such a long way. I will never go
there." Then my heart swelled with gratitude that someone would
have come from so far to make us free...
My thoughts were interrupted with the adult's concern for our
safety. We were sent back inside for the rest of the day and one
It was Monday morning that we started to walk back to our hometown
about 25 kilometers away, with a little sandwich in our pocket. The
road was deserted. The fields had been plowed with the explosion of
bombs. Cattle had been killed in the fields. Occasionally my
brother would warn me not to look. American cannons nearby were
shooting, and the noise they made was deafening. It was nice to get
a little farther away from the battle field. It seemed like hours
since we had met a living soul. We saw an American encampment some
distance from the road. A soldier started to walk towards us. We
knew that he was a friend. He had a box full of crackers. I was
hungry. He offered us some. With a smile we each took one "Merci
Monsieur". We did not speak English. He did not speak French. He
offered us a second one, but we had to refuse the third one. Even
though we were hungry we knew we were not to act greedy. I have
often wondered, who was he? Why was he so kind? Did he have
children our age at home? Did he wonder what two children were
doing walking on that deserted road?
It was a long walk that day and my legs got tired. It had been an
eternity since I had been permitted to safely run in the fields,
and my legs were out of practice. But I survived and slept all the
better that night because we were again in a free country. It felt
so good to be in my own bed.
The war ended. I grew up, I emigrated to this far away country of
America. How could I resist the call of Mother Exile? "Give me your
tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the
wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless,
tempest-toss to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
My heart was deeply touched recently, as I learned that not only
the living have heard the call of "Mother Liberty," but even the
records of the dead have mysteriously come across the sea to this
land of freedom... An old parish register of a little town of
France (Vionville, Moselle) recently appeared in Oregon after
having been "lost" for 40 years and just the other day, a WW II
veteran, seated next to my daughter, told her, "Yes, I was in that
war, and you should see some of the old books we brought back."
With that, he quickly stepped down the isle and the bus door closed
merciless, leaving my frustrated daughter crying out the question,
"Do you have an old French parish register in your home? Please,
let me get a microfilm copy of it! Keep the book but can I PLEASE
get the information?" She watched the elderly gentleman walk away
from the bus, taking with him the mystery of the "Old books."
France gave America the Statue of Liberty in 1884. America gave its
men to France for liberty's sake. They sleep peacefully in
cemeteries, their last dwelling marked respectfully with white
crosses, their names forever engraved on stone. But the French
parish registers, which are wandering in America, will soon
disintegrate, and the names of the dead they contain will fall into
oblivion forever, never to be remembered by the living -
nonexistent - their genealogies, their very lives, unable to be
If you happen to know of the existence of such records here in
America, won't you please inform me, that together we may preserve
the names written therein, and send those names back home to be
graven with an iron pen in the rock, forever.
Mother of exiles might say, "Give me your tired, your poor, your
huddled masses yearning to breathe free - but let the "sojourner"
return home, that I may continue to stand as an emblem of liberty
(Written in 1988) Therese Becker