Saturday, May 22, 2004

ABBAYE D’ARDENNE, France — For the first time in 60 years, Germany has been asked to take part in commemorations of the D-Day landings, but the invitation has caused outrage among some survivors of the French Resistance who remember the brutality of the wartime Nazi occupation.

Jacques Vico, 81, worked for an underground network based near the town of Caen — 10 miles from the Normandy beaches — that stockpiled weapons in preparation for the Allied invasion of June 6, 1944, and provided the Allies with vital information on German troop dispositions.

Now deputy president of the National Confederation of Resistance Volunteers, Mr. Vico said he believes D-Day is the wrong moment to celebrate Franco-German reconciliation, and he has removed himself from the guest list of events that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder plans to attend.

“The war did not end in June 1944,” he said at his home next to the medieval Ardenne abbey outside Caen. “There was still another year of combat. A million more people were to die.

“A commemoration next year to mark the defeat of Nazism, that would be fine,” Mr. Vico said, “but in 1944, they were still at it — the killing. I do not want to see them here, and I will not attend any Franco-German ceremony.”

Mr. Schroeder is to lead a delegation at a Franco-German commemoration at the Caen peace memorial on the afternoon on June 6. He also will attend an all-German event at the Ranville cemetery near the Caen canal, as well as the multinational ceremony at the seaside town of Arromanches.

French officials organizing the occasion — which will be the last major commemoration of the landings — say enough time has passed for the modern spirit of European friendship to set the theme, but Mr. Vico insists that, in Normandy, the memories of German violence are still too fresh.

As evidence he cites atrocities on or shortly after D-Day that personally affected him.

The rapid Allied advance was checked abruptly at the village of Authie, a few hundred yards from the ancient abbey — which was at the time the Vico family home — and on June 7, a German counterattack overran the Canadian Nova Scotia Highlanders. Later, it was discovered that 21 Canadian prisoners of war had been shot in cold blood by German Schutzstaffel (SS or special police) troops inside the abbey grounds.

Meanwhile, as news of the landings filtered through to Caen, the Gestapo (secret state police) had taken 120 Resistance members being held in the local jail and gunned them down as well. Many were Mr. Vico’s friends.

“Franco-German reconciliation is a fact, and I am all for it, but the landings have nothing to do with it,” Mr. Vico said. “The German army was at the service of Nazism, and we had to smash it to rediscover liberty. Here in Authie, they deliberately ran over the wounded in their tanks.”

As a young man of 17 in 1940, Mr. Vico had watched the triumphant German army parading through Caen and had known immediately that he had to fight it.

“These men were young, they were tall, they were bronzed like athletes. They crossed the town singing in harmony as they marched. It was extraordinary, but I took the decision there and then not to let myself be seduced by the force, the order and the discipline. Many others were,” he said.

Initially, he distributed tracts and pictures of the exiled Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who had joined the British and American Allies to fight the Germans, but his first group was betrayed to the Gestapo and several of its members were shot.

Not until 1943 did the French Resistance begin in earnest to prepare for the Allied landings, collecting intelligence and storing weapons the Allies dropped by parachute.

Both Mr. Vico’s father and mother were imprisoned by the Germans. His father survived a concentration camp, and several of his brothers and sisters also were members of the Resistance. After the D-Day landings, Mr. Vico joined the French 2nd Armored Division, which helped liberate Paris.

“Those who did something in the war are against the Germans’ coming here next month. It is those who did nothing who are in favor, but they had nothing to bear. They did not suffer. For them, it is easy,” he said.

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