Monument to the Malgré-nous in Obernai (Bas-Rhin)

The term Malgré-nous (French: "against our will") refers to men of the Alsace-Moselle region who were conscripted into the German Wehrmacht or the Waffen-SS, during the Second World War. Refused equivalent compensation until 2008, the term Malgré-elles refer to the Alsace-Moselle women conscripted into Nazi organisations against their will[1].

Based on orders from Gauleiter Robert Heinrich Wagner, the regional military governor of Alsace, of 25 August 1942, some 100,000 Alsatians and 30,000 Mosellans were drafted by force into the German armed forces. Heller and Simpson (2013) say: "forced enrollment was organized in Alsace largely because of the disappointing number of Alsatians volunteering for the SS (at most 2,000). Francophile sentiment ran strong in the region" (p.152). Additionally, many men who refused conscription saw their "entire family...deported after they refused to serve".[2] Most of those were sent to the Eastern Front. A smaller number served in the Waffen-SS.

Many Malgré-nous deserted the Wehrmacht in order to join the French Resistance or escape to Switzerland, thereby running the risk of having their families sent to work or concentration camps by the Germans. According to historian David Kaplan,[3] 40,000 "either avoided the draft or deserted once in uniform". This threat obliged the majority of them to remain in the German army. After the war, they were often accused of being traitors or collaborationists. In July 1944, 1500 malgré-nous were released from Soviet captivity and sent to Algiers, where they joined the Free French Forces.

Thirteen malgré-nous were involved in the massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane[4] together with one genuine volunteer from Alsace. In a trial in Bordeaux in 1953 they were sentenced to prison terms between 5–11 years, while the volunteer was sentenced to death. The trial caused major civil unrest in Alsace, as most of the malgré-nous had, by definition, been forced to serve in the Waffen-SS; public pressure led to a re-examination of the convictions, ultimately resulting in a general amnesty by the French National Assembly on 19 February 1953.

Of the estimated 130,000 malgré-nous, some 32,000 were killed in action and 10,500 are still missing in action (and presumed dead). Between 5,000 and 10,000 prisoners-of-war died in captivity, most of them at the Soviet camp at Tambov. The last POWs were released in 1955. Forty thousand of the malgré-nous were invalids after the war.

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  1. ^ ↑ Thomas Calinon, « Les Malgré-elles indemnisées [archive] », sur LibéStrasbourg, 17 July 2008.
  2. ^ Heller, Kevin; Gerry, Simpson (2013). The Hidden Histories of War Crime Trials. Oxford University Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-19-967114-4.
  3. ^ Kaplan, David; Herb, Guntram (2008). Nations and Nationalism: a Global Historical Overview. Volume 4. ANC Clio. p. 1508. ISBN 978-1-85109-907-8.
  4. ^ Williams, Michael. "Oradour-sur-Glane 10th June 1944". Retrieved 21 March 2008.

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