Alsace, year zero

Alsace, year zero

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Title: French children playing with weapons left by the German army during his retirement

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1944

Date shown: 1944

Technique and other indications: photography / Oberhoffen, Alsace

Storage location: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin) website

Contact copyright: © BPK, Berlin, dist. RMN - Grand Palais / BPK image

Picture reference: 13-590128

French children playing with weapons left by the German army during his retirement

© BPK, Berlin, dist. RMN - Grand Palais / BPK image

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

One of the images of the "liberation" of Alsace

From 1944 onwards, the reconquest and liberation of French territory was accompanied by the production and broadcasting of a large number of images of the Allied battles and successes. So many images, often strong, which, likeFrench children playing with weapons left by the German army during his retirement, show a world in upheaval and anchor the representations of this great historical moment in the consciousness of contemporaries.

Taken in Oberhoffen, in northern Alsace, just after the very fierce fighting which saw the American troops retake the town on December 9, 1944, this photograph thus captures almost on the spot an image of the immediate "continuation" of these military operations which resulted in the retreat of the Nazi army.

If the author of this photograph remains unknown, as well as the nature, the diffusion of the cliché and the echo he may have encountered, in any case it has an undeniable aesthetic and symbolic value that singularly enriches its first function as sample image.

Image Analysis

A scene of chaos

This photograph shows a very real scene, captured in the concrete of the moment, but with a sense of dramaturgy and a significant aesthetic bias.

Crouching in the center of the image, a young blond boy and girl, dressed in rather dirty clothes, as their faces are, "play" with the few abandoned weapons, helmets and ammunition, here gathered in a messy heap.

For more proximity and involvement of the viewer, the photograph is taken at the height of the two characters, left to themselves in this landscape of war and chaos. The youth, blondness, innocence and recklessness of these two children as well as the sweetness of their attitude contrast starkly with the setting in which this improbable action takes place, further emphasizing the strength of this representation.

Indeed, everything is ruins, in this closed and oppressive space bordered by the partially destroyed wall of a building in the background. Here, in this courtyard strewn with rubble like everyday objects that are no longer there (the wheelbarrow in the center, the masses of wood on the left) and where the only two "openings" (door and window giving to the inside the house) only show a dark space evoking nothingness and destruction, attention is naturally focused on these two young beings left alone, without adults.


A world to rebuild

Launched in November 1944, the first liberation of Alsace - which was not fully effective until March 1945, after an Allied withdrawal and a German counterattack - was difficult. If Strasbourg was initially taken over on November 23, the northern part of Alsace was the last to be reconquered, with great difficulties linked to the topography, the climate and the determination of the Nazi troops. They are in fact ready to ardently defend the first "German" region (Alsace being integrated into the Reich) in play on the western front. In Oberhoffen, for example, the presence of a military camp further complicated operations and hardened confrontations, which the desolate landscape in the photograph clearly shows. A landscape of defeat (or victory) too, left as such by former dominants whose weapons no longer have the same use.

In the almost immediate post-combat period, the two children are left to fend for themselves without supervision or protection, a sign that time and standards are suspended here. The chaos is palpable, total, oppressive. It suggests a year zero, an almost unreal moment when everything has to be started over, to be reestablished. This image thus dares the unusual representation of a particular aspect of the Liberation and stands out from images of jubilation or victory on the march that are more affordable for the viewer.

Thanks to the aesthetic and symbolic bias chosen by the photographer, we can thus evoke the difficult reconstruction of a habitable world (on the material and spiritual levels). Plunged into an improbable situation, the two children of the cliché suggest youth, the beginning, innocence, danger or even trauma, despite themselves becoming metaphors for the issues and problems linked to the immediate aftermath. war.

  • Alsace Lorraine
  • War of 39-45
  • Liberation (war)
  • Occupation


ABDELOUAHAB Farid, The Year of Freedom (June 1944 - June 1945), Paris, Acropolis, 2004.AZÉMA Jean-Pierre, New history of contemporary France. XIV: From Munich to the Liberation (1938-1944), Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points: histoire" (no 114), 1979.DE GAULLE Charles, War memoirs. III: Salvation (1944-1946), Paris, Plon, 1959.RIEDWEG Eugene, The Liberation of Alsace (September 1944 - March 1945), Paris, Tallandier, coll. "History in Battles", 2014.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Alsace, year zero"

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