French men and women in the German Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS during the Second World War

by Arthur Koehl


The crimes committed by the German armed forces are infamous and ubiquitous in historical publications on the Second World War. In recent years, there have been successful efforts to redefine how we engage with the quantitative information known about these crimes. These initiatives are seen as pivotal by the historic community because they allow historians to reimagine the relationship between reader and data. A relationship that is arguably the biggest limitation for recording such crimes, as the cruel nature and horrifying scope of the crime often exceeds our abilities as historians to comprehend or chronicle. A preeminent example can be seen in Geographies of the Holocaust, a project that linked historical inquiry with geography to present a new perspective on the Holocaust. It's success demonstrates the power of visualizations to affirm historical findings about a much discussed topic and present historical theories in a new and engaging way

Unlike the Holocaust, which has been thoroughly researched and discussed, until this point, there have been no definitive historical works published in English about the Malgre-Nous. Having a credible, thorough, and approachable report on the Malgre-Nous is important to the surviving Malgre-Nous and to their descendants; as their story is often misunderstood, controversial and sometimes hidden. Their loss, and their unfair treatment is still felt in this day in the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. In a broader perspective, their story is an integral part of the efforts put into understanding the attitudes of French citizens during the Second World War, a topic that remains of high significance within modern Europe. Discussion of the Malgre-Nous and the impact of the Second World War on Alsace-Lorraine is not just a topic for historical debate. There exists powerful sentiments within Alsace-Lorraine concerning the treatment of the Malgre-Nous during and after the war. Those sentiments are closely linked with broad narratives of self determination and cultural identity within Eastern France. Questions of political autonomy, cultural identity, and self determination are critical in contemporary international relations. Within the past few years, we have seen these issues come to the forefront of political debate and popular sentiment.

This project makes accessible the story of the Malgre-Nous to an english audience. The site presents a quantitative overview of their experience by mapping the locations and dates of dissapearance for the Malgre-Nous that did not return home at the end of the war. In addition, it compares the casualty rates of the Malgre-Nous with the rates of the greater German Army. The maps and the comparison of casualty rates demonstrates that the Malgre-Nous were effectively integrated throughout the German Army. As a result revealing that the prevalent custom of centering the entire narrative of the Malgre-Nous around the Eastern Front should be reconsidered. Along with the quantitative analysis and visualizations, I hoped to chronicle some of the human element of their story through my presentation of the memoir of Bernard Huffschmitt as a series of annotated maps. To learn more about the Malgre-Nous go to the Resources section . If you want to learn about the methods I used to create the visualizations for this website please go to the next section.

Continue to the next section: Methods for Project