Thursday, October 6, 2011

History By The Square Inch

Covering just under 2600 square kilometers (1000 square miles), Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the world. It might be small in geographic terms, but it is immense when it comes to history.

The Mergen's home is located in Diekirch, a village with about 6000 people living in it. Much of the village is built over Roman ruins. The Mergen's house happens to be built over a Roman hospital. They casually mentioned this to me in a conversation as of it was quite normal for one's home to be built over Roman ruins. I guess when you live in Diekirch that is the case, but I live in Canada. The Romans didn't quite make it this far.

This mosaic is just one example of what the ancient Romans left behind. It is a strange feeling to walk across the cobblestones knowing there are Roman ruins buried beneath.

The National Museum of Military History is located in Diekirch. Most of the museum is dedicated to World War 2. Luxembourg was occupied by Nazi Germany during the war, and in the final months of the war the Battle of the Bulge was partially fought on their soil. Visitors from all over the world come to see the museum, including many US soldiers who fought in that battle.

Almost seven decades later it is still an emotional experience for Ernie and Monique to speak of that horrible time. When they tell their stories it is as if it had just happened yesterday. The memories they share are heart wrenching, and told with such fine detail that you feel yourself drawn back to that time in history.

Monique talked about how her family had to flee on a moment's notice because the battle was overtaking their village. Her mom had to make instant decisions as to what they would carry away with them. These were decisions that could mean the difference between life and death. Imagine having fifteen minutes to decide what your family would need to survive while hiding in a cave or the woods, keeping in mind you had to be able to fit it all into your small cart. Monique said this diorama at the museum perfectly captures what it was like.

She also shared a more light-hearted memory. When the American soldiers arrived they were trying to give the children a strange looking object. They didn't know what it was, so were hesitant to take it. The soldiers used gestures to show them it was something to eat. It was the first time in her life that Monique ate chocolate. She said she will never forget the kindness of the Americans.

There were also stories they shared that had no dioramas illustrating them, stories that were too awful to bring to life in that way. Stories of family members that were sent to the concentration camps - beloved grandparents and an older brother. Stories about seeing posters displayed by the German soldiers naming the boys they had shot that morning because they refused to serve in the German army. Stories of fear and hunger. Stories of life and death.

My final evening in Luxembourg was spent with Frank's family. I was so happy to finally be able to meet his wife Marie Ann, and their children - Catherine, Claire and Paul. I think I now have two kindred spirits in Luxembourg. Marie Ann is a knitter! Not only that, she is interested in cooking with whole, healthy, local foods. For dinner I was served some local cheeses, along with local wine and bread. Her son Paul contributed the cherry tomatoes for a vegetable dish and I think he was very proud of that fact. Catherine is only at the start of her second year of studying English, but already speaks fluently. I was impressed, especially given my rather dismal performance learning Chinese. Claire was a sweetheart, and I was so happy to be seated next to her at dinner. It was an evening of sharing stories, laughter and friendship. A lovely way to close out my short visit to Luxembourg.


  1. The history is amazing. I loved exploring the area where I area up. It was interesting to find ruts in the woods that showed a road used to run through--but to where? Or to find abondoned structures--did people live in them? Were they out-buildings? Or to spot the remains of an old bridge and imagine what used to be there (it was for a long-abondoned trolley car line). If I had been born in Luxembourg, I may never have gone to school. I would have wanted to spend all my time exploring.

    Up until now, all I knew about the Battle of the Bulge was that Henry Fonda starred in the movie. I'm glad the stories I've heard about American GIs showing kindness to children are true. I've wondered what it would have been like to have my playground (which, to me, included all of the fields and woods near my parent's home) turn into a battlefield. Whew!

  2. PS - I'm glad commetning is working again--and I would have offerred a double-your-money-back guarantee. =)

  3. Sounds like a really great visit. Wonderful that you got to connect with the family!