Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Maximilian Kowler - April 26, 1984

Joining the French Army

I was too young--I am born in '22, so in 1939 I was considered seventeen, but on January 1st, 1940 I became eighteen, for all practical purposes. Then I signed up for uh, for the Foreign Legion because I felt I wanted to get out of Europe. Was not a question of adventure, or anything like that, I just felt that that's the best way to get out of Europe, because there was no doubt in my mind, in February or end of January, beginning of February, 1940--there was no doubt in my mind that the war will be lost, because the French were--well, the French government didn't do anything. So I signed up in the Foreign Legion and then gave them my true age um, got into trouble because of that because my mother had to sign--counter-sign my, my application, and uh, then they found that I need--they found the paper then that I needed a second signature by my father. My father wasn't around, he was in uh, Limon, so uh, my mother, my mother got cold feet and tried to talk me out of it, and, "Why don't you to go to Africa?" etc., etc. So, uh, she finally talked me out of it, and they left me behind the night I was supposed to be shipped out to Sidi-bel-Abbes. And there I was, and then that was the ??? Lyon, which was the departure camp for the Foreign Legion. And I uh, then wanted to do something because we all wanted to fight the Germans, and we all wanted to be, to be on the side of the French people--defend, defend France and defend civilization or whatever you call it. And so I signed up for the French Army. That was on ??? February 6th, 1940, and was sent to the Fort, Fort ??? in uh, Lyon--still exists. I visited a couple years ago. And uh, for the first or second day, uh, for recreation, naturally, what do we do in Europe for recreation? We play football--soccer--and they found out I was a semi...semi-professional soccer player before I was called into the Army, with a French industrial team in Bonne, where the airport used to be. And uh, they found out that I was a very good soccer player, so they immediately put me on the Army soccer team of that particular region. And so I played soccer with uh, for about three months. They left me at the Fort ??? in Lyon. I did not see life or anything, you know? And uh, interestingly enough uh, in the French Army, your food--you had different mess halls, for the enlisted men--sous-officiens--officiers. And depending on what you wear, you got one more dish, for example, for, for your meal--or two more dishes for the meal if you were an officier. And the wine--I remember distinctly--the wine was different too. French wine--when you buy a pinard in France, you buy it by degree: ten degrees, eleven degrees, twelve degrees. You buy it in the open bottle, you know? So we got better food than the enlisted men, even though we were only enlisted men, because they wanted us to play better soccer. It was very funny.

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