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Remembering the Granduncle

“Whatever is not put down on paper is lost”, thinks Laurent Guillet. That is why the Frenchman has narrated the story of his granduncle, who went missing in 1945, in the book “Il s’appelait Joseph” (His name was Joseph). Guillet came to hand the book to the employees of the French Liaison Mission at the International Tracing Service (ITS) yesterday and to thank them for the assistance they gave him with his research. “They do a wonderful job and have contributed considerably to the search for documents and information in the last two years”, says the 41-year-old.

By writing the book he intends to pay tribute to the war generation, Guillet explains his motivation. “I dedicate it to all persons who fell victim to the war.” His granduncle Joseph Santerre had been captured as a prisoner of war in 1940 and recruited to do forced labour later on. In 1944, he was arrested and deported to a labour camp situated in what is Czech territory today, where he died in February 1945. “The book was an enormous challenge for me”, says Guillet. “I have pursued research in France, Germany, Switzerland and in the Czech Republic, have collected innumerable documents and gone to see all places where Joseph was staying.”

In addition to the suffering of his granduncle, Guillet describes in his publication the settings of the time from a current-day perspective and refers his readers to all institutions that may be helpful if it comes to search for traces of the past. “Proceeding this way, I want to forge a link between the past and the present“, outlines Guillet. “I want to invite people to travel and to help reduce prejudices. We must not forget, but should learn from history.” The intention of reconciling people is the leitmotif of his work. “Jointly reappraising their history brings people together.”

Guillet had turned 15, when a group of German soldiers came to see his Breton hometown occasioning him to ask historical questions for the first time. He has published several books on the history of France under German occupation since then. Among them are publications on the so-called “Kriegskinder” (war children) - estimated numbers: 75,000 to 200,000 - from the relationships between French women and German occupation soldiers as well as a photo album recording the memories of German soldiers. Conducting research for his books, Guillet has got in touch with many contemporary witnesses. “Participating in others’ memories fascinates me”, the writer says. “My interest kept growing over the years. You cannot do this work without emotions and passion.”