The chateau in World War II
In response to the threat of German attacks, people from parts of eastern France were evacuated to safer areas of the country in September 1939. Inhabitants of Kalhausen in Moselle were sent to northern Charente, often to be housed in unoccupied properties. According to the recollections of one evacuee, Château de Pleuville was at the time “only occupied by one old lady who spent her time driving a flock of sheep to graze in the meadows of the domaine”; and so about 50 Mosellans, including about 15 children, were billetted in the house, at times with more than one family per room. Most of the adults spoke only their own local language and had difficulty communicating in French with the people of Pleuville. The children attended Pleuville school, boosting its numbers considerably (1). An armistice with Germany was signed in June 1940 and the refugees returned home in August.
Meanwhile France had been divided into two zones, and the line of demarcation between the southern “free zone” (nominally administered by a French government based at Vichy) and the rest of France (the “occupied zone” administered directly by the Germans based in Paris) split Pleuville commune in two. For more on this, click on Pleuville and district. Local people, officials, and others with an acceptable reason were issued with passes enabling them to cross the line, but the two zones were supposed to operate separately so no goods for sale, building materials, food and other commodities were allowed across. Telephone lines between the zones were cut. Helping people without the right papers to cross the line soon became a risky local pastime, but inconvenience and disruption are the main things people remember from these years.
In November 1942 the German leadership decided to “invade” the free zone, partly in order to gain full control of the French Mediterranean ports, but the checkpoints continued to operate and were only taken down after the Germans were driven out (partly by “local boy” General Jean de Lattre) two years later. The checkpoints served to remind people of the occupiers’ presence and encouraged local support for the resistance movement. Again the chateau was used to accommodate escapees, and store equipment and clothing for the resistance. (Later the road to Pressac which borders the chateau was named Rue du Maquis Raf, after the name of the local resistance cell, and Pleuville’s main street became Rue de la Résistance.)
Shortly before German troops finally withdrew in 1944, they carried out numerous local atrocities, including an appalling massacre in June at Oradour-sur-glane, about 40 km south east of Pleuville, where over 600 civilians were killed. The village was gutted by fire and after the war it was decided to leave it unaltered as a memorial. At Pleuville several people were killed and many buildings set alight (though not the chateau) by a German unit moving through the area in August 1944, which partly explains why Pleuville has fewer old buildings than other local villages. Fuller accounts of these events appear on the Pleuville war memorial near the chateau (in French and English), and elsewhere (2).