Continuing our journey throughout Europe, we left France and arrived in Bastogne, Belgium. Here we saw the Bastogne War Museum and the Mardasson Memorial, dedicated to the soldiers of the U.S. Army and their valiant efforts during the Battle of the Bulge. During this trip, I have seen different viewpoints of the war from each country. Britain’s perspective focuses on the teamwork of the Allies defeating Germany together, and the French approach is geared towards remembering the suffering that happened and honoring those who lost their lives. The Bastogne War Museum’s viewpoint was that of the people who experienced the war in their towns and how it affected their personal lives.
While walking through the museum and looking at artifacts and personal accounts, we listened to four different perspectives of those in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The first character introduced is Emile Mostade, a thirteen-year-old whose father owned a bike repair shop. The second character introduced is a young school teacher named Mathilde Devillers. Hans Wegmüller is the third character introduced, and he is a German lieutenant of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division, the unit charged with seizing Bastogne. The last character is Robert Keane, a corporal of the 101st Airborne Division, the unit deployed to defend Bastogne. Positioned in the woods surrounding the city, he participated in action on the front line, as did Hans Wegmüller. This museum told the stories of these four people, who ended up meeting in an underground cellar in Bastogne to take shelter from a German air attack. Hans was a POW guarded by Keane, and Emile and Mathilde were walking through the city when they took refuge.
Before Emile Mostade was separated from his parents, his father told him they would bike to the sea together. When the Germans started bombing Bastogne, Emile’s parents sent him away to find shelter from the oncoming attack. He found shelter from the bombing inside a cellar with several other townspeople. Here he realized that his cellar-living lifestyle was not so bad compared to some people who could not bathe or sit by a fire to warm up. After the bombing had subsided, Emile learned that his parents had been killed, leaving him in the care of an uncle who lived nearby.
Mathilde Devillers was a schoolteacher before the war. Once the Germans invaded, she had to change her form of teaching to secret meetings in closed areas, and then eventually was not able to teach for some time as she joined the Belgian resistance movement. After the war, she resumed teaching again, but things were not the same as she was missing several children in her class who had been killed because of the war.
Robert Keane was a corporal in the 101st Airborne Division whose mission was to defend the city of Bastogne and to keep the Germans from recapturing it. He suffered long, cold nights out in his foxhole defending the town and eventually took injured Hans Wegmüller prisoner. When they entered the city, the bombing started, and they took shelter in the same cellar as Emile and Mathilde. The other locals gave Hans smug looks and questioned his presence in the cellar, while Mathilde gave them soup and tried to fix Hans’ wound. Keane and Hans talked late at night and got to know each other. Once the bombing had stopped and they could leave the cellar, Keane took Hans to the infirmary to get checked out, where they shared a farewell. Hans realized for the first time the people who were being affected by the war in that cellar.
This museum showed me that everyone experiencing the war was still human, no matter their background. Although these stories were based on true events and people, the dialogue was fabricated to tell a story. They wanted to present what a family went through or how a soldier felt after an attack. Whether you were fighting for the Allies or Axis, or were a teacher or a child, the impact of the war did not have favorites and affected everyone, and this museum portrayed that very well.