Extract from: Les Engagés Volontaires Juifs dans la Seconde Guerre mondiale by David Douvette Published in Notre Volonté n° 2 Nouvelle Série (192) October-November 1989
Settled in Alsace since April 28th 1940, the 21st RMVE joins the 35th Infantry Division and together the try to contain the German offensive in the Ardennes.
They are positionned between the two villages of Lechesne and les Petites Armoise. That night for their fight baptem, the volunteers of the 21st succeed to stop many infiltration attempts. The next day, they are bombed all day long by the german artillery. The fire is so dense that it disorganize seriously the supply of food and ammunitions already insufficient. Despite this difficult situation and many loss, the 21st holds. It holds so well that on May 30st, the Germans are tempting a break through at two kilometers, but the 21st realize a deed by succeeding to stop the enemy. Above any hope it holds till June 9th despite numerous and violent attacks.
On June 9th after an intensive bombing, the Germans strongly attack the whole 35th I.D. who stops the offensive but the loss is extremely high. On June 10th the 35th ID retreats but continues the intensive fights. In Argonne forest, on June 15th they are in Ramgecourt and reach the Vaucouleur forest, then the Meuse river. There the 21st are assigned to hold while the 35th ID crosses the river Meuse. Under bombing and attacks, the 21st accomplishes its mission with honour but is exhausted. Then it's sent to Colombey-les-Belles where it succeeds to delay the German progression. It's the last combat. It gets the command to retreat northward. This command send it directly in a trap for the 21st is cut away from any support. Aweakened, short, the volunteers continue though to resist with eager. On june 22nd they get the cease fire command.
A monument erected in Noirval (Ardennes) after the war recalls their sacrifice.
In the year 1939...
Friendly to the soldiers of the 21st R.M.V.E.
Each one, not informed about its destination and who arrives in the evening at Fort Barcarès, could believe when he'd awake, that he has left France... Seeing the aridity and poorness of the land, seeing the sand in which one can sink deep, nothing reminds the familiar landscape of the "sweet France".
After a few days though, one feels the bewitching of that desolated picture, and walking bent by the "Tramontane" wind who blows hard and cold, one dreams about escaping and departures. Everything in this village made of a few houses, seems begging from the sea it's life possibilities. Everything seems imprinted with the holding, with the dignity of a different time...
The winter is tough by this coast. The sea, often wild rolls its floods, troubled and deafening on a beach that runs away out of sight. From the village's end start a long road that leads to the camp. The wind continues to cut your face; the enormous clouds crown the mount Canigou. You walk with a long step, the legionnaire step. And you reach the huge barracks surrounded with sand... A few more steps... and you find the guys of the 21st R.M.V.I.
There was in the village a little café where meals were also served. So many Volunteers sited down there!... The nostalgia that fell on their shoulder when came the evening pushed them infallibly in this lodging... How many songs smelling the Andalusia sun, how many Russian melancholic melodies have I listened to some evenings... I lived in this month of December 1939 in a fisherman's house. On the ground floor, in a room in which the meals were prepared in the fireplace.
My husband, the private J.K. used to bring a gang of pals who languished far from home. So, with an imagination exalted by necessity, I made sweets that anyone could savor and enjoy thinking back to a mother, a wife, a girlfriend left in a cozy home. What happened to them?... Ernesto G. fine delicate, boiling like his native Andalusia, Pietro the Yugoslav speaking hardly two words in French, Francesco P. the fruits dealer as black as night, Salvator A. the young and brisk caporal, Nunes P. the Portuguese who was artist till his finger tips and used to sing melancholic fados, Nicholas G. who kept elegance up to his bad designed stuff-jacket and many, so many others...
How different they all were and had though the same heart, the same ideal, for they were all under the same flag. Since two days the storm was blowing violent... The sky was getting darker and darker and the infernal blow started to lift sand clouds; I saw like shadows bent to resist the storm, the volunteers who could hardly cross the bridge that led to the swamp... I stopped, I looked for a while their bent backs, their long-coats that seemed half teared and I resumed my way back... The daylight was already there , the regiment had left to fight front... and it was a day when the sky went into mourning. A little rain thin and cold was falling. The sea was rolling the sand on the beach and its gray flood disappeared in a fog that curtained the horizon. The day before my husband took leave and I remained there, in this little transient lodge, sitting on a straw chair, the hands pressed together, shivering and unfortunate.
The 21st was to pass by my window during that morning... The echo of the march song of the Legion that I had heard so often, pulled out to their door-sill the nice people from Barcarès. Their faces were grave but they applauded those who left, for so uncertain a fate, this little desolated and wild land.
Extracts of an article from Suzanne KOUTACHY-JEANDEAU,President & Fonder of the "Union Cultural de France".Published in LA TRAMONTANE, January- February- March 1963 ( the Bulletin of the Association Amicale des Anciens du 21° R.M.V.E.)