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Digital Collections : The André Jeunet Collection

Translated excerpts of André Jeunet's Letters and Diaries

July 5, 1915, Autun, France

Letter from André Jeunet, written during his military training period, prior to service on the Western front, to his first cousin, Jean Jeunet:

. . . we are also digging trenches, day and night, with simulated attacks and we fire salvos only during the night. So . . . that is that! Les Boches [the Germans] had better watch out. I am well and am suffering neither from lack of food or from fatigue. If you could only see the great gamelles [mess kits] I eat every day! Without counting the desserts [sent by family members]. After all, I would be happy, if the absence of my dear parents didn't weigh so heavily. I do get their good and frequent letters, but that is not enough. And to think that we don't even get passes to go to see them! Just the same I hope to get to Paris before leaving for the front.

September 20, 1916

Entry in André Jeunet's diary quoted by the author in the preface of a photo scrapbook he gave his daughter on her twentieth birthday, September 16, 1944:

I am 20 years old! We are at war! The "Great War" as future historians will say and before its crown will be toppled by the next "last war."

We are approaching the end of the famous battle of the Somme, where I risked my life, while I was playing my sad role of infantry man at Chaulnes, a pitiful town, reduced to a few piles of rubble, surrounded by dead trees, branchless as frightful skeleton-like masts of ships, sunken and stuck in this sea of mud, which, in the nearby craters, opened by thousands of shell bursts, forms an unmoving swell.

I am 20 years old! I am 20 years old and have no longer any appetite for living, without ever having known even the taste of life. And one cannot perceive the end of the massacre which has already lasted two years.

I am 20 years old and have only before my eyes the horrible spectacle of death. No more leaves, no more flowers, no more animals, even no more grass on the soil . . . this hilly and muddy ocean engulfs everything - even our souls, without light, and without joy.

September 20, 1916! I am 20 years old, but my body is covered with vermin and my spirit is eaten by doubts.

July 9, 1917, St. Quentin, France

Summary of a letter written by André Jeunet, while in the trenches in France, to an unknown woman, who would become his pen pal, as copied into his diary (translation and summary by Cécile and Richard Spalding):

He introduced himself as "capricious, timid" and totally inexperienced with women, while passionately desiring a relationship. He continued that the "real" war consisted of much suffering, deprivations and dangers, causing great sorrow in his heart -- that he could never understand the barbaric "glory" that so-called good men could discover in the depths of their prehistoric instincts. He told her about wanting to change to an aviation unit.

July 29, 1917, France

Summary of a letter written by André Jeunet to his female pen pal, Rolande, as copied into his diary (translation and summary by Cécile and Richard Spalding):

. . . he had received a letter from her during one of his worst days of the war, at Côte 304 - his group had captured a German trench, that he was trying to read a letter from her in a sape boche [German sap - an extension of a trench dug from within the trench itself]; Jeunet had no candles to read in the dark, so sat on the step of the Sap; a small piece of shrapnel struck the letter; he said he kept both the letter and the piece of shrapnel.

1917, France

Letter written from the Western front by André Jeunet to an unknown gentleman in America, following the receipt of a package. This is one of two letters intercepted by censors which caused Jeunet to be court-martialed in 1917. The military tribunal decided to transfer Jeunet to the Eastern front in the Balkans, but he later said this letter "could have cost me my life and . . ., though . . . more innocent [than the second letter], actually set the stage for my last hour!":

. . . Because of your sincere expression of solidarity and enthusiasm for France, I feel obliged to acquaint you about the mental state of a French soldier at war (it could be any European soldier.) I speak of patriotic feelings and you, being far removed, seem to completely misunderstand. You will perhaps be surprised if I tell you that such ideas, inspired by absolute faith in the motherland and by the most generous spirit of sacrifice, no longer count for much in the heart of the soldier who has fought for three years.

August 1914 is long past when, like the beating of one heart, Frenchmen looked upon themselves as a brotherhood of combatants.

You would not believe to what point patriotic fervor and enthusiasm are diminished, eaten away daily by the abominable existence war inflicts on the soldier, who offers up every minute of the day to his safety, his health, his very life. Because of the enormous suffering he endures and that he, in turn, unleashes on others, the warrior, passive at first in accepting the idea of violence, becomes transformed imperceptibly into a good, a sensible man -- a free man. Nowhere on earth will you find such kindness and compassion, less hatred, than among the ranks of the fighting troops.

Due to the horrific misery imposed on men, the Cult of the Homeland finds itself today secretly placed on trial before the jury of every conscientious European. We see the opening of hearts, especially of the soldiers, true martyrs of a new faith, to the ideal of tolerance and goodness that will flourish tomorrow in a healthy world federation of work and love and the demise of the outdated, despotic and barbarous beliefs of the past.

Only the experience of suffering on the front lines, the witnessing of brutal terrors, unworthy of civilized beings, will cultivate in our minds this saving evolution. At least, I believe it. An ocean separates you from these horrible scenes and your ideas are sheltered from these healing actions. This is reflected in the patriotic ardor of your letter.

(I list) these several well considered examples that you might see more clearly the slight irony, and disillusionment for us in the trenches, of the warlike, fierce and bold fervor, a bit too 1914, of you and your country who have not yet suffered.

The few words on your card made but weak murmurs in our ears, deafened by the noise of canons, like in the old time songs, those that still amuse our little ones, causing the grown-ups to smile indulgently while listening with only half an ear.

I should be sorry if you found in this letter anything but a sincere desire to spread goodness, a need to discover a bit of human kindness in all that is so disheartening, a world beyond politics and obsolete tradition.

August, 1918

Jeunet wrote that he had become a "soldat de deuxième classe" [soldier second class] and had submitted his eighth request for a transfer, but was turned down as an "indiscipliné".

October 7, 1940, Tournus, France

Letter from André Jeunet to his father, Emile, in Paris, after France was defeated by the Germans in World War II. Jeunet had been captured in southern France, but was released immediately.

My Dear Papa,

Here I am at last. Take heart! I am returning, at my own slow pace, by bicycle from Lyon. I will also see, on my way, the Pions in Chambolle, the Baillons in St. Aubin and Jean in Melun. All is well so far, and I believe I can be with you at the end of this week.

I hope to find you cheerful, and in good health, just as I left you at the beginning of last June, already four months. Four months during which so much has happened. You can really say that you have witnessed a lot in your lifetime! Do you remember Jules Roux: "old as we are, still we have never seen that!" Now, this time, he can truthfully say it, the poor fellow.

Oh well, even if I will be without a job after this "brawl," I am, just the same, damn glad to get back to all of you, and to return to my family life in our lovely rue Gros.

You will surely have a lot to tell me -- almost as much as I to tell you.

Au revoir, dear Papa, and be patient. Very soon we can embrace each other as before . . . during the good old times when there was peace. Je t'embrasse affectueusement et à bientôt.

September 16, 1944, Paris, France

Preface to photo scrapbook which André Jeunet gave his daughter, Cécile, in Paris on the occasion of her twentieth birthday. This excerpt followed the quote from his September 20, 1916 diary entry:

Sixteenth of September 1944! Cécile is twenty years old! No more mud, nor lice, but the joyful spring-like parade of bright young friends, gifts, finery, talent, dresses . . . all illusion!

. . . For, once again we are at war -- entire cities crumble and rain fire on the throngs of innocent mothers and children. My heart is weary to have to write here this bitter preface to a text, older than my daughter by a quarter of a century!

December, 1944 or January, 1945, Paris, France

Letter from André Jeunet to his cousin, Camille Bourgeois Jeauffroy:

. . . All this is useless talk; but stark reality, of which I have living proof among hundreds of my comrades and my employees. But, there remains the fact that we could never agree on one point: I am not and cannot be a partisan. I have neither the power nor the character, even for a cause in which I believe. I cannot abandon my position as an impartial judge, which is the only worthwhile quality I possess, and it appears to be as demanding as the taking of sides is narrow.

Besides, I am still a staunch pacifist and I hate war as much as I hate the army, which is the instrument of war. I served in the War of 1914-1918 as an impenitent objector and my childlike honesty (I was barely twenty years old!) caused me to just miss being executed after being found guilty during a trial in a military court. I owe my life only to the wise, kind nature, and to the fatherly attitude of a "good" general whom I have always regretted having to count among the detested military. At that time I had the rare moral support, but how solid, of a man who died only a few days ago and whose name is Romain Rolland . . . I know . . . much has changed since then: not I! I suppose I failed to adapt to circumstances, or was it supreme wisdom?

The immediate future will find us in disagreement. Pacifism, which will flourish tomorrow over the mass graves and ruins, is surely the only cause for which I would accept to sacrifice my life, and only if I had not to sacrifice [the life of] anyone else first.

This is not a political attitude, but a moral one. It might seem negative now in the heat of battle with tanks and planes; tomorrow it will contribute to building the peace. If our speeches and writings are actions, I will have at least reacted along these lines. Having said this, and it is just about all that is possible to say at this time without poisoning [our relations], let me kiss you affectionately, wishing you a better year than the one just finished. I am very lucky to have had my prayers answered. 1944 will remain a horrible memory for millions of men, and for millions more for whom it ceased to be even a memory at all.

January 27, 1952, Paris, France

Letter written by André Jeunet to his daughter and son-in-law, Cécile and Richard Spalding, in Louisville, Kentucky, prior to his and Mme. Jeunet's visit via ocean liner to the United States:

I think that I will not be sea-sick on the trip because I was not [sick] in 1917 during the night crossing of the Adriatic Sea in bad weather on a small ship, the Château-Renault, weighing hardly 15,000 tons. What is more, there was that terrible fear of the submarines, which didn't help matters! The ship behind ours was torpedoed in the Gulf of Corinth and sank. No victims other than the mechanics killed by the explosion of the torpedo in the machine room, and in addition, the rescued persons got a one-month leave of absence. I wasn't so lucky . . . if you can call it that!

August 19, 1954, Paris, France

Letter from André Jeunet to his daughter and son-in-law, Cécile and Richard Spalding, in Louisville, Kentucky:

My greatest act of gratitude remains having endured, during four years of World War I, that unspeakable horror! It was there that the spirit of the seeker and the idealist was strengthened in me, a spirit that could be born solely out of a great misery suffered in common with others, and I have knowingly not limited them to my countrymen.

October 21, 1956, Paris, France

Letter from André Jeunet to his daughter, Cécile, in Louisville, Kentucky recounting a visit from his cousin, Camille Bougeois Jeauffroy:

Last Sunday we had a visit by Camille with . . . Daniel and Rosa. It seems they feel still quite close to us in spite of some incidents during the Liberation in 1944-1945 that came close to causing a brutal break [in our relations]. But years have gone by and along with them, those ugly partisan leanings. Camille must now understand, ten years later, to what extent her brother Pierre* was an innocent victim and at what point the sacrifice of his life was useless. When they were leaving, after a long conversation on everything and especially about you in America, about our immigration plans, Camille asked permission to kiss me, and, when she did so, I could see that she was crying. The gesture seemed to be a sign, not of remorse, but of regret for what she had thought of me during the days of the [German] occupation, I believe I became once more a good man, if not a brave one. I can only feel good about it.

*Pierre Bourgeois, World War I aviator and World War II resistance fighter, who was captured by the Gestapo during Nazi occupation, and died at their hands. Pierre is pictured with André Jeunet in ULPA 2010.003.006.

October 28, 1956, Paris, France

Letter from André Jeunet to his daughter, Cécile, in Louisville, Kentucky:

I am glad you thought of me when you saw that documentary film about the war of 1914, according to you so successful. It is not enough to explain to Mrs. Spalding (Richard's mother), that I experienced these horrors, but you must also tell her that I denounced them at that very time, risking my life. Tell her the story about that package from America I received in the trenches and about my letter answering the generous giver, an honest letter that brought me before my division general and a lawyer for the War Department, an inquiry that just barely saved me from the firing squad. But perhaps it is better not to bother her with that. She might judge me wrongly. You have to be twenty years old to do such things! -- "But General, I don't believe in war, just as I don't believe in religion!" Today, I could tell her exactly how I believe in that good General who saved my life by his kind, fatherly attitude! I believe in a humane Society on the way to discovering its World Government based on science and collective wealth, greater than the wealth of individuals.

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