After a lifetime of humiliation at the hands of a population ashamed of France’s wartime occupation, the 66-year-old son of a “boche,” an abusive term for Germans, feels that by becoming a dual French-German national he finally has a legitimate identity.
“I’m German. I’m not a bastard any more. I’m a child like all the others. At last I’ve got the second half that I was so cruelly missing,” he said, blinking back tears after leaving the German consulate in Paris.
Rouxel was born in Paris in 1943 during the World War II occupation, when his mother was working in the canteen of the German airbase in the Brittany town of Pleurtuit where his father, Lieutenant Otto Ammon, was stationed.
Ammon was killed during the Allied liberation of France and after the war, when his mother could no longer cope with raising him, Rouxel was taken on by his grandmother and moved to a small and unwelcoming Breton village.
“I’m the child born of a love made impossible by war,” he said, in a recent account of his life written in support of his citizenship bid.
As the illegitimate son of the former enemy, Rouxel was a figure of hate, tormented by local youths, often forced by his own grandmother to sleep in a henhouse and publicly mocked by local officials.
He still remembers the day the deputy mayor of the town publicly singled him out as the villagers left church and asked “What’s the difference between a swallow and a Boche?”
“When a swallow has kids in France and then flies off, it takes its children with it,” the official said, according to Rouxel. “I cried a lot. I was only six years old and already I wanted to kill myself,” he said.
Neither German nor French officials in the period after the war wanted to address the issue of children born to occupying troops, who might number up to 200,000 according to writers Jean-Paul Picaper and Ludwig Norz.
Officially registered as “father unknown” they have been subjected to years of ostracism and persecution, and the countries – now close allies – recently signed an accord to recognise the children’s parentage.
Germany finally agreed on February 19 to grant joint citizenship to those war children who want it, and Rouxel was the first to sign up.