Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Luxembourg's Once-Lost World War I Memorial

Gëlle Fra (Eng: Golden Lady) is the common name of the Monument du Souvenir, a 21-meter-tall obelisk memorial with a sculpture atop located on the Place de la Constitution in Luxembourg City. It was created in 1923 by the sculptor Claus Cito to commemorate the Luxembourgers who voluntarily served in the French and Belgian armies and died in the First World War. It represents peace, victory, and the nation remembering its war heroes. Germany occupied Luxembourg during the First World War, so there was little that the nation's people could do to help the Allied Powers. But over 3,700 Luxembourgers living outside of the country volunteered to fight in the French Army; over 2,000 of them became casualties of the war. The monument was created to honor their courage and sacrifice.

Its main sculpture, a gilded bronze, is modeled on the ancient goddess Nike des Paionios, which today stands in the Archeological Museum of Olympia.  The bronze figures on the base, a supine dead man and a seated mourner, are shown in classical antique clothing rather than uniforms.

From 1923 to 21 October 1940, the Gëlle Fra symbolized the freedom and independence of the Luxembourg to its population. Once again, though, German forces occupied the country. From 19 to 21 October 1940, there were several attempts by the occupying administration to destroy the Gëlle Fra monument, which repeatedly failed due to the civil resistance of the Luxembourgers. Luxembourg construction companies and their workers refused the demolition, protest meetings of mostly young Luxembourgers were violently dispersed, and a three meter high wooden fence around the Gëlle Fra area was built. 

On the afternoon of 21 October 1940, the Gëlle Fra was torn down by German engineers using a steamroller and steel cables. The bronze figures on the base had been saved earlier by a Luxembourg construction company, but the main golden figure broke into three parts. It was saved and hidden by unknown Luxembourgers. Gëlle Fra remained missing for almost four decades until she was found in January 1980 under the stands of the Josy Barthel municipal football stadium. 

After extensive restoration work, it was rededicated on 23 June 1985 in the presence of Grand Duke Jean and the government. Today the memorial commemorates those who died in World War I and World War II, as well as Luxembourgers who died in the Korean War. The Gëlle Fra is Luxembourg's national symbol of freedom and resistance of the Luxembourg people. In 2010, the Gëlle Fra traveled, well packed in a wooden box, by plane to the Shanghai World Exhibition, where it stood in the Luxembourg Pavilion for six months. To be on the safe side, an exact cast had been made beforehand and the figure itself newly gilded. 

Sources: GPSMyCity; Wikipedia; WikiCommons

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