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This is a given that he had integrated, to the point of making a recurring joke to observe the reaction of his interlocutor: his great-grandfather Mathieu Cabioch, farmer and bonesetter on the North Finistère coast, had collaborated with the Nazi occupier during World War II. Not by ideology, no, by nationalist feeling… Breton. But what was it really?

To find out, Thomas Rozec, formerly of Télégramme and Radio France now editor-in-chief on the podcast platform Binge, decided to conduct the investigation. He interviewed his grandfather with whom he initially “walked on eggshells” before finding that he broached the subject easily, asking questions of his uncles and aunts, from whom he ultimately learned things. He met historians, delved into departmental archives. A long journey back in time, to the lands of these ancestors.

Errors and wanderings

Conclusion, what could have been only a spotlight on a troubled family story is in fact much more than that: a dive into the Leon of the time, his austere life, the importance of faith; an x-ray of the Breton nationalist movement, its errors and its wanderings; a return to the turbulent times of the purification and its sad letters of denunciation, anonymous as it should be.

From all this, Thomas Rozec comes out shaken, moved. What were the secrets of this silent man, isolated from the world since an explosion had made him deaf? What was hiding behind his broad shoulders, his reputation as a healer who could tell that a cow was fat and avoid the slaughterhouse at the last minute? What role did his wife, née Gardic, play, a dry little woman with whom “it was not every day on Sunday”, as her grandchildren still remember, but who would support her man to the end, even seal of infamy? What about religion? Was he influenced by Abbé Perrot, executed in 1943 for connivance with the enemy? Can we simultaneously claim to be a practicing Catholic, multiply the signs of devotion to the point of wearing out the tapestry, and interact with the Nazis?

“I had always believed it …”

From this tangle of questions, of fragmentary testimonies diminished by time, images emerge that will speak to everyone. These women shorn under the cries of hatred, fate which his great-aunts will escape in spite of the suspicions weighing on them of not having been insensitive to the charm of the German soldiers; queues to obtain bread through ration coupons; the graves of the small cemetery of Roscoff, where the Cabioches and Séités are so numerous that you have to get lost to find the one you are looking for.

The listener will also come across these unsaid, the corpses in the closet of many families, the small arrangements with reality, these dark corners that we do not want to see. Oh hey, his three months in prison in 1945 wasn’t for having defied the curfew? I had always believed it… He will see there the shadow of the prison of Saint-Pabu and that of Pont-de-Buis, will listen to the incredible declaration of allegiance of the Breton National Party to the “European soldiers” at the very pronounced German accent.

Those voices soon to be extinguished

In the footsteps of Thomas Rozec, it is an era that we cross, and by his microphone a world soon disappeared that speaks. Who, in a few years, will be able to testify directly to this period and its difficult aftermath? Which voices will be able, without scientific filter or academic distance, to echo the small details of daily life at the time, with the vagueness of time gone by but the flesh of lived memories?

And then, who better than a great-grandson to tell, without posture or desire for revenge, the shadows of the life of a great-grandfather he never knew? For all these questions, and for the sake of time travel, “In the old country of my fathers” deserves a listening ear. Almost 80 minutes, almost 80 years ago.

“In the old country of my fathers”, podcast in five episodes available this Monday on Binge Audio,

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