We realize that some visitors to the site may have questions as to why two identical twin sisters from the United States have decided to recognize stories from almost 75 years ago in a country thousands of miles away. That’s a fair question! And one that requires some more background. (We apologize in advance for the length of this post!)
If you had told us four years ago that we would not only be “reclaiming” Luxembourg citizenship through a temporary legal process, but would also be developing a project dedicated to WWII public memory in Luxembourg, we would have been dumbfounded. At that time, to us Luxembourg was a picturesque, tiny country that had previously served as a brief “rest-stop” while we explored Europe during our year studying in Rome. We only stopped in Luxembourg because we knew we had some sort of ancestral connection to the country, and we couldn’t resist going there after seeing pictures of Luxembourg City, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Flash forward a year when we were visiting our friend in Milwaukee, WI. Our grandparents suggested we stop at the Luxembourg American Cultural Society (LACS), just about an hour away from the city. Armed with some family names, we trekked to the small town of Belgium to this cultural treasure. Sara Jacoby (now director of LACS) gave us a tour of the museum and showed us pictures of our great, great-grandparents on the “Luxembourg American family tree” in the entrance. Considering we had very little knowledge of our family’s connection to Luxembourg, we saw our ancestry as little more than a ‘fun fact,’ with no relevance to us. It was only when Sara asked, “do you know about the citizenship reclamation process?” did our connection to Luxembourg come out of the obscure past into the very tangible present. Sara explained to us the reclamation of citizenship process applicable to individuals whose ancestors had their Luxembourgish citizenship stripped from them when they immigrated to the United States. After checking that one of our ancestors, our great, great, great grandfather Adam Even (yes, that is his name), qualified, we immediately knew this was an opportunity to connect our family’s past to our present and future. We distinctly remember calling our parents after leaving the museum to tell them we had news that was going to change our lives forever.
A year later, having completed the first stage of the application process to confirm our ancestry line (thanks in large part to our dad, the genealogy wizard of the family who’s not even Luxembourgish), we were on our way to Luxembourg to formally submit our citizenship applications for Stage 2 of the process. We joined a group tour with LACS to explore the Grand Duchy. Packed in a tour bus with two Luxembourgers as our guides, we began to learn about the country we were soon to (hopefully) join as citizens. Diving into classic meals (we were told Luxembourg cuisine is “French quality with German quantity”), traditional pastimes (keelen, a difficult type of bowling), and local events (a medieval fair and wine parade—the best parade in the world, if you ask us!), we caught glimmers of the unique culture and identity of Luxembourg. The highlight of the tour was the day we spent with a Luxembourger driving around the country in search of connections to our family’s history. We looked for familiar names on gravestones in local cemeteries, visited small towns such as Adam’s home town of Vichten, and took a private tour of our family’s castle, composed of a medieval fortress (mostly cool ruins now) and a Renaissance chateau, which was most recently occupied by our 6th cousin in the Even family, who passed away and donated it to the government in 2012. While the citizenship process had brought us closer to our family’s past, being in Luxembourg and engaging with our family history in this way made us feel more connected to our ancestors.
Being historians (now public historians), we were immediately drawn to the WWII history of the region. We visited the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Hamm and even ventured into Bastogne, Belgium to visit the impressive Bastogne War Museum. Before this trip, we had very little knowledge of Luxembourg’s WWII history. Learning about WWII from the U.S. perspective, you often focus on political actions, military movements, and the Holocaust. Learning about the war from the viewpoint of an occupied country, on the other hand, you get a drastically different understanding of the war. During our trip, we only scratched the surface of what it meant to live under occupation of a regime that wanted to erase your own country’s language, culture, identity, and existence. We learned about the effects of war on a human level, more so than we had in any classroom before.
As we immersed ourselves in this history, we were surprised to find that its memory was still very much present across the landscape of Luxembourg. In numerous towns, we came across various displays of commemoration recognizing the role of Americans in defending and liberating Luxembourg during WWII. We saw streets named after presidents and generals, American flags flying next to Luxembourg flags, U.S. military vehicles, museums, and various markers and memorials honoring specific American soldiers or divisions related to a town’s or region’s history. We wondered what stories these forms captured—who was being remembered and who was doing the remembering.
So this project came from a lingering curiosity to find out more about the history and stories of American soldiers and Luxembourgers during WWII, as well as a desire to share them with others. While our Luxembourg ancestors left well before WWII, this project has been a way for us to forge a new connection between the past and the present of both countries. As dual citizens of Luxembourg and the United States, we hope to continue this project as a way to give back to the country that returned our ancestor’s citizenship and to participate in the memory-making and preserving process of this shared WWII history.