Friday, May 18, 2018

So We Always Remember

Anyone who knows me realizes that I avoid cruelty. I can't stand to watch it or read it. I just don't watch television shows or movies or even read books where people are cruel for no reason.
But that doesn't mean that I stick my head in the sand to avoid the world at large. Yes, I would rather only focus on the positive in the world, but I have to be aware of the news and things that go on to help avoid those same events from happening again.
That's why I agreed to visit Oradour-sur-Glane in the Limousin region of France.
Earl has written a blog post in more depth about the history and I'll direct you there for that, but I wanted to share with you some of my experience.
Our friends Norman and Caroline shared with us a booklet about the town so we could be prepared.
During World War II, on June 10, 1944, German SS soldiers appeared one day out of the blue and killed every person they could find. They shot the men before setting on fire the buildings where they'd shot them. And they locked all of the women and children into the church before setting off an explosion and then burning it.
642 people massacred. Only one woman escaped the church alive by jumping from a 9-foot window. The Germans shot her as she made a break for it, but she lived, hidden among the rows of peas growing in the garden.
It is too horrible to imagine.
And the people of the village, those who somehow lived, or those who were gone to work that day, never rebuilt the village. They built another village nearby so the burnt out village where so many died stands today as a testament to the atrocity of the Nazis.
As we drove toward the village, about an hour and a half from our housesit in Chateaneuf-sur-Charente, I noticed that I was yawning, big yawns. I'd slept okay the night before, so felt like my body was just reacting to the scene I would soon face.
Parking is free and we entered the memorial building, which is underground. It crosses below a road and then visitor climb up to see the destroyed village. Anyone entering or exiting must go through the memorial.
View as we walked toward the memorial

This placard reminds us to "Remember" what happened here. 

The Nazis burnt the whole town in hopes of hiding their atrocity.
No one knows for sure why killed everyone in the village. Some say there was another village called Oradour where some resistance fighters were working. Apparently, this occupied village had never had trouble with the Nazis there. They all appeared when they were called to the square, except one eight-year-old boy who had lived in Lorraine, France and knew what the Germans were capable of, so he ran and hid in the garden of the school rather than walking to the village square. He survived. The only child in the village left alive at the end of the massacre.

The flames in the church were so hot that they melted the bell which crashed to the floor below. 
The church, where the women and children died, was of course a central point for visitors. Even though the roof is gone and it stands open to the air, the charred smell remains. A memorial to World War I soldiers is built into one wall, the residents never imagining that their village would sacrifice even more in the second World War than they did in the first, right there beneath the plaque.
Earl pointed out the number of sewing machines in the burnt-out houses. What a normal household
 item to see in so many French homes from that time, never to be used again. 

The men were taken to different buildings and shot. Each building where men were shot had a placard.
This one also has a notice that six men escaped. 
Apparently, the men who escaped, fell to the ground feigning that they had been shot and did not move as the Germans continued to shoot anyone who moved or moaned. Then when the place was set fire, they hid and about a dozen or more men managed to survive the massacre.
Like visiting a concentration camp, it takes your breath away to see the signs of such hideous cruelty.
We must be aware of it so we can say never again.
Wildflowers grow here, in the midst of the destruction.
And it doesn't have to be big cruelty, it can start with something as simple as pulling a toddler out of his mother's arms when they arrive at our borders. Separating them as a warning to people not to seek help from the United States, a country that was built on immigrants.
"Immigrants, we get the job done!" from Hamilton  in a line by Alexander Hamilton (an immigrant) and Marquis de Lafayette (also an immigrant at the time).
We can't allow even these easily overlooked cruelties to snowball to the point where it is not a big deal to lock the doors of a church and set it on fire, shooting machine guns at anyone who tries to escape as women and children burn to death.


John and Lynn Phillips said...

I have never been there. Thank you for sharing, it is very important we do not forget. I am reading In the Garden of Beasts by Will Larson so this vile period of history lies heavy on my mind.

Anonymous said...

I've been to some destroyed villages in Normandy that are very emotional to see.
What kind of brainwashing or indoctrination the Nazi soldiers must have been immersed in to stop seeing villagers--humans--as people. As you say, cruelty is alive and well. I think even more of Black Lives Matter--how can the police see people as threats? And this new rash (or old rash but newly highlighted) of white people calling the police on blacks who are not breaking any law.

Kiwi said...

I agree that even though it is painful, we must honor the memories of innocents who died by walking through places like Oradour-sur-Glane. And by opening our minds to the modern day parallels, as you do. No one country or people or time period has a monopoly on cruelty, of course. Nor can we blame it all on men. That there are women who condone cruelty and torture and get promoted for doing so, in the name of the United States these days, is especially sickening.

Unknown said...

On our last day in France I asked to go there, my sister in law said why would we want to see that on our last day. i said that it was very important to always remember what history we can view. It was so moving. Years later in Italy and in a remote town on Crete the Nazis had made their way up the mountains and killed so many. Astonishing as these places where hard to get to in a modern car never mind a german tank.

Paulita said...

John and Lynn, Yes, I seem to be reading a lot of books from this period too. Hard to forget, especially here. We had a conversation the other day with some British friends who said the U.S. shouldn't have to be the world's police, but Earl pointed out that we haven't had to deal with this on our shores, which makes us so fortunate. And also, keeping peace is so much cheaper than indulging in wars.
Francetaste, Normandy is another place that Earl wants to visit. You're right about Black Lives Matter and the ridiculousness of white people calling police. I'm glad more people are speaking out.
Kiwi, Another good example as our new CIA chief was involved in torture, even though she's a woman.
Shelagh, Some people would rather not look, but we know the value of remembering. Thanks for the information about the town in Crete.

Jeanie said...

I am shocked that this is not more often spoken of. I've read a lot of books about the period, watched loads of documentaries and know a good deal of the WWII history of the region but this one is totally new to me. It is tragic. And no, we must never, ever forget. Sometimes it seems to get worse and worse here -- and this is a reminder why that must be stopped early. I will visit Earl later today.

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