Monday, January 18, 2010

Oradour Sur Glane

We left the Dordogne and made a gut-wrenching visit to the town of Oradour Sur Glane. I cannot believe I am only now learning of this place. It is one of the most powerful sites in France. French schoolchildren are required to make a field trip here and we should all take heed of the ominous history.This Village des Martyrs, as it is known, was machine-gunned and burned on June 10, 1944, by Nazi troops. The Nazis were either seeking revenge for the killing of one of their officers (by French Resistance fighters in a neighboring village) or simply terrorizing the populace in preparation for the upcoming Allied invasion (this was four days after D-Day).
The Nazis methodically rounded up the entire population of 642 townspeople. The women and children were herded into the town church, where they were tear-gassed and machine-gunned.
Plaques mark the place where the town's men were grouped and executed.
The town was then set on fire, its victims left under a blanket of ashes. Today, the ghost town, left untouched for more than 60 years, greets every pilgrim who enters with only one English word: Remember.We were absolutely numb walking through town. Nothing could have prepared me for the total destruction in combination with intimate, heartbreaking details. Like these plaques on the buildings telling us the names and occupations of the people who lived there. We also saw signs for the town coiffure (barber), shoemaker, and the hardware store. Here is the town train station. The ashen tracks still go in and back out.
This was not a small village, but clearly was a thriving town. Well-organized. Each part had its specific function. Still recognizable despite fire and destruction.
The most gripping parts were the remains of homes. Scorched cars still in their "garages" and here a fireplace with vibrant blue tiles. This was someone's house where they gathered with family.
And here, an old Singer sewing machine where clothes were made and mended.
It was a cold, brisk winter day when we were there. The chill seemed fitting. My mind cannot begin to comprehend the terror that took place 65 years ago.
We went into the church where the women and children were murdered. It was difficult not to hear the gunfire and screams of those who so cruelly died here.
Kirk and I talked a lot about this town and how this could have happened. It was haunting on our trip back to the Dordogne; a place that stuck with you and made us ask Why? Why!?! HOW? WHY?!? We felt sure it could not have been a deliberate planned raid, but rather a spontaneous reaction that went sorely awry and escalated out of control. Indeed it all came down to one Nazi officer instigating the terror as revenge for a friend's death. Click here to read more about this history of why and how this happened.
Oradour Sur Glane was hands down the most sobering place I have ever been. Oh the horror of war. It was difficult to be there with Connor as she bounced around innocent and naive. Nevertheless I am thankful to know. And to honor the memory of these innocent victims who came so very close to surviving the war, but instead met one of the most tragic ends.

1 comment:

Sues said...

"I am thankful to know. And to honor the memory of these innocent victims..."