There was only one other couple in our hotel breakfast room this morning at 7 o’clock, and interestingly enough the husband spoke English and they said were going to be visiting the same place we were, which was why they were also eating breakfast so early.
Backtracking a bit, we had arrived before our hotel room was ready yesterday, having gotten into Limoges just before noon. The hotel had stored our bags and we had spent the early afternoon after that wonderful duck fat lunch I wrote about yesterday, wandering around town and getting our bearings. Just before three o’clock we went back to our room and since Linda was not feeling the best, she rested while I went out again. I can only imagine how sick she would have been had she not been well fortified with duck fat.
7:55 this morning found us on the bus to a place that is difficult to describe, but one that everyone should visit. Another way in another more familiar language of saying the title to today’s post is: Remember. The Rick Steves book said it was difficult to get to this place by bus. We didn’t find it hard at all, what was hard was coming to grips with your emotions once you are there.
On the morning of June 10, 1944 this had been a small French town of approximately 650 souls, men, women and children, going about their daily tasks just as they had throughout the war. By evening the town had changed forever. It is what took place that day that should never be forgotten by anyone who is human, and will never be forgotten by anyone who is French. This was one of the two places in France that were on my must see list, and now that we were there it was far more difficult than I had imagined.
It was just a few days after the Allies had landed on the beaches of Normandy, and the people of the town knew that it would not be long before they were once again free. Around them the French resistance and other groups were already fighting the Germans, and that was what led to what you see.
It wasn’t just the Wehrmacht (the regular German Army) that was in the area, it was also the dreaded SS, the Storm Troopers of the Waffen SS, who had ruthlessly murdered Russian soldiers and civilians on the Eastern Front before being transferred to the West, and this area of France. When several SS officers were captured by the French forces, it was decided retribution was in order.
Today the town remains much as it was that June day in 1944, though it is as it was that evening rather than as a town full of Life as it was that morning. Today people walk around, taking photos, peering over fences, standing and staring, some shaking their heads, some with tears in their eyes, and all knowing they must be willing to do what ever it takes so that something like this never happens again. Yet somewhere in the world, in some country that is not so important to the US’s or France’s or some other major country’s global interests, something similar IS likely taking place. And it is highly probable that we, caught up in our own petty internal politics of our own country will never know it.
The electric poles still stand, the wires no longer carrying electricity to the Café, the Dentiste, the Forgeron, the Fueillarder, the Church, the Couturiere, the Garage, the Charron, or the Cementier. The tram tracks still wind their way along the main street through town, the overhead wires following them. Yet no trams ever run.
The cars are still there, in the very spot they were parked that June morning in 1944. The only thing missing is the people of the town. The 197 hommes, 240 femmes, and 205 enfants of Oradour-Sur-Glane are nowhere to be found. That day the Nazi Storm Troopers rounded up all the inhabitants of Oradour-Sur-Glane , men, women and children and massacred them in retribution for the capture of two SS officers. In the museum there is a sign that says this not the result of the actions of a few individuals, this was the result of a system, and it must never happen again.
I only wish there was a way of showing the entire church in a single photo, but there is not.
The clapper of the Church Bell, and the melted remains of the bell itself.
The remains of a baby buggy in front of the alter of the Church. Yes it is symbolic, but is also what once was. Yes it has been cleaned up, sanitized if you will, over the years, but it can never erase what took place in this Church. What took place here in the afternoon of June 10, 1944 was that most of the 240 women and 205 children were locked inside by this Company of the Nazi SS. Smoke bombs were set off, and as the those inside choked on the fumes, the doors were opened, machine guns were fired and grenades were tossed in. Then the Church was set on fire. Once the fire died down, the bodies that were untouched by the fire were mutilated to the point that none were unrecognizable.
Out by the cemetery, the old men, the young men and the older boys were being shot where they stood. Imagine having gone to a nearby town that morning on the tram and returning that late afternoon. The SS at the station asking everyone for their papers and anyone from Oradour-Sur–Glane ordered off the tram and all others to get on it and continue to the next station. Imagine the odor of burnt flesh coming from the still smoldering Church. Imagine what might have been going through your mind. And you think life as you know it will end because someone wants to have universal healthcare for all citizens of the US?
Our genteel protected life where wars are fought in other countries, and with the exception of a minor terrorist attack or two on our Country, has resulted in our knowing little about how war can devastate an entire country, not just a few buildings in a city.
I realize this has veered off into the political, and we all have differing opinions about it. I simply challenge you to spend a morning, or an afternoon at Oradour-Sur Glane and tell me that your view of Life has not been affected.
The 197 men, 240 women, and 205 children under the age of 6 massacred. and for what reason? Are wars justified? Are wars inevitable? What is that saying about the cure being worse than the disease. Would that our politicians look at war the same way instead of as a way to get re-elected. Walking the streets of of a town like Odaour-Sur-Glane forces one to think about things in a different light. And that is exactly why we travel.