Martyr Village

A sobering visit on this overcast, rainy "Armistice Day" Sunday to the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane (meaning "on the river Glane), the "martyr village" here in the Limousin (about an hour's drive from me) where on June 10, 1944 (four days after the Normandy invasion by the Allies), German Nazis and "against-their-will" conscripted Alsatians massacred 642 men, women and (193) children.

The men were shot and burned. The women and children were gathered into the Catholic church and burned to death. Then the village was burned. There was no known "reason" for this atrocity: the village wasn't Jewish; it wasn't a known "resistance" town (i.e., overtly against the German Nazis or the pro-Nazi Vichy government , for territory outside German-occupied France). It was just a normal country village in pastoral southwest France.


This remains a very difficult and controversial topic for the French -- their complicity (willing or unwilling) in sending Jews to concentration camps and death Of great attendant interest to me, is the book I got (French translation) by UC Berkeley scholar Sarah Farmer, Martyr Village (see NY Times review with link to book in English) . It's not just a history of what happened on that day of hell; it's what happened afterwards, including the controversial 1953 trial in Bordeaux which resulted in the 14 Alsatians, out of the 21 accused, given amnesty; what O s/G actually does or should commemorate; how best to "show" history, especially when time, the weather, politics, public policy, money, and public interest intersect; and what role "memory" (collective? individual?) plays in the portrayal.


O s/G is a big tourist draw in the summer -- as are Lidice in Czechoslovakia, the Rwanda Genocide Museum (been to both), Holocaust Museum in DC, 9-11 Museum/Memorial in NYC and, of course -- with its abominable ghost tours -- Gettysburg.


General Charles DeGaulle wanted the destroyed village left as a reminder of the barbarity of war, and the morality of the Allied cause against the Nazis. In the past 70 years, a wall has been built around the village, which is accessible now only on foot, by going into the visitor center, and then through a tunnel across the motorway, into the village.


And outside that wall is a fairly new housing development, the "re-birth" of Oradour-sur-Glane.


A la prochaine --















Houses, shops, schools, restaurants, offices, places of business -- all were torched
by Das Reich, the 2nd SS Panzer Division of the Nazi Waffen-SS.

Ruins of farm machinery

This was a place of business for automobile mechanics and insurance.


This was the village doctor's car.

School for girls.


"Lieu de Supplice" = "Place of torment", where a group of men were
massacred and burned by the Nazis.  "Reflect on (or meditate on) this."

Outside the church:  "Hundreds of women and children were massacred by the Nazis here.
Those of you who pass here, reflect/meditate. Those of you who are believers, say a prayer for the
victims and their families.  The only (??) left standing outside these ruins is Christ on the cross. 
(??) Notre Dame de Lourdes andBernadette, come to me. 
Those of you who suffer, tell Christ (then something about Christ and the Virgin)...
May they rest in peace for they are living in eternity."
Group of tourists in the church.

Lower right -- remains of a cart, or stroller.


"I am the grass.  I cover all.....I am the grass.  Let me work." (Carl Sandburg, Grass)

Along the side of a road, on a small embankment: "Here was found the body of
Monsieur Poutaraud." (He was the businessman who worked in the building above,
with the mechanics and the insurance agents.)

Entrance to cemetery.

"Here sleep the dead.  Pilgrims, think of them in
silence and meditation."

Names of family members from the massacre.  There is a
tomb with all the names, and their remains (bones).

The most poignant image for me:  A singer sewing machine in the
ruins of the house/office of a dentist.


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