Thursday, 31 January 2013

Oradour.




I was feeling knackered as my plane came into land.  I had been working all night then driven straight from my workplace down to East Midlands Airport and caught a flight to Limoges, France. I hadn't slept in over 30 hours.
I was in Northern France to help one of my oldest and greatest friends who had bought a derelict French farmhouse and I was going to spend a couple of days helping him with the renovation.

He met me at the airport and as I slung my bag in the car he told me that there was something nearby that he wanted to show me before we drove to the farmhouse and as we were in the region this was the best chance to see it.
So we drove to the ghost town of Oradour-sur-Glane.

Let me tell you what happened there on Saturday the 10th of June 1944.
A group of German soldiers of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich surrounded the village and informed the Mayor, Jean Desourteaux that there was to be an identity check and rounded up everyone in the village.
They then told the assembled people that the troops needed to search the village for weapons and explosives and marched the women and children into the church and the men into a nearby barn.

After the inhabitants had been secured the Germans threw a gas bomb into the church. This failed to ignite so  they opened up with their machine guns and hand grenades on the women and children. Then they piled wood on the bodies, many of them still alive, poured on petrol and set fire to them.
Only one person made it out alive, a woman who saw her child machine gunned in front of her but managed to escape by climbing a step ladder and jumping through a high window, despite being shot five times. She described seeing a woman with  a baby try to follow her through the window but they were caught and thrown into the flames.

The soldiers then shot all the men of the village in their legs and while they lay wounded, poured petrol on them and burnt them alive. They then looted the village and came across a number of villagers hiding in their houses. One old man, an invalid and bed ridden was burnt alive in his bed and a baby found in it's cot was baked alive in the bakery oven.
The soldiers then set fire to the rest of the village and left. Six hundred and forty two people died that day.



To this date there has not been an official reason given for this massacre, there was talk of a German general being kidnapped and held in a village in the area but it was not in Oradour and there was no Resistance activity in the village. They say the soldiers had just returned from the horrors of fighting on the Russian Front and had been brutalised by their experiences.

Today the ruins of the Oradour-sur-Glane still stand and the French left the village as it was left by the soldiers as a memorial to the dead. The rusting hulks of burned out cars and farm trucks are on the cobbled street. Through holes in the collapsed walls of houses I could see rusting frying pans in the remains of kitchens and a decaying sewing machine next to a hearth in what used to be a living room.
There is a nearby memorial and a museum where the personal effects of the dead are on display.  Piles of spectacles, wallets and handbags.  Sepia photographs of smiling families.

I am not a spiritual person, I don't believe in gods or ghosts but that empty village did not feel empty, the air felt somehow heavy despite the shining sun and singing birds. Perhaps it was my lack of sleep and the unsettling feeling of being at the scene of a Nazi atrocity, but to me the whole place felt haunted.

I heard on the news yesterday that Germany is re-opening an investigation into the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane.  A little late in the day as many of the soldiers involved are long dead.
Last Sunday was Holocaust Memorial Day in which we remember the millions killed in the concentration camps and tell ourselves that atrocities must never happen again.

But atrocities happen every day.  In the Middle East and Afghanistan hundreds are killed by extremists in bomb attacks so frequently that instead of shock and horror when we hear about it on the news it has become almost a background noise.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90's the Serbians and Bosnians celebrated their new found freedom from Communism by reverting back to their old tribal conflicts and slaughtering the very people that they had lived alongside for years.

In the African Congo the civil wars go on and on and rape and mutilation are seen as acceptable forms of warfare.  In fact it is considered a boys rite of passage into manhood to rape a woman.

In Pakistan a grown man shoots a fourteen year old girl in the head, just because she wants to go to school.

We talk about history allowing us to learn from our past mistakes but what we seem to be learning the wrong things

Anyway, have a nice weekend.

19 comments:

YeamieWaffles said...

You're right Tony, in so many parts of the world people haven't learned from the senseless activities in the past and still continue with it. I'd never read of this massacre before, how bizarre, terrifying and utterly sick, why this kind of thing happens is a mystery.

Pat Hatt said...

Wow, takes one or in this case, a bunch of sickos to do such a thing. Not sure how anyone can even think yet do such acts. Mankind never learns, we're no more civilized now then when the cavemen were around, just better at faking it.

Francis Lee said...

A grim weekend but it's what we are....animals at heart!

Rob Z Tobor said...

They do say that if the circumstances are right almost everyone can be made to do terrible things. I would like to think that is not true but history tends to suggest it is .... .

Margaret said...

How tragic. It's almost impossible to even say anything.

Al Penwasser said...

What studying the past has taught me is that evil has existed from the time of Cain and Abel until Newtown, Connecticut.
I had a wiseguy response ready when I first read this chilling account. But, I quickly changed my mind.
Humanity really depresses me sometimes.

Miranda Hardy said...

That's a sad story, but it's important to know the past and present so we can learn from the mistakes and make a better future.

It's too bad no everyone does learn from those mistakes.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

I cannot recall ever hearing about Oradour before. Just the fact of it being possible for some to commit such an atrocity should serve as sufficient proof in and of itself that there is more going on in this world than meets the eye (so to speak). For there is a big difference between gunning down members of an opposing force in a firefight and burning helpless people in their beds. Be assured that much would be very different if our lives in this world were meant to last.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wow, that's more than a little fixer-upper. lol

You're right. While the majority of us have leaned the right lessons, we're not the ones on a power hunger trip, bent on destroying those they consider to be beneath them.

Dana said...

Such a sad story. Why don't we learn from our mistakes?

Bart said...

that is so cool. and those cars make great lawn ornaments

altadenahiker said...

I don't think we've ever left the Dark Ages.

Vapid Vixen said...

We never come as far as we like to think we have.

EC Stilson said...

How terrible . . . I can't imagine those poor villagers. Or people so heartless.

Juliette said...

God that's horrific. Bastards.
Yeah, I think there's still a lot of learning to be done.

Stephanie D said...

Just reading this story was haunting for me. I saw dozens of holocaust movies, etc growing up while at hebrew school. You never get those images out of your head. Devastating.

SkippyMom said...

I would be a liar if I didn't tell you that I am physically ill after reading this post. Pooldad couldn't figure why I got up and rushed off.
There are no words. None. I feel an anger, of course from what was done, but moreso as what I thought I was, an educated American I had never heard of this slaughter.

And now? NOW? NOWNOWNOW? They might open an investigation? Yeesh. Who's to punish now? Stupid world.

I will say, my friend, thank you. As difficult as it must've been for you to not only retell this story, but to share you experiences touches me deeply. Again, thank you.

If I was beside you we could share what I am sure would be a hug and our tears.

Your friend, Skippy

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