I don’t often write about difficult subjects, but our recent visit to Oradour-sur-Glane needs, in my view, to be recorded and remembered.
The town of Oradour-sur-Glane is on the border of the Limousin and the Dordogne and it was the scene of a massacre during the second World War. The town has been left just as it was after the Nazi atrocities had ended. It was a sobering visit with lessons for all of humanity.
The Story of Oradour-sur-Glane
On June 10th 1944 the townsfolk of Oradour were setting about their normal daily business. It was a thriving town with a high street supporting many businesses, a tramway running through the town, shops, 3 schools and the main square with its church. It would have been like many small towns today. Families out shopping, people going about their every day business and children playing.
Little did they know that a Nazi Waffen platoon of soldiers was on its way to surround the town.
Once the soldiers had secured the perimeter they moved through the town herding the citizens to the central square. There they separated the men from the women and children. They informed the citizens that they were searching for weapons and explosives.
One survivor, of which there were very few, recalls that the men were not worried as they didn’t have any weapons or explosives. Indeed, the town was a peaceful place to live.
The men were taken in small groups to be interrogated and the women and children forced to wait inside the church.
The men were executed where they stood and the women and children were killed in the church.
Once this evil deed had been accomplished the Nazi soldiers set about burning and pillaging. The town was annihilated. The following day, the soldiers returned and burned the bodies of the citizens. On 5 people escaped. 642 were killed. No guns or ammunition or explosives were found.
We must not forget their sacrifice.
Today, the village lays in ruins, just as it was after the Nazi soldiers left. The relatives of those killed have formed a Families Association and have built a large protective wall around the old village of Oradour and created a permanent exhibition centre which reflects the tragedy and links the Town of Oradour to other places in the world where there have been massacres in the 20th Century – The Holocaust, Biafra, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cambodia and Zaire. Sadly, there are many more such examples.
Every year, this massacre is remembered with a silent procession through the town. As the war crimes commission had given an amnesty to the soldiers concerned, the Generals and commandants being undiscoverable due to the fact that they escaped to what was then Eastern Germany, the Townsfolk refused to allow any government official to attend. This was changed in 1974, but the ceremony is still held in silence.
The lessons we must learn.
Clearly, lessons have not been learned from this tragedy as there continue to be massacres around the world.
They are often instigated by charismatic and extremist leaders, not the general population, who incite the ordinary people to commit acts of in-human proportions. In my view we must guard against allowing this type of totalitarian governance. Democracy needs to be free to vote out leaders who do not have a nation’s interests at the forefront of their personal agenda and who create mass hysteria and hatred of others.
It will be Remembrance Day soon, when we hope and trust that the whole world will take some time to reflect on man’s inhumanity to man and in some way vow not to repeat such heinous acts.
These are my personal views and not necessarily the views of others.
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