Travel France

A Personal Journey Back in Time

Today I’m going to take a giant leap into a place I don’t take you very often. My “real” life and passions.

Since becoming the “Barefoot Blogger” it seems I’ve created a fantasy person. Sometimes I don’t recognise her myself. Here in Barefoot Blogger’s world,  life is beautiful. Travel, fun and friends. Yes, that’s all true. What isn’t revealed, though, is the fact that living in Europe has opened my heart and mind in more ways imaginable: empathy, love and fear. Having never lived in a country that, for centuries, was under siege of war, I now see the ravages of war around me. I hear the stories. I acknowledge the pain. While I feel quite safe and content in my little “tower” in Uzes, I’m connected to the world through the same means of communications as you are. Along with the many good things, awful things are happening around us. Unimaginable things.

That’s why I am sharing my visit to Oradour with you — a village that won’t appear in travel magazines — but it is important. I stopped there on  the way back from the Loire Valley. By writing this post about Oradour, I want to  remind myself  and you, my friends, that history seems to repeat itself … if we allow it.

Back in time

On June 6, 1944 Operation Neptune, known as the “D-Day”, took place on the French beaches of Normandy beginning the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe. While the Allies had a foothold in Europe that would lead to the end of the War, the invasion set madness into motion in other parts of France. Oradour-sur-Glane, a small town near Limoges suffered one of the worse examples of the brutality of the German Army.

Here is an account of the events:

“On 10 June, Diekmann’s battalion sealed off Oradour-sur-Glane and ordered all the inhabitants – and anyone who happened to be in or near the town – to assemble in the village square to have their identity papers examined. The SS also arrested six people who did not live in the village but merely happened to be riding their bicycles through there when the SS unit arrived.

The women and children were locked in the church and the village was looted. The men were led to six barns and sheds, where machine guns were already in place.

According to a survivor’s account, the SS men then began shooting, aiming for their legs. When victims were unable to move, the Nazis covered them with fuel and set the barns on fire. Only six men managed to escape. One of them was later seen walking down a road and was shot dead. In all, 190 Frenchmen died.

The SS men next proceeded to the church and placed an incendiary device beside it. When it was ignited, women and children tried to escape through the doors and windows, only to be met with machine-gun fire. 247 women and 205 children died in the brutal attack. The only survivor was 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche. She escaped through a rear sacristy window, followed by a young woman and child.[3] All three were shot, two of them fatally. Rouffanche crawled to some pea bushes and remained hidden overnight until she was found and rescued the next morning. About twenty villagers had fled Oradour-sur-Glane as soon as the SS unit had appeared. That night, the village was partially razed.

Several days later, the survivors were allowed to bury the 642 dead inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane who had been killed in just a few hours.” (Wikipedia)

Oradour

 

Oradour

 

General Charles de Gaulle visited the ruined village of Oradour after the war. He declared the village — site of one of the largest massacres in France during World War II —  a memorial to the cruelty of the German occupation and deemed that it never should be rebuilt. A new village carrying the name was built after the war northwest of the site. Today a memorial museum stands at the entrance to the martyred village, dedicated by French president Jacques Chirac in 1999.

Oradour

 

 

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Down this road, on a summer day in 1944 … The soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, a community which had lived for a thousand years … was dead.

Excerpt from the British documentary, The World at War, narrated by Laurence Olivier

 

Personal revelation

I literally wept when I reached the ruins of the children’s school and read the names — “Binet” — so similar to my own. Farther down the road, my spirits lifted as I saw a young family in the distance.

Oradour

 

Seeing them from behind, I found myself running up to stop them in the road. It was a sunny, holiday weekend. Here was a family visiting Oradour when others would be at Disneyland. I had to find out why they were there. The lovely young woman told me her family had been among those who died during the massacre. Her grandmother brought her to Oradour when she was the age of her children. She wanted them to see the same, to feel the same, to remember the past.

Oradour

 

Oradour

 

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34 replies »

  1. I have read, over the years, and been told so many stories about Oradour-sur-Glane, in particularly by my grandparents, my mother and my Belgium stepfather…what happened under the brutality of the Gestapo and the SS, is beyond understanding what humans can do against each other.

    My grandparents were very religious, and would never lie, as God would forbid them to do so, however, during WWII, my grandfather, was organist in a big church in Denmark (Denmark was occupied by the Germans from April 1940 to May 1945), told me stories of how they helped many, in particularly Jewish people and people from the Danish underground, by hiding them from the Gestapo and the SS by lying and yes lying a lot, they did tell me that God approved!
    Every time this place is mentioned, it breaks your heart…just the thought of happened there.

    Thank you for posting this Deborah…indeed let us never forget…<3

    (I am Danish, but have lived and worked half my life in London and is now in beautiful Provence)…

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    • Thank you for such a heartfelt and personal note, Lis. When we have examples in our own families of the sad effects of war, terror and hatred, it is even more terrifying to watch what is happening now. We must be reminded and tell our children the truth.

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  2. THANK YOU! Indeed we do need to be reminded of the past, especially at a time like this when so many people and countries seem to be forgetting where isolationism leads.

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    • Like I said, I was totally unaware of Oradour until the owner of the cave we visited in the Loire Valley told us about it. He said it was a ‘must do’ if we were heading towards Limoges. I’m glad we listened. It was unforgettable.

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  3. I just saw the new movie “Un Sac de Billes” about France in 1944. It should be seen by everyone. Ominous at a time when racism and dictatorship are again rising.

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  4. Oh Debbie thank you for the post. I know exactly how you felt when you visited Oradour as I felt very similar when we went there in 2014. As difficult as it is to visit I felt grateful that it is possible to do so and was glad to see so many tour buses of High School students; maybe understanding the tragic mistakes of the past can help encourage tolerance and peace…….Such a tragedy should never be forgotten, if only we could learn from it. Thought you would like to see what I wrote about my visit to Oradour http://bit.ly/1Ej1J4X

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    • You post is moving, Caroline. I’ve shared it on my page. While visiting the sight of the family with children was moving. I hope to take my family there someday. We must never forget. Never.

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    • Lovely post, Caroline! I visited Oradour in 1998. As I explained to Deborah, I wasn’t even writing books back then, but it must have stayed in my subconscious all those years, much later resurfacing at the novel, Wolfsangel. Just too moving not to write about!

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  5. Hi Deborah, what a lovely and moving post! Thanks also to my author friend, Patricia Sands, for mentioning my novel, Wolfsangel, which is based on this terrible war crime. No oligation, of course, but I’d be happy to send you a free copy of the book, if you are interested in reading it. Don’t hesitate to email me. Cheers, Liza

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    • Loved messaging with you, Lisa. Thank you for reaching out to me. I have downloaded the novel from Kindle and I’m anxious to start it tonight. Please let’s do try to connect since we’re not very far apart. Summertime for sure! Thank you for writing the story of Oradour.

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  6. What a very poignant post, and reading it the day after all the marches, really brings it home. It is so very different to live in the continental US where we don’t see and personally feel, the ravages of war. Freedom is not a given: we must continually fight for it. Thank you for this very moving post.

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  7. Deborah although Paula and I have traveled most of France, we have missed this town and now definitely want to go and take our grand kids. This may be one of the best blogs you have done and it if truly important. There are many wonderful beautiful places to go in France and around the world but we need to remember and be vigilent at all times–this place tells it all!!

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    • I know that you would appreciate Oradour for the same reasons that I do. And yes, do take your grandkids. I hope to tell mine about it when they are old enough to understand. We must never, never forget.

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  8. Deborah, thanks for this important post. Oradour-sur-Glane is such an emotional memorial site. Heartbreaking. You must read “Wolfsangel” by my friend, Liza Perrat. It’s an excellent novel (part of a fabulous trilogy that I loved) and tells this story through historical fiction. Having visited there, you will appreciate it even more. Bisous!

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    • I’m looking forward to reading Liza’s book, Patricia. Thank you for letting me know about it. I’m so glad I was told about Oradour at a time when I could visit. We must never forget. Bisous!

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  9. Thank you for the poignant reminder. This is why we women marched across the world yesterday, standing up to tyrrany and hate. Resist!

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  10. I visited a few years ago and also found it very moving and shocking. I think it may be the case that all French children have to visit.
    Thanks for your interesting article.

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