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. 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)
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.
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
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.
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.