There were two additional projects identified during my time here that are outside of the scope of what can be done in the original time frame . . . so I’m here until June 10 now. From a professional perspective, I’d like to leave feeling the work was done properly and the plant is positioned well for a hand-off. On a personal level, I miss my friends and family at this point! It’s easy to stay busy with work and exploring for a month, but after that, it gets a little harder to be away from everyone . . . there’s only so much you can do with phone calls and Facebook!
Last weekend, a co-worker and I decided to check out a recommendation from the owners of my cottage, Oradour-sur-Glane. Normally, I look into things a little more, but they said it was the site of a preserved village that had been destroyed by the Germans in World War II. For some reason, I envisioned this being a few buildings with an area to stop and look at them . . . from a distance. This seemed like an hour long visit? At most. The day started with a visit to our favorite bakery, that sadly will be closed for the next two weeks as they will be on vacation! I will say that there must be something different with French food as I eat a main dish or sandwich on French bread and often a starter or dessert daily and I weigh slightly less than I did when I got here . . . look, it’s diet food guys!
When we arrived, we learned there was a town by that name still (which is what my GPS took me to), but fortunately it only took driving around one block to spot the signs directing us to the correct location with a museum adjacent to the site. When we looked around the museum, there was only one small side we couldn’t see, so I was still picturing a handful of buildings hidden away over there. Access to the site is free, but we paid for the full museum experience. If you know a lot about WWII, you can probably skip it, but it was interesting to read about the build-up from a French perspective – the parts of France that could be perceived as not having really opposed Hitler, the various people who fought for (and in some cases, died for) the French Resistance. I don’t know if the museum was necessarily worth 9 Euro, but I don’t mind supporting the site being available and tended to!
While I can’t say I “enjoyed” Oradour-sur-Glane, it was the most moving place I’ve been in all of my trips to Europe. Unlike what I expected, it is literally an entire village that has been preserved as it was after the Nazis killed virtually everyone and tried to burn the place down. The first building I saw grabbed my attention.
They ask that you’re quiet here and you can understand why. It’s just incredible to think that this entire village was erased, with the exception of about 6 people who escaped and a few who managed to hide.
We finally came upon the church where the women and children had been rounded up. They were taken here after they were all separated and told the town was being searched for weapons, so they had no reason to suspect what was about to happen. In the massacre shortly after, not even babies were spared.
I don’t think there is any way to avoid being emotionally overwhelmed by what you see here. It has a particularly strong impact when you see this town that looks like virtually every other town in this area . . . and it has just been wiped out. This is one price of war – a village destroyed because people in the area were resisting the Nazis and “needed to be taught a lesson” (although the exact reasons this was done aren’t known, this is essentially the reason that was given at the time).
You’re allowed a great deal of freedom to wander the site without damaging anything or being at risk, so you really see the signs of a life interrupted. The house that used to be two stories, with fireplaces to prove it, that is now an empty shell.
A large fireplace, with lovely tiling, that still had a large pot on over the fire.
The town also had a cemetary where many were later buried from that day and are memorialized by family or others who survived them. One memorial for 8 family members was particularly heartbreaking – from a 72 year old man to a 4 year old little girl.
The special exhibit (included in the combined ticket we bought) was photos of the victims that had been collected and were displayed in a video that stated their age when it occured. There were also very nicely done books with additional photos showing their life before this occurred. While I don’t normally buy things from souvenir shops, I did purchase a book from here that is an hour-by-hour account from one of the men who escaped the massacre.
I highly recommend a visit to Oradour-sur-Glane, although be prepared for the emotional impact. It really will bring home the horrible brutality of war. While this was a particularly appalling act by the Nazis, I don’t doubt that there are other instances in other wars, but this one has been preserved as a reminder to us all.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana