I am currently in the French region of Limousin, the second least populace region of the country. It’s a land of forests, rivers, cattle farming and wide open spaces. It is also home to one of the great civilian atrocities of the Second World War: the Massacre at Oradour Sur Glane.
The incident took place on the 10th of June 1944 when soldiers of the Der Führer Regiment of the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division Das Reich killed 642 men, women and children at the village and raised the place to the ground.
What makes this event different from other similar atrocities are two things: Firstly it seems there is no universally accepted explanation for why the attack took place in the first place. But secondly, this village was abandoned after the attack and never re-settled. Instead it has been preserved as it was after the attack as a memorial to the horror of the war and the killing spirit of man.
On a lovely sunny autumn day I headed out there with my cousin Tony to look at it. In many ways, it felt emotionally similar to visiting the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg. WE all know really bad stuff was done and happened, but to see it laid out in stark detail is quite another. This was not a small village of just a few houses; it was a working town with its own tram system and plenty of civic buildings as well as a Church.
As is often the case, I ended up wandering about mostly in silence, pondering man’s inhumanity to man. These German’s were in retreat, they must have known defeat was inevitable and they pretty much just went berserk, But when you read the history, went berserk in a coldly efficient and brutal way. The ruins of the town almost smoulder still… crumbling walls, burnt out cars… its major wake-up call.
Sometimes we remember WWII just for the Holocaust, forgetting that the Nazi’s were systematically cutting down anyone who got in the way of the fascist ideology. It was a classic case of the kind of the ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us’ attitude that we see bandied about in politics on every side today. If you’re not supporting the war on terror, you are a terrorist and can’t be trusted. If you are not Muslim and fighting western terror, then you are infidel… etc. It’s the rhetoric of extremism and this ruined village is s stark reminder of where that leads. Surely we are all supposed to have learned from this?
Our civilisation is in the process of imploding. Our banking and economic systems finally collapsing under the weight of their own greed and our insistence on luxury and access to technology resulting in failed economies, small wars and civic rebellions across the globe. Yet we still preach democracy, freedom of speech and voting while our own governments spy on us via the giant corporations we depend on for our fix of goodies every day… clearly we learned noting.
The memorial village of Oradour Sur Glane is a moving and powerful one. For me though, what was more moving is that we are clearly moving into familiar territory today and we really, really need to wake up and resist our governments and their seeming insatiable urge to sell us out to the corporations for money… weird thing to realise at a WWII memorial? Maybe, but aren’t we supposed to learn from history?
If you want to know more about the massacre and that period of the war, this is a great site to read up on it: http://www.oradour.info