Friday, June 10, 2011

The SILENCE of Oradour-sur-Glane

At the entrance of the destroyed village of Oradour-sur-Glane, a large weathered sign rests at the base of a tree. "SILENCE" is its only caution. This visit will be painful. The village that exists after the events of June 10, 1944, cannot help but evoke a gut-level reaction. This did not occur hundreds of years ago. It was not a radical religious incident. As if to think that either of those situations would justify, let alone explain, what happened.

Walking down the streets of Oradour-sur-Glane was surreal. I felt like I was on location of a Hollywood movie set. It was like a giant grotesque dollhouse. Doors, windows and roofs were missing, and walls were crumbling. The cityscape was disturbing, abandoned. What could burn, did...and disappeared forever. What didn't burn were objects of metal, iron and steel. These materials, usually considered cold and calculating, are what today gives Oradour-sur-Glane its lasting humanness. Their tortured form is part of the monument and have not been moved.

We began our journey walking down Rue Emile Desourteaux. Name plates have been erected outside numerous buildings, identifying the inhabitants and/or shop proprietors on June 10, 1944: Vin-Spiriteux -- L. Denis; Forgeron -- D.-B. Beaulieu; Carrier-Puisatier -- J.-B. Doire; or Courtier -- M. Picat, to name a few.

We read the signs as we looked inside the buildings, and imagined what their lives were like before 2:00 pm on that June day. The objects of iron and steel that remain in these houses link us to L. Denis, D.B. Beaulieu, J.B. Doire and M. Picat, their families, and to what happened that day. This is all that is left of the lives of 642 people, but it helps to tell their story. They were alive, engaged in their occupations, socializing with family and friends, or handling household chores.

There may have been people sitting at the cafe, chatting about plans for the weekend.

Young girls might have been learning to sew their first dress on their mother's Singer sewing machine.

Teenage boys could have been tuning up their cycles for a big ride after church on Sunday.

Since it was Saturday, some men might have dropped their car at the garage to have tires changed.

There might have been people lined up at the gas pump, using their ration cards to top off the tank. In other words, before 2:00 pm, nothing was much out of the ordinary for wartime.

Plaques are posted on the interior walls of houses, listing the inhabitants present on June 10. The plaques tell us that entire families were wiped out.

Continuing walking through the town, and now we see signs not about the livelihoods of the people but signs about their death. "Here, the place of torture, a group of men were massacred and burned by the Nazis. Meditate." Another sign reads "Here were found two bodies burned to ashes." The descriptions are not intended to be pretty, but accurate.

Inside the church it feels especially cold. The rain begins to fall harder through the roofless structure. The church is good-sized, but I try to imagine 240 women and 205 children and babies being locked in here on a June day that is not cold and rainy. This is where all but one woman was burned to death. The altar and baptismal font have been damaged. On the floor in front of the altar lies a collapsed baby pram. Was this mother out on promenade when she was so ruthlessly rounded up? Twenty children murdered that day were less than one year old.

Small personal artifacts that were found afterwards were placed in a display case in an underground memorial next to the cemetery. One case held numerous burned pocket watches, all of which had stopped working between 16:00 and 17:00 hours (4:00 pm - 5:00 pm). The time on the watch indicated the approximate death of the individual wearing it.

The regular tramway from Limoges arrived in Oradour-sur-Glane that evening at 7:30 pm. I have tried to imagine what the passengers saw and felt upon their arrival. I do not think the imagination is that powerful. Recueillez-vous.

1 comment:

Harley said...

These last three posts have been incredibly moving.

I never cease to wonder at the enormous kindness and caring of some people while others are terribly evil.

What makes the two groups so different? Does each of us have within us the capacity for both?