The war is everywhere in France. And by “the war” I mean World War 2. From the countless road names like “Rue de la Resistance” to the many memorial days – there is no getting away from it. We have our first memorial day next week. May 8th is Victory day. (la fête de la victoire, le jour de la libération) and a holiday to celebrate the end of World War II and the French people’s freedom. It is the anniversary of when Charles de Gaulle announced the end of World War II in France. We will go to the war memorial with the rest of the village, listen to some speeches we won’t understand and hear La Marseillaise as residents for the first time. I will get a bit emotional probably. This stuff always gets to me.
In our first few days here a friend told us of the massacre that took place in a local village called Oradour-sur-Glane just before the end of the war. Never heard of it? No me neither, but its a horrifying story that deserves a wider audience.
The Nazis massacred some 642 people (almost the whole village) in retribution for the kidnapping of a Nazi guard which actually took place in the nearby village of Oradour-sur-Vayres. They rounded the men up into the market square and machine-gunned them. The women and children were packed into the church, where they were shot in the legs to disable them before being burned alive. The village was then burned and razed before SS left. At the end of the war, Charles de Gaulle declared that the village should be left as a “martyr village” to stand as a memorial to the people who had died. This has now had a visitor and interpretation centre built, and you can walk around the rows of ruined cottages and streets. There are simple signs which read “this is where the villagers were gathered together” , “this is where six men were killed by the Nazis”, “bakery” and heartbreakingly, “girls school”. Rusty cars stand abandoned in the street. All viewed on a hot Limousin day with birdsong in the background it is the most powerful and horrific memorial I have ever seen. I visited the other day with my parents who were visiting. I couldn’t go in the church, and neither could Mum, so we sat outside and talked about Syria and Iraq and the general stupidity of human nature – which is of course what the whole place is designed to make you do. Brilliantly. Devastatingly. You must visit. But I don’t want to go a second time.