Oradour – two personal reactions

Adrian says…
Now we’ve been there, what did we find? Well, the broad reality was everything we expected and more. It’s a ghost town, with a terrible story to tell. It does that – with the help of the visitor centre – well. Not perfectly – the visitor centre concentrates a bit too much on the back story of the Nazi party and the build up to war, with very inconsistent and incomplete translation.

But it’s not just about that, is it? It’s about the village itself. And, in the event, we found that much less affecting than we expected.

Maybe it was the fact it was a hot, sunny day with a flawless blue sky.
Maybe it was all the similar stories we’ve already experienced – Mont Mouchet, Tulle, Brive.
Maybe it was the fact that we were far from alone there – there was, of course, a constant stream of other visitors.
Maybe it was the way in which so few of those visitors seemed to have the most rudimentary understanding of the concepts of respect and appropriate behaviour.

When we first pulled into the car park of the visitor centre, the “Camping Interdit” sign seemed monumentally unnecessary. Surely nobody would even contemplate it? How wrong we were. Having experienced people holding mobile phone conversations, flouting the (again, surely unnecessary?) signs barring smoking and photography, and just holding normal volume conversations – joking and laughing – we could only remind ourselves of George Santayana’s maxim that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

Similar episodes have already been repeated – many times. Vietnam. Rwanda. Bosnia. Iraq. Afghanistan. And they’ll be repeated again, many many many times.

Sorry if this post’s been a bit of a downer. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Ellie says…

Walking in bright sunshine among the ruins of a village is something we’ve done several times during this trip, but those settlements were thousands of years old. To walk through a village that was ruined less than 70 years ago is very different. Oradour was so obviously like so many French villages we’ve been to. Several cafes, a couple of garages, a doctor, a dentist, hairdressers, stonemason’s workshop, a pretty church and so on. Even a tramline.

Today, it’s mainly parts of the outer walls and anything metal that survive to tell the story of the people who used to live here. Nearly every building has a shell of a sewing machine, many have the tangled springs and twisted pipes of what was once a bed, a bicycle, an old stove, a cooking pot here or there, garages full of rusting car hulks, a mess of chairs and tables in one of the cafes.

Plaques show what the businesses were and the name of the proprietor or family. Plaques also show where people were shot.

Before coming to Oradour, I was worried about how I would feel – I felt sure it would be very emotional and poignant. It was, but it didn’t affect me anywhere near as much as I expected it to. I tried to blot out the other visitors… I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be forced into a village square, to be separated from your menfolk and to be one of more than 450 women and children locked in the tiny church, into which grenades were thrown and which was then set alight. Perhaps your mind protects you by detaching you from such atrocities.

I wish that we could have visited on a less sunny day, early with no one there and I wish I hadn’t gone to the (not inexpensive) museum to read yet again about the rise of Nazism. Although there was information and pictures about Oradour before 10th June 1944, there was little to connect you with the people. With so few direct survivors, there are few eyewitness accounts. However, I wish we had got to the bookshop before entering the museum. We would have found the book by one of the men who escaped, written together with a man who was not in the village that day, but whose family were all killed. They record as much as they can remember about the village and its inhabitants, and tell about the terror of the 10th June and its aftermath. You can buy a short version of this and to read this while walking the streets of the village would give a clearer personal insight into the events that happened here.

The cemetery and official memorials show poignant fragments of the lives lost … the crushed pocket watches stopped around mid to late afternoon. The piece of a child’s letter to her mother. A child’s toy.  A pair of spectacles. And the ashes … all that was left after the SS obliterated the existence of so many ordinary innocent people.

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11 Responses to Oradour – two personal reactions

  1. Hi Adrian and Ellie,
    Just being nosey and wondering what sort of technological facilities you have with you to produce such eloquent musings?
    My vicarious travels with you brought back memories of a book I studied for French ‘A’ level, ‘La Porte Etroite’ by Andre Gide. Until now I had been under the impression that it, too, was simply about vicarious travel. But a little bit of simple googling tells me that it was much, much more than that. And I am shocked. ;o)
    Happy travelling.
    Elizabeth x

    • AdrianC says:

      Nothing clever – just a laptop (it was two, one won’t turn on any more…) and a digi camera. We’re using the WiFi access many campsites provide – some charge a couple of euros/hour, others (like this one) free. The blog itself’s hosted by wordpress.org, using one of the themes they provide – we’ve paid for the domain name, but other than that, it’s all free.

  2. Barry M. says:

    Very poignant…

    Reminded me of the final paragraph in Max Hastings book ‘ Das Reich …The march of the 2nd Panzer division through France, June 1944 ‘

    The ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane have been preserved as they lay on 10 June 1944, a French national monument . A sadly drab new village has been built nearby, in which , astonishingly enough, Mme Rouffranche * chose to spend the rest of her life.
    In the town of Tulle, on 9 June each year a visitor will notice garlands hanging from many balconies and lamp posts. This is not a gesture to decorate the streets. Each one marks the spot upon which a citizen of Tulle was hanged by the Das Reich Division in 1944.
    Tulle has not forgotten, even though each year now a great army of German tourists passes through the Dordogne and Correze; as far as anyone can observe, without a hint of self-consciousness.

    Mme Rouffranche* .. One of the few survivors, despite having being hit by five bullets.

    Note – Hopefully the above extract will be considered as follows :-

    The Copyright Act defines that short quotations for the purpose of criticism, commentary or news reporting are considered “fair use”. Notice that the quote should involve only a small portion of the work, and it should not replicate the “heart” of the material.

  3. Monica & Hugh says:

    I have read about Oradour but never been there and so was most interested in your reactions. I have been trawling my memory and seem to recall something like this: German soldiers had buried some gold bars in the vicinity, presumably to ensure a comfortable life post war. They found themselves having to retrieve the gold in a great hurry as they were summoned north to counteract the Normandy invasion. Whilst doing so they run into members of the resistance. After a gun battle the Germans are obliged to retreat leaving the gold in the hands of the resistance. Everything that happened subsequently in Oradour was about trying to recover the gold on the basis that some one local would know where it was. Is this correct?
    Best wishes

    • AdrianC says:

      That’s not a story that they tell anywhere at the site…

      I’m sure that there are aspects which get glossed over, but the documented dates-and-times of Das Reich’s movements don’t really lend themselves to it, I don’t think. I wonder if Max Hastings’ book (mentioned by Barry in his reply) mentions it at all?

      • AdrianC says:

        As a follow-on to this, we were given a Motorhome mag the other day. Not the most scintillating read on the planet – although there was some unintended amusement in the “How to buy cooking pots for your motorhome” article – but there were letters referring back to an article on Oradour in a previous edition.

        One of the letters gave a version of the story very similar to this – gold, SS convoy raided, “liberated” and buried” – with a reference to a book by a Robert Mackness, who claims to have been involved in trying to smuggle the re-found gold to Switzerland in the ’80s.

  4. Sean lyon says:

    “When we first pulled into the car park of the visitor centre, the “Camping Interdit” sign seemed monumentally unnecessary. Surely nobody would even contemplate it? How wrong we were. ”

    never underestimate the French…Swimming pool in the vicinity of Salbris had a sign saying “No smoking. No dogs” what has happened in the past to make that sign necessary?

    Hope your still having fun…missed you at Salbris


  5. Pingback: On the road again… | Wherever the road goes…

  6. PeterW says:

    I have visited Oradour twice (second time to show a friend), both times even though sunny and warm there was a stillness to the place and no birds to be heard. Though tragic and emotional it and other places like it serve as a reminder as to the true horrors man inflicts on man, they should be remembered, visited and talked about in the hope that we do our best to avoid the mistakes which lead to unrest and conflict again but as recent history shows in Bosnia, Iraq, Libya and now Syria to name but a few we do not.

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