Four Days After D-Day: Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane
A recent article at The Moderate Voice took “a look at genocide throughout the world” and throughout the ages.
Of course, the Holocaust was grotesquely prominent among them. But there were also Rwanda and Kosovo and Darfur, the Armenian and Greek genocides and many more.
The author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, does not limit his remarks to genocide. He also describes the many “brutal mass killings,” “slaughters,” “crimes against humanity,” “atrocities,” etc. committed by man against fellow human beings throughout history.
It so happens that on the other side of the Atlantic, another author, in her “Village where time has stood still since Nazi atrocity,” also writes about an atrocity carried out by humans and, similarly to Ben-Meier, ascribes the motives to “intolerance, racism and hatred.”
Just as Ben Meier does, journalist Samantha David maintains that the motives and circumstances that have led to so many genocides and atrocities have not been eradicated and the prospect of future genocides still looms high.
David’s gripping article is about a horrific massacre the Nazis perpetrated 75 years ago — on June 10 1944, just four days after D-Day — in the small French town of Oradour-sur-Glane in Haute Vienne.
The article especially caught my attention because nine years ago we visited what was left of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane and, as I wrote then, “tried to fathom the hell some 642 innocent French men, women and children experienced at the hands of the Nazis on a nice summer day back in 1944.”
We tried to imagine how on June 10, 1944, some 200 French men were corralled into barns and other structures and machine-gunned by Waffen SS troops in cold blood. Those who survived the initial fusillade — the wounded and a few unscathed ones, pretending to be dead — were searched for among the bodies, chased out of hiding places and systematically murdered, given the coup-de-grace or burned to death.
We tried to comprehend, impossible as it is, why the same group of Nazi thugs herded 247 women, many carrying their babies in their arms or pushing them in baby carriages, 205 babies — the youngest only a week old — and school children into the town’s church, where they crouched in terror, awaiting the unspeakable massacre that followed: an orgy of wanton terror that left all 452 innocent, helpless human beings butchered and burned to death. We tried to think why such unspeakable horrors happened…
I then attempted to find reasons for such a horrific massacre, pillaging, arson and other atrocities. But, of course, there can never be a reason for such inhumanity.
But our attempts to “imagine,” to “comprehend,” don’t hold a candle to the haunting picture painted by David after she visited Oradour-sur-Glane.
On June 10th 1944, the high street was busy with people registering their children for school, collecting tobacco rations, shopping and meeting friends in the cafés and bars. It was a normal, peaceful day in the village in la Haute-Vienne, in the Aquitaine region.
So when, in the afternoon, 200 occupying Nazi soldiers from the 4th SS Panzer division surrounded the town and herded everyone into the town square, people resigned themselves to the tedium of having their identity documents checked. Even six passing cyclists had been rounded up. Boring, but that was the war. Only 20 people managed to evade the round-up and leave the town.
In the barns, the machine-guns were already set up. As the men arrived, the Nazis shot their legs so they couldn’t escape, and then piled kindling and firewood on the wounded men and burned them alive. Miraculously, five survived to bear witness to the horror.
The soldiers then looted the town, and an hour later, they set off an incendiary device just outside the church. In the noise, the smoke and the rubble, the terrified women and children fled out of the doors and windows, only to be systematically mown down by machine guns. Only one woman survived.
Having slaughtered everyone, the soldiers then set the entire town on fire and stayed stoking the flames, to ensure that everything was burned to the ground. When they finally left, they left not a single building unscathed, and many of the bodies were burned beyond all recognition.
David continues, appealing to the reader’s imagination:
Half close your eyes, use your imagination and you can conjure up what life was like here during the war. There are plenty of clues: the 1930s cars, safely locked away within the ruins of their owner’s garages, a few floor tiles, the weighing scales, laundry mangles, bicycles, and toys. You can almost imagine children playing, women cooking and making clothes, old men sitting in the cafés.
But open your eyes wide again and the reality is stark: the carefully stored cars are just carcasses rusting in the ruins of their shelters. They were burnt in their garages. Everything wooden is gone. There are no floors, no ceilings, no staircases, no roofs, no furniture. The books, the photos, the carpets, personal possessions and household linens were all destroyed in the hideous conflagration.
Finally, these concluding thoughts, hauntingly similar to Dr. Alon Ben-Meir’s:
Oradour-sur-Glane is the location of an atrocity carried out by humans. But so is the Colosseum in Rome. It’s a chilling thought. Oradour-sur-Glane wasn’t the first site of human slaughter and the tragedy is that it will not be the last either. For thousands of years, humans have been slaughtering each other. War is in itself an atrocity, and always engenders war crimes. Perhaps rulers don’t feed people to lions any more, but the civilian suffering in Syria cannot be under-estimated. Civilian massacres are still happening.
And the causes haven’t changed either.
The same intolerance, racism and hatred that drove much of the Nazi movement is still driving terrorism and wars across the world. And here in Western Europe, we see that same racism, hatred and lack of compassion aimed at the unfortunate refugees, immigrants, and outsiders. The others.
Leaving Oradour-sur-Glane, I was haunted by the horrible question – could the massacre of innocents happen again in Europe?
We see “the others” and “racism, hatred and lack of compassion” on this hemisphere, too.
Please read the full article at The Connexion, French News and Views
Photos by author