Remembering: Oradour-Sur-Glane

I didn't take any photos when I visited the village of Oradour-Sur-Glane in the middle of France - it just didn't seem right.

64 years ago today, the 642 men, women and children of the village were rounded up by the occupying German army and massacred and every building in town was set on fire. Today the ruins stand as a permanent memorial. There's a large underground visitors centre providing the background to the event, from the rise of the Nazis to what happened after the massacre but ultimately - while the centre is still chilling - it's the ordinariness of the ruins that really puts life into perspective.

These are some pics from the official Oradour-Sur-Glane website.

Of everything in the town, it was the tramlines that really brought it home to me that this had once been a modern city. You can walk around and see bullet holes in the walls and burnt out cars but for some reason, imagining people going about their business riding the tram just made the place somewhere I could relate to.

The reasons offered for the murders vary but generally speaking it seems that with the Allied D-Day landings four days previously offering new hope to the French Resistance, the Germans felt a need to send a message - a brutal message - that this would be crushed. It's also said to have been a direct reprisal for some relatively low level Resistance attacks on a German tank convoy heading north through the area towards Normandy - which could possibly have been as minor as two pissed French guys on a hill taking potshots at the convoy. (According to a friend from the area).

The worst of it was in the church, where after some shooting, the majority of people were burned alive, only one woman escaping by jumping through a window 20 feet from the ground.

I realise this isn't the most cheery of posts but memories of walking through this place still affect me - both in making a concrete connection to the barbarism that humanity is capable of but also in helping me to put my own trivial problems into perspective.

As an Australian, World War 2 has always been somewhat an arms length thing - we know the stories and people who might have fought there but the realities of having the Nazis (or Japanese) walking down your streets is a whole other thing. Certainly a much bigger thing than anything that might trouble me. (I can't even think of anything that I'd care to list, that's how trivial it all seems).

Walking through other cities in France, I'd occasionally think about this and the fact that a string of invaders walked these streets through history, along with The Terror of the latter parts of the French Revolution and the seemingly endless parade of wars of conquest over the last few millenia and I'd really wonder how much we as a species have it together. But then I'd see elements of the beauty and the goodness and the progress we have made and realise that it's all much bigger and far more complicated than that and that life goes on.

Still, it seems important that we never forget the darkness we are capable of.
Which is why I'll remember Oradour-Sur-Glane.