Friday, May 18, 2018


Europe's long history includes many examples of unconscionable inhumanity. Preserved reminders such as death camps and memorials to victims dot the landscape.
Yesterday, we stopped at Oradour-sur-Glane in the department of Limousin in western France. The village remains in the same burned-out condition German SS troops left it after slaughtering 642 men, women and children on June 10, 1944, four days after D-Day.

The Germans arrived shortly after 2 p.m. in several armored cars and trucks. At first, the villagers were more curious than worried because Oradour had been left alone during the war. But then everyone was ordered to the town square.

The men were separated and taken to six sheds and barns. The 500  women and children were taken to the village church.

The men were machine-gunned, shot in the legs first to prevent them from fleeing. Those who showed signs of life were shot point-blank. The Germans covered the bodies with wood and straw and set it afire, while those not yet dead screamed in agony. Several men escaped in the smoke and flames.
A building where men were executed.

Soldiers then went to the church, where the women thought they and the children might be released. Instead, two soldiers lit a poisonous device and hurried out the doors, which they locked behind them. The troops shot women and children who tried to escape or hide, including a boy and girl later found in the confessional. Only one woman escaped, by jumping nine feet out a window. None of the 246 children survived. The only child in the village to live was a refugee boy who knew to flee when the soldiers first arrived.

Before leaving, the Germans torched the church, barns, sheds and most every building.
The church where the women and 246 children died.
President Charles de Gaulle ordered the town be preserved. Crumbled buildings still show charring from the flames. Only the rusted metal remains of cars.
The school for girls.
Several sewing machines stand as reminders of domestic life.

Walking the streets of Oradour where at one tick of the clock were filled with the peaceful sounds of ordinary life on a warm June afternoon, of men and women chatting or going about their work and children playing after school, and the next transformed into a silent tomb, was overwhelming.

About 30 residents avoided death by fleeing when the Germans arrived or being away from the village. Six unfortunate young people who happened to bicycle  through the village while the Germans were there were were seized and killed.
Entire families were killed.

The officer who ordered the massacre and many soldiers who partcipated were killed in the Battle of Normandy.

Surprisingly, several German and Alsatian troops (the latter from the Alsace region of France at the German border) convicted in the 1950s and sentenced to death or prison terms, were later pardoned.

The Germans either denied involvement in the attack or said it was retaliation because the village was a hotbed of French Resistance activity. Historians said if the latter excuse was the case, the Germans likely attacked the wrong village. Another French village, Oradour-sur-Vayres, was an important Resistance center.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

‘Victoire à la France’

We spent what we in the U.S. call VE Day on Tuesday with folks in the French village of Loubillé. Here it’s Victory in France.

In Paris, it involves a huge parade down the Champs Élysée. In Loubillé, population 400, about a score or more of villagers walked 2 kilometers out of town to a memorial at the edge of some woods. Here German troops executed three men on July 24, 1944. They were members of the French Resistance formed after France surrendered early in the war.

Mairie (Mayor) Gérard Collet  read an account of the incident. The men had been captured elsewhere. The truck carrying them stopped in the woods, where they were shot and left to lie where they fell.

Collet also played an anthem of the Resistance: 

"... tonight the enemy will know the price of blood and tears ...Take the rifles, the machine gun, the grenades out of the straws."

France’s Vichy government surrendered in part to spare the country a repeat of the horror from WWI when its military lost 1.4 million killed.

In WWII, the French army lost 210,000 killed. The number includes 68,000 freedom fighter deaths. More than 390,000 French civilians were killed by the fighting or executions.

The U.S. suffered 420,000 military deaths and 12,000 civilians killed, mostly merchant seamen.