Today we join the community of Cépie for their Remembrance service, as we pay our respects at the village memorial. Every year, we remember, and not just on Remembrance Day either. For us, it is really important to continuously remember the wars of the 20th century; to remember the sacrifice made for our freedom today, to remember why it was so important that fascism was defeated.
It was fitting that we visited Oradour-sur-Glane this week as well. On the 10th of June 1944, 200 SS soldiers came to the village and within a matter of mere hours, the village was destroyed and its inhabitants, and all people present, were murdered. 642 innocent lives lost to the barbaric brutality of war. It wasn’t even an act of war, or a battle. It was a massacre.
Shortly after the event, it was decided to keep the village as a memorial to the event; to urge people to remember. Remember what happened here. Remember what war does. Remember the innocent lives lost. No one was spared. The people were gathered on the village common. From there, groups of men were taken to places in the village and executed. The women and children were taken to the church. In the church, the soldiers had set up a smoke box which would suffocate them. When women tried to flee the church, the soldiers were ready to shoot them with machine guns. There was no escape. The stories tell of only one woman who managed to escape from the church alive, Madame Marguerite Rouffrance.
To visit the memorial village today is quite an emotional experience. It was very difficult to imagine what happened here, even though you can see it all around you. The sheer evil that played here is impossible to comprehend. The ruins of the buildings, the burnt out items, they tell stories of people going about their lives, suddenly cut short.
Nowadays, it sometimes feels like the lessons of the past are being forgotten. The old lessons of fascism, nationalism and socialism too. What happened before: strong leaders on both sides of the political spectrum, at the far ends, recognising the issues of the people, and instead of working to fix these, playing on their fears to gain a political platform, even building dictatorships. Historians point to a perfect storm of economic and geo-political factors making it possible. And the people ill-equipped to question what was going on, or to resist it.
Today, we can see similar things happening, however we’re not ill-equipped. We have the lessons of the past, the resources, the information (unfortunately also the mis-information). We have a voice and a vote to fight the divisions being created all around us; and ‘us and them’ divide actively encouraged in places, countries turning in on themselves, pulling out of joint organisations and treaties, news headlines of hate crime and even anti-Semitism…
Travelling as we do opens our eyes to the issues that play in local communities in different countries. The issues are the same, and fear and insecurity seem to be at the foundation of the issues. It would be great if we could address the fear and insecurities so that the issues that lead to division are resolved before they even become issues.
This is why, for us, it’s important to Remember. Sorry for the gloomy travel report. Visits to places related to the war can be a stern reminder and even a wake up call. Our previous visits to the beaches of Normandy, to Ypres and the war cemeteries of both the Great War and WWII have always been cause for reflection.