Remains of the Day
It was late August but the leaves were yet to turn. The pale green of the grass was still the dominant hue – neatly trimmed along paths, growing wild along the crumbling brick walls and among piles of twisted and rusty metal. Dashes of purple and yellow sprouted in odd patches and swayed gently in the breeze that broke the heat of the pounding midday rays.
These bright signs of life, however, distracted us only momentarily from visions of death. For while the gentle serenity of Oradour-sur-Glane was at once beguiling, it was similarly menacing in the devastated ghost town. Made so on June 10, 1944, when 642 of its residents were massacred in a matter of hours.
“Down this road, on a summer day in 1944…The soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, the community which had lived for a thousand years…was dead.
The is Oradour-sur-Glane, in France. The day the soldiers came, the people were gathered together. The men were taken to garages and barns, the women and children were led down this road…into this church. Here, they heard the firing as their men were shot. Then…they were killed too.
They never rebuilt Oradour. Its ruins are a memorial. Its martyrdom stands for thousands upon thousands of other martyrdoms in Poland, in Russia, in Burma, in China, in a World at War…”
~ From “The World at War”
Inside the church, the bell was a melted mess of green metal. Statues still stood, but with their faces melted off. Bullet holes were visible from their rain on those women and children who tried to escape the inferno.
Tracks continue to run through the small town. On that day, trams carrying visitors were turned around and sent away, sparing those inside (considering the still inexplicable motives of this tragedy, such an act of humanity seems random and unbelievable). Few old cars spot the town in tangled heaps, grass and flowers creep up where engines used to be. Metal signs of advertising linger with rust creeping in on the edges.
On one corner, an empty schoolyard. On another, a cafe with a table still standing, planters surrounding the tiny patio, bursting with green. Walls were repaired only insomuch as so to remain standing, to allow them to endure as a reminder.
Visions of a once vibrant town could be conjured but shouldn’t, I told myself, to spare me the emotions that would accompany them, as I walked among the remains of that day.