Thursday, April 19, 2012
Souvien-Toi; Never Forget
The motto for Holocaust Remembrance Day is, of course, Never Forget.
There is an entire village in France dedicated to never forgetting the horrors of World War II. It is called Oradour-sur-Glane. I visited the village with my daughter and stepdaughters in 2000. Unfortunately, many of my photos of that trip were ruined in storage. So I have taken the liberty to borrow the photo you see above from one of the best sites I've found on the web dedicated to telling the story of Oradour-sur-Glane.
I'm going to give you the very edited, capsulized version: On June 10, 1944, "Nazis" rounded up an entire village (642 men, women and children -- including 6 non-residents who were riding through on their bicycles) and killed them. The men were rounded up into barns and sheds; the women and children were locked inside a church. The Nazis riddled the buildings with machine guns and then set everything on fire.
There was only 1 woman who managed to escape from the church, hiding in a pea patch. In total, there were about a dozen survivors ....
General Charles de Gaulle ordered that the village never be rebuilt. So when you walk through the town, it is exactly as it was in 1944. The image I recall and that struck my daughters in particular: a sewing machine. I did a Google search of Oradour-sur-Glane images and you can see the sewing machine below at the top left corner....
Here is a link on Wikipedia.
It is a sombering, sobering, beyond description experience to walk through this ghost town. But what was so upsetting to me -- and enlightening at the same time -- was that, in a story such as this, one initially sees it in black and white terms. Nazis bad. Innocent French civilians good. BUT...the irony of it is this: a large number of the "Nazis" who did the shooting and burning and killing of over 200 children (including one baby who was a week old) and women and men were actually fellow Frenchmen. Yes, yes, the story gets complicated. Many of these "Nazis" were conscripted Alsacians. You can read about the trial and outcome here and here.
And here is where I have to get on my soap box....It is indeed so important that we Souvien-Toi/Remember/Never Forget...but exactly what is it that we're remembering? How "bad" the Nazis were? I think that is just way too simplified. A question I have pondered again and again is HOW could it have happened? I know now. Because I see it happening again today.
The methods Hitler used to villify the Jews are used today by the US government toward Muslims. (I've lived long enough to see the same strategy used against Russians, Chinese, immigrants....) The encroachment into freedoms, taking away of rights and privacy -- all in the name of national 'security' -- is frightening. The creating of a faceless 'enemy' is an insidious propaganda tool. But the enemy isn't the masses who are slaughtered, who die in the name of God and country. The enemy is just a handful of egotistical politicians with an agenda, an elite group of profiteering war mongers, a few fanatical zealots or a small group of bullies.
How can just a few people have such influence over the majority, sway the masses to their beck and call?
They package their propaganda all wrapped up in the country's flag and espouse high ideals like courage and glory. Excuse my bluntness but I just think it's time we realized "patriotism" and "nationalism" for what they are.
Everybody wants to think they are special, chosen, elite, superior. Your momma can tell you that and that's OK. But in the real world, we need to think in world-wide terms, not just my state, my country. We need to think in terms of humanity.