Lest We Forget (Noublions Jamais)
November is the month of remembrance, we reflect on the sacrifices made in all wars and conflicts which commenced with the end of the First World War at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918; the war that was called the ‘war to end all wars’! A noble ambition destined to fail.
This year sees the 75th anniversary of end of the Second World War in Europe and the Far East, and as we all know, wars still continue in many parts of the world today. However, what came out of the Second World War was the way in which civilians are treated in conflict. Genocides, war crimes and the deliberate targeting of civilians are now considered by civilised nations as totally unacceptable in armed conflicts; a difficult issue when trying to destroy enemy targets and insurgents using civilians as cover.
Once conflicts end, the way those responsible are dealt with can take years to resolve. Genocide (the deliberate intention to wipe out a whole group of people as with the German Nazi Party against the Jews and the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda) and war crimes such as those that took place in Bosnia, are still being actively brought to justice. There is a 30 year time limit on war crimes, but genocide has no time limit!
Wars bring invasions and the threat of, or actual presence on the ground of occupying troops. The Germans tried to achieve that against Britain in 1940 and did not succeed. However, in France it was a very different matter and in many parts of the country there is visible evidence of the way the German army subdued the French population, leaving a very dark memory in the minds of local people to this day.
About 40 kms south of Tours on the A10 in the Loire region of France (37800) is a village called Maillé (pronounced ‘Mayay’). On the 25th May 1944 as Paris was being liberated, this village suffered a massacre at the hands of retreating German SS soldiers. The village was virtually destroyed by fire and 124 unarmed men, women and children (including a 3 month old baby) and their farm animals were murdered as a reprisal for an alleged attack by local resistance fighters. Considered amongst the most significant atrocities committed on French soil by the Nazis, the ‘forgotten massacre’ is commemorated every year in the village and there is a ‘Maison du Souvenir’ (Memory House) telling the whole story, including an emotional film made in 2004 that records the testimonies of those who were children at the time and managed to survive. These survivors had not spoken about their experience until this film was made! In the cemetery is a large stone bearing all the names of those who were murdered (term used on many of the grave stones) as well as individual graves of whole families who perished on that fateful day.
Such was the impact of the massacre that the village was sponsored by a rich American couple called the Hales who provided essentials for the community over several years and even a trip to Paris for the children. The village was eventually rebuilt but for many years its story remained untold. Now, thanks to the determination of the local people, this tragic consequence of war is available for all to know and learn. A huge new monument stands on the main road and signs point to the village encouraging people to divert the short distance to it. Maillé was one of four villages where these atrocities occurred.
Those responsible for the massacre were never brought to justice. Only the officer in charge was identified as Second Leutent Schlüter. He was tried in his absence at a French tribunal and sentenced to death, but he was never brought back to France to face this penalty. It is understood he died in Germany in 1965.
It is difficult to understand the mind-set of someone who deliberately murders innocent civilians, especially a baby. Acts like these are no longer tolerated, but for those who remember the experience and events like it in any conflict, we should all respect their memory and maintain the lessons learnt ‘lest we forget’ (noublions jamais).
For more details on the Maillé Memory House visit www.maisondusouvenir.fr
Remembrance. – Part 2 by Jeff and Carol Legg
Over fifteen years ago, while we were on holiday, with our two sons in France, we were visiting some friends in the Dordogne area near Limoges. On our return we visited a village that had been totally decimated by the Germans in 1944. This village, called Oradour-sur-Glane, had been featured in the documentary TV ‘World at War’ series. (Part 1 and Part 26). During WW2 this area of France was controlled by the Vichy Government which was in alliance with the Germans, who supposedly would let life continue as ‘normal’. This was not the same for the village of Maillé, the village in the article above, which was in the northern occupied area of France. (Ref. www.imbd.com).
Nearby was the 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment commanded by SS Standartenfuhrer (Colonel) Sylvester Stadler, the 1st battalion of which was commanded by SS Sturmbannfuhrer (Major) Adolf Dickman who was due to hand over this command to SS Sturmbannfuhrer Otto Weidinger on 14th June 1944. Apparently, on 10th June 1944, near the village of Oradour a Waffen SS Officer, Sturmbannfuhrer Helmut Kampfe, was held captive by the Resistance, although this is doubtful as another ‘unknown high-ranking German Officer’ and his driver had been ‘apprehended’ nearby. Dickman heard about this from two members of the military wing of the Vichy Regime who probably got the details wrong as they had confused the two officers. The ‘unknown officer’ had seen a signpost and thought it to be for Oradour-sur-Glane. There was no real evidence of Resistance action near the village of Oradour but it is now thought that the village of Oradour-sur-Glane was confused with Oradour-sur-Vayres which is 35 miles to the south. The confusion was compounded as the two villages looked similar in appearance. Recent research seems to validate this evidence. The German army was travelling north as reinforcements after the invasion of allied forces on D-Day and their progress was thus hindered.
Dickman ordered all the inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane to gather in the square to check their identity papers. This included any visitors as well as any one passing though the village on that day. The women and children were sent to the church and the men herded into barns where machine guns had already been set up. They were all shot below the knees to prevent any escape and then covered with straw and doused in petrol and set alight. Phosphorus grenades and a gas bomb were thrown into the church and the heat generated melted the bronze bell which fell from the tower. One woman escaped through a window behind the altar and hid in a pea field until she was rescued. 642 inhabitants were murdered that day of which 247 were women and 205 were children.
After the war General de Gaulle decided that “the village should never be rebuilt but be kept as a memorial to the cruelty of the Nazi occupation”. (Ref. email@example.com) Therefore the village has purposely been left untouched since the massacre, to serve as a shrine to those who died.
Thanks to so many who sacrificed so much for us during World War 2 we never experienced the invasion and subsequent occupation as happened in other European countries, with all that that entailed when communities were oppressed and lived in absolute terror.
Jeff and I are great fans of Gervase Phinn (a teacher, School Inspector and Professor of English and raconteur from the Yorkshire Dales) who, having taken young sons and his father to a Remembrance Parade, penned the following poem dedicated to all those brave men and women, member’s of today’s armed forces, who are still fighting in those ‘far-off lands of blistering heat and burning sand’ in defence of freedom, justice and humanity.”
On Remembrance Sunday Grandpa cried
For his two brothers who had died
In some forgotten far-off land
Of blistering heat and burning sand.
He touched a medal on his chest
Which sparkled brighter than the rest,
‘The Africa Star’ he gently sighed,
‘A badge of honour, of those who died,
A symbol of our Ted and Jack
Who never made the journey back.’
We watched old soldiers stride on by,
Straight of back and heads held high,
And we clutched our poppies of brightest red
And we wept for the brothers Jack and Ted.
(Ref. ‘Out of the Woods but not Over the Hill’ – Gervase Phinn – pub. Hodder and Stoughton 2010)
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2535926/Prosecutors-charge-88-year-old-man-1944-Nazi-massacre-Oradour-Sur-Glane-642-villagers-shot-burnt.html#ixzz3mx1XMiMD