Friends: A year ago when The Tour passed through Limoges on the fringe of the Massif Central I didn't have time to visit the memorial site of a nearby small French village that had been wiped out by the Nazis towards the end of WWII. I'm continually having to bypass interesting attractions to keep up with The Tour, but I make a note of them, knowing they await me if I'm in their vicinity again. I was able to stop off and see what is called the Martyr Village of Oradour-sur-Glane as I headed south from Tours towards the Pyrenees to rejoin reconnect with The Tour in a couple of days.
The sign requesting silence outside the village is hardly necessary, as one is put into a somber mood by the exhibits preceding the entry to this fenced town. They vividly recount the events of June 10, 1944 when a German battalion of 200 soldiers massacred 642 civilians, including 193 children. It was four days after D-Day. A couple of SS officers had recently been ambushed in the vicinity, and this was part of the German response.
The town is now a memorial site, left pretty much as it was after the soldiers burned and looted it. The stone walls of many buildings along the town's kilometer long main street and down its side streets remain standing, but without a roof. The church, where the majority of the women and children were herded and put to death, is surprisingly intact. Rusted hulks of cars are scattered here and there. Rusted power lines dangle from posts. A subterranean exhibit just before the cemetery contains a collection of artifacts recovered form the town--glasses, money, scissors, thimbles, toys and children's bicycles. It is as disquieting as the My Lai exhibit in Vietnam where 567 civilians were massacred. When I visited My Lai three years ago I was the morning's lone visitor. Oradour-sur-Glane was thick with visitors, many of whom were children in groups.
Entry is free, though there is six euro charge to attend the accompanying museum. Along with a twelve minute movie, there was testimony from the six survivors. One was a woman who survived the ordeal in the church. The museum traces the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. It said, "Bringing German society into line took place through terror, intimidation and seduction." It also portrayed what France was like during the occupation. Their national motto of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" was replaced by "Work, Family, Motherland."
Although the Oradour massacre was brought up repeatedly during the Nuremberg trials, it wasn't until 1953 that 21 of those responsible were brought to trial, seven Germans and 14 French from the Alsace region bordering Germany. Two were sentenced to death. The French were all given amnesty, which caused a national furor.
The village has been rebuilt next to its predecessor. The President of France laid the
foundation stone for the new village exactly three years after the massacre in 1947. The museum book store was full of books on all aspects of this incident, some in English, German and Dutch.
I arrived at the Martyr Village just after it closed last night, two hours after watching Lance relinquish the yellow jersey on the telly in a bar in the town of Bellac. The day before, Saturday, I watched eight hours of Tour coverage with Florence and Rachid. There was an extended post-Tour "Velo-Club" with a genuine sit-down Lance interview, much more than the few hurried comments he gives immediately after the race. Those interviews are a quick succession of stock answers in French even I can understand. His responses in this interview, however, were in English and were reflective and insightful. They were somewhat drowned out by the louder French translation on top of them. His only French was an initial comment to the interviewer that it had been a "jour de merde" (shitty day), as not a single one of his teammates had been able to stick with him and the final bunch of 35 on the day's final long, steep climb. Lance said that was the first time that had happened to him in his many Tours and it was a matter of great concern. Lance was repeatedly under attack by the T-Mobile team and had to counter each attack himself without any teammates.
He didn't say it, but he may be missing his veteran, highly-respected, Russian teammate Ekimov more than ever. He was unable to start this year's Tour due to an injury. Lance has always raved about his professionalism and what an inspiration he is to everyone on the team. He would have made sure everyone was ready each day. Lance referred to the day's events as a "catastrophe." One of his worries is that it will give his rivals confidence and inspiration. Lance could squash all their hopes at any time with a bold stroke. Until then, he will keep everyone's interest and hopes alive. The doubts as to his strength and that of his team only add interest to the race. Lance is the focal point of interest. The headline in one of today's papers wasn't about Jens Voight taking over the yellow jersey, but "Armstrong is not in Yellow."