Lost In Limoges

From the sheep-dotted pastures of France's underpopulated Southwest, Limoges rises in all its grey glory. The city's claim to fame: fine porcelain. The half-timbered houses of the Medieval center are surrounded by strip malls and McDo. Land-hungry Brits descend with flailing pocketbooks (thanks, RyanAir). The weather is remarkably cool year-round. Sure, I live on rue de Nice, but this is NOT the Cote d'Azur. Welcome to Limoges, "the middle of nowhere"-- or as Pierre says "everywhere"-- France.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Time stands still at Oradour-sur-Glane, the site of a gruesome SS massacre during the Second World War. On June 10, 1944, a few days after the invasion of Normandy, German SS units rolled into this small Limousin town and ordered the entire population into the center, with the pretense of checking identity cards. Men were ordered into barns, the women and children into the church, where they were all gunned down, and then the buildings burned to the ground. Even to this day, the brutality and inhumanity of this massacre are inexplicable and horrifying.

As we walked through the museum-- which documents wartime France, the Resistance, the occupations and daily lives of the very ordinary population of Oradour, and the testimonies of the few survivors-- I kept remembering the words of a friend who accompanied me to the notorious Suol Teng prison in Cambodia. "You can't get your head around this." And this shocking horror occurred only 60 years ago.

The entire village has been left intact since the Germans tried to annihilate the evidence of the massacre. Buildings are gutted and crumbling, inside of which you can see the iron and metal of sewing machines, chairs at a cafe, the rusting bodies of 1930's cars... The tram tracks still wind through town, and the overhead wires strung between the empty carcasses of buildings. A visit to this martyred village, just 30 minutes from Limoges, is an important and moving experience.


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