Vandalism at Oradour-sur-Glane
The vandalised entrance to the Centre de la Mémoire in Oradour-sur-Glane in August 2020.
Sadly, over time, as the strength of the memory starts to fade, there has been a rise in acts of petty vandalism against the memory of Oradour. Just after the 10th June 1944, there was no room for any doubt, the memory was too raw, the personal experience of war too real for there to be any room for doubt, or alternative explanations as to what happened and why. Today, there seems to be a desire to invent something different to the plain truth, to provide a reason to doubt the obvious. Perhaps this is a reaction to the tensions of the current times, a means for disaffected youth to display their anger at the way they see themselves being treated. Whatever it is, it is a sad affair and is to be rejected as a serious comment on the past, but must be addressed as a serious comment on the present. This is a problem for France to address and I hope that President Macron will take some positive action.
The first signs of vandalism that I personally have seen, was the defacement of the Godfrin family name on the memorial at Charly-Oradour. I do not know when this first happened, but I saw it in May 2000 and it had not been repaired at the time of my most recent visit in June 2013.
The next sign of problems was the appearance in 2017 of the notice warning that the area was under video surveillance. Surely a war memorial should be free from defacement and theft and the appearance of video cameras is a sign that something is going wrong. I cannot imagine that in the early days after June 1944, anyone could have imagined that such an action as the installation of security cameras would one day become necessary in order to protect the memory of the dead of Oradour.
On Friday 21st August 2020 the most serious act of vandalism to date took place at the Centre de la Mémoire when words denying the truth of what happened at Oradour on the 10th June 1944 were spray painted onto the structure of the building. The graffito was done to a very poor standard and seems to have been the action of a young person with little skill at such work. The word, "Martyr" has been crossed-out and replaced with, "Menteur", the French for, "Liar". The rest of the graffito reads: "A Quand la verite? Reynouard a raison" ("When will the truth be told? Reynouard is right"). Vincent Reynouard is a well known revisionist and holocaust denier, although there is no suggestion that he was personally responsible for this act of vandalism.
It is important not to attach too much publicity to such activity, so that it withers and dies as quickly as possible. The act itself occasioned an outburst of anger across French public feeling, with President Emmanuel Macron promising vigorous action to catch the perpetrators.
Apart from such acts as mentioned above, there is also a growing lack of respect being shown by visitors to the ruins. At one time a walk round Oradour was a solemn affair, with everyone walking slowly and silently, just looking at the remains. Today, it is common to see people talking loudly on mobile telephones and taking "selfies" of themselves and friends. I have seen a little boy, of about three, tugging at the front of the Doctor's Car on the Champ de Foire. He was far too young to appreciate what he was doing, but his nearby father could have stopped him, instead of looking amused. In a way this activity is also vandalism, as it is reducing the suffering of the past to the background for today's busy life. It is making Oradour a place for a day-out, a place of historic interest, like a Chateaux, rather than a memorial to the horrors of the past.
© Michael Williams: 26 August 2020