Remembering the past
The car of Doctor Desourteaux
Posed sewing machine
This short page sets out to briefly
explore the problems of remembering the past and why we should take the trouble
to do so.
The events at Oradour-sur-Glane happened on the 10th
of June 1944, which at the time of writing was just over 72 years ago and
therefore outside the lifetime of the majority of readers of this website.
At the entrances to the ruins of Oradour
are the notices
in both French and English exhorting the visitor to, 'Remember!' It is worth
realising that those who do not remember the past, are, in the words of the
philosopher George Santayana, "condemned to repeat it." In other words, forget
and it (whatever "it" is) will happen again. If we do not learn the lessons of
history, then we will make the same mistakes over and over again.
People remember during their lifetimes,
the problem occurs with the next and subsequent generations, everything is that
much further away, less raw and therefore, all to easily, seems less important.
Organisations have no memory, people have memories and when they move on, the
As can be seen, the problem of remembering
the past in the case of Oradour is already becoming acute. Take a look at
the 'Car of Doctor
Desourteaux' to see what I mean. The vehicle is just a rusty shell,
missing its wheels, engine, window glass etc. It is nothing like the car that
was left on the Champ de Foire on the 10th June 1944 and obviously it will
eventually decay to such an extent that it will either have to be removed
entirely, or replaced. Another example is the
posing of items of domestic equipment
in places where they were not placed by the original inhabitants of the
This has been done for the best of intentions, but it is artificial and
The problem with preserving Oradour as a
fresh ruin, is that it is not now a fresh ruin and as time wears on so will the
ruins. Much repair work is necessary on a regular basis in order to keep the
ruins looking fresh (and safe), for example look at the
entrance to the road to Peyrilhac in 2009
and again in 2010.
Originality is gradually lost, as is the freshness of memory. Not many of
the original inhabitants that escaped the slaughter are still alive, when they
go, the memory will be that of their children, after them, grandchildren, until
all direct link with the 10th of June will be lost. We are approaching the loss
of direct memory now in 2016, by 2044 it will all be oral tradition and history-book memory.
Oradour is worth remembering, for it shows
us what can happen when a pitiless regime is in power, when might is right and
when the individual can, on their own whim, execute the most terrible vengeance,
without any fear of consequence.
A book that deals with the
subject of remembering the past is, Martyred Village, by Sarah Farmer, see the
for more details.
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© Michael Williams:
This page revised:
18 August 2016.