Remembering the past

Souviens Toi - Remember
Souviens Toi

The car of Doctor Desourteaux
The car of Doctor Desourteaux

Sewing machine in house
Posed sewing machine in house


    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 over 70 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 but when they move on, the memory dies.

    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 buildings. This has been done for the best of intentions, but it is artificial and obviously so.

    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 Bibliography for more details.

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© Michael Williams: This page revised: 25 August 2022.