Human Rights, France

Eighteen students, faculty and staff from SMU and Dallas are traveling to France during spring break 2014 to study the role that country played in the Holocaust, when Nazi-occupied France deported 76,000 Jews to be murdered in or en route to extermination camps.

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Remembering the innocent

An update from Jennifer, who earned a Master of Liberal Studies in 2010 and is pursuing a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study focused on human rights and social justice:

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the house, the town where you grew up – what it looked and sounded like during springtime, who your neighbors were, what you did on a regular Saturday afternoon. Could you ever conceive of your memories being shattered by the encirclement of your town by an invading army bent on killing everyone who lived there?

The 642 people in Oradour-sur-Glane near Limoges, France, probably never imagined that could happen to them, but it did – on June 10, 1944. German soldiers from a Waffen SS unit separated the men from the women and children. They put the men in barns, shot them in the legs so they couldn’t run, and set them on fire. The women and children were locked in the village church and burned alive – including one 8-day-old baby. Two young boys were found clinging together in the sacristy, and one was found alone, hiding in the confessional – all three burned beyond recognition.

Think about your church, synagogue, temple or other place of worship, and think about that place of sanctuary being so completely desecrated by violence. It’s inconceivable – but it happened. You can see the ruins of the town, which have been preserved as a memorial to those who died there so brutally. It’s eerie to walk through the silent streets of destroyed houses and shops, but see signs of life in the trees about to bloom against the sky framed by the roofless buildings, in the birdsong floating through the air.

Now pretend that the U.S. is at war, and your family is in danger because of its ethnicity, religion or race. You choose to send your children away to a safe zone where they can live freely and have as normal a life as possible during the conflict. You send sweet letters back and forth, and your little ones tell you about the food they eat, the walks they take, their lessons, and their love for you. One day, though, the letters stop – because a sadistic member of the invading force comes with his henchmen and seizes all the children at the safe house – 44 of them, including those who had been orphaned – while they are drinking their breakfast of hot chocolate. They get thrown into trucks like sacks of potatoes, despite their cries. They are deported out of the country, packed into train cars with hundreds of people they have never met. Most of them are dead from poison gas within 10 days. This happened at Izieu, near Lyon, on April 6, 1944.

You might be thinking, “These things happened so long ago, and so far away. Why are we still talking about it?” We are talking about it because we must bear witness, so that those who suffered and died are not forgotten. If they are forgotten, then the torturers and murderers win, after all.

We must also remember because there are people in towns and villages right now in the Ukraine, the Central African Republic and Syria who are being tortured, starved and killed. There are mothers and fathers right now in those places and so many others around our world, worrying ceaselessly about how to keep their precious children safe. The least we can do is remember, and think of them.

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