March 11. Oradour-sur-Glane. The quiet, sunny tranquility of the day sharpened the contrast between today and the day everyone in this town of 642 was brutally murdered by Nazis. After visiting the roofless church where all the women and children were killed, I felt so weighted by sorrow and grief that I was unable to lift my head.
Among the spartan remains of what was only recently a life-filled town, a rusted car rests. It is so recognizably modern; it is a chilling reminder of how close we still are to this tragedy, and how easily it could happen again.
March 12. Izieu. At this place, Klaus Barbie, the “butcher of Lyon,” deported 44 Jewish orphans to Auschwitz. A small fraction of the lives lost, but focusing on a few makes it possible to understand tragedy of whole. A Mother’s Day letter from one of the victims brought tears to my eyes. So many loving families destroyed.
March 13. Strasbourg. In the punishment cells in the concentration camp of Natzweiler, I think of medieval oubliettes. I touched the wall of the gas chamber, which is right next to a restaurant that is still operational and was functioning at the same time human beings were being internally roasted alive. This tragedy and torment is right here. It’s tangible. We have to see these places to keep ourselves strong enough to prevent their recurrence.
March 14. Today in Compiegne, at the deportation museum, I forced myself to watch the video of the liberation of Mauthausen. It was the most graphically disturbing scenes of human carnage, a seemingly endless chain of fly-covered skeletons whose last link to humanity was their facial expressions of fear and anguish. Death seemed to bring them no relief. I’ve seen many terribly shocking pictures and some video clips before, but nothing that lasted this long or had so many relentless images of despair. It has broadened my understanding of the loss in the “final solution.” All those bodies were beloved.