Over the years, many endured human storms.
The devastation of - and cleanup after - Hurricane Katrina brings to mind Sept. 11, 2001. Not because it was, in essence, nature's version of a terrorist attack. But because of a small village in France where I was on that tragic day.
Like New Orleans, Oradour-sur-Glane was, in a single day, devastated. Not by winds, floods and fires, but by bullets, grenades and fires. On June 10, 1944, German soldiers killed 642 men, women and children - essentially the entire village, apparently in retaliation for the death of a German officer.
Today, in the village about 150 miles southwest of of Paris, you can walk the cobblestone streets of the charred remains. You can see rusted sewing machines that never again helped make a dress, tricycles that never again were ridden by a child, watches that never again told time.
In essence, time stopped in Oradour-sur-Glane that day - in the same way it stopped for so many in New Orleans on Aug. 29.
To stand in a place that once knew such horror is to be reminded of what a placid life most of us live, particularly in the United States, particularly in these times. Or have we forgotten the man-made horrors that blew across Europe during World War II?
`What nobody remembers is that, during World War II, there were 800 `Oradour-sur-Glanes' in Greece alone,' says Nathan Fendrich, a Eugene man who teaches World War II and Holocaust seminars.
People with homes one day and, if alive after the war storm, no homes the next.
"Our families, our past, had vanished from the face of the earth," wrote Robert Hebras, one of the few survivors of the Oradour onslaught, in "Oradour-sur-Glane: The Tragedy."
Beyond the 30 million civilians who died in WWII, as war in Europe ended in May 1945, more than 40 million people were displaced. That's nearly 40 times the number Katrina rendered homeless.
I don't offer this to minimize the pain and hardship of those who live - or did until displaced by the storm - on the Gulf Coast. I offer it as perspective that, beyond nature's fury, man's fury has routinely displaced people, few of whom got the humanitarian help those in the Gulf States are likely to get.
"Our history of the world is one continuous event after another like that," Fendrich says. "Repeat, repeat, repeat."
American Indians forced from their land. Asian-Americans placed in relocation camps during WWII. Jewish people - exiled time and again for nearly 2,000 years.
"And nobody going to bat for them," Fendrich says. "No media. Here you have the world's richest country in the world behind these people. Not then."
Indeed, if the government's response to Katrina was initially too little, too late, Congress has appropriated $62.3 billion in aid, easily a record for domestic disaster relief. Worldwide news coverage has triggered hundreds of millions of dollars from private individuals and companies.
People in places such as Oradour-sur-Glane had no such safety net. "In the euphoria of the Allied landings, the tragedy of Oradour went almost unnoticed by the world," Hebras writes. (Imagine, say, a town like Monroe being similarly attacked and hardly anyone noticing.)
In 1944, Germans demolished Warsaw, Poland, after an underground uprising. "The people of Warsaw didn't have any help," Fendrich says, "but with their hands, brick by brick, they rebuilt their city."
And so, too, did the people in Oradour-sur-Glane, though the French government provided aid. A new village was built - and the old one, the "martyred village," turned into a shrine for the dead.
On a gate leading to it: "Remember."
Indeed, if the past reminds us of man's inhumanity to man, it also reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit. Other places - far more than we commonly think - have been ripped by storms, in this case the human kind.
Most refused to die.
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Sep 27, 2005|
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