In This Review

Martyred Village: Commemorating the 1944 Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane
Martyred Village: Commemorating the 1944 Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane
By Sarah Bennett Farmer
University of California Press, 1999, 323 pp

An engrossing and thoughtful study of Oradour-sur-Glane, a village near Limoges, France, whose population was exterminated by a Waffen SS division on June 10, 1944. Focusing on the politics of commemoration, Farmer shows how the story of Oradour severed the tragedy from the context of resistance activities in the area to create a symbol of innocent martyrdom, leaving the eerie ruins untouched for visitors to explore. That decision fostered the message that every French person, regardless of political choice or wartime activity, had been at risk -- a message that de Gaulle was eager to spread after the war. Farmer also highlights the 1953 trial of 21 SS soldiers who had participated in the massacre, 14 of whom were French draftees from Alsace. Facing rising tensions between Alsace and the Limousin region, the court handed down lenient penalties that were later wiped out by a national amnesty -- much to the indignation of many Limousin citizens. Since then, a new town has been built nearby, but the restoration required for conservation of the site has undermined the ruins' authenticity. As Farmer concludes, every commemorative effort faces a severe test when witnesses are no longer around to sustain it.