My interest in World War Two is probably a generational thing. I was just eight years old when World War Two ended, and have always been fascinated by that epic conflict. And walking around these lovely little French villages, I can’t stop thinking that seventy years ago, soldiers of an occupying German Army were strolling around these very same streets. They were in Domme, the village in the Dordogne from which I’ve just come, and they were certainly here, so much closer to Paris, in Azay-le-Rideau, where I’ll be staying for the next several days.
As a matter of fact, they’re here right now. German tourists — three couples — were having dinner in the hotel restaurant tonight, laughing and exchanging friendly banter with the French serving staff.
Have the French forgotten? I can’t imagine the real old timers have, and perhaps their children have some dim memories, but most seem to have put it behind them. And of course the kids — meaning anyone under the age of 50 or so — have no personal memory of the conflict at all.
But reminders are everywhere. For instance, there’s a monument in the middle of the town square in Domme. It was originally erected to memorialize the young men of that little town who were lost in the First World War. Then, sadly, it was expanded and several dozen additional names were added to remember the people from Domme who died in the Second World War.
OK, fine … but what’s the big deal? I mean, we have those memorials in almost every small town all across America, so why is it any different here in France?
I didn’t think much of it until I took a closer look at that monument in the Domme town square. On it, the townspeople who died between 1939 and 1944 are listed. Their names are grouped in these categories:
Morts au Combat … Died in Combat
Déportés … Deported
Fusillés … Shot
Actually, “shot” is the dictionary translation. I asked an elderly woman who works at the hotel were I stayed in Domme what the appropriate translation would be for word fusillés on the memorial.
She stared at me for a moment, then …
“Executed,” she said.
Deported. And executed. That’s why it’s different.