Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Carve Their Names With Pride

Next we came to Natzweiler, a concentration camp in Alsace. My friend Ivor is somewhat obsessed with the SOE, and has dragged me to countless corners of France in pursuit of his fascination with the subject. Most of them are just empty fields, which he will photograph (after hours of searching many other identical fields for the right one) and say with satisfaction "So-and-so landed here."

This time there was something to see. The camp has been maintained as a museum and memorial. On July 6th 1944, four female SOE agents were brought here and then killed by the Nazis.

This place was tiny in the scheme of things. Like a tiny model village compared with the vast industrial-scale killing camps further east. But still thousands died here.

Most of the huts are gone, only their footprints remain, each one with a stone plinth remembering one of the other camps of the Nazi system.

The crematorium.

Here the the bodies were disposed of, and the Nazi Doctors performed their grisly experiments on the prisoners.

The SOE prisoners, Andrée Borrel, Vera Leigh, Sonia Olschanezky and Diana Rowden, were brought to the Crematorium/medical hut, supposedly for Typhus inoculations. But they were injected with Phenol, and then tossed into the oven once unconscious. At least one of them partially regained consciousness, and struggled as she was shoved into the fire.

It's strange, but when faced with the countless victims of the Nazi camp system, it can all become a question of numbers. Pure mathematics that the mind cannot comprehend, and one cannot get to grips with, emotionally. But this small, almost intimate place, with its story of individuals who have faces and names, somehow brings that horror home in a way that a list of camps with astronomical statistics of deaths cannot. It was a very emotional experience to visit this place.

Well, I can't say I enjoyed my visit, but I'm glad I came here, and saw this place. But I have no desire to "collect the whole set" and go to the others. One's enough.

One cannot possibly imagine what kind of hell it must have been to end up in this place, and what courage those agents must have had to volunteer for duties that might lead them to this. Did they know? I suppose they must have done.

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.

"The Life that I Have" by Leo Marks. SOE Code-Poem.

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