Long Time Passing
Some time ago, when we were fledgling lovers, existing in the protective bubble reserved for the newly amorous, Two Brains brought me to a place called Vassieux-en-Vercors. The drive up from Grenoble is littered with sombre reminders of a time, only decades ago when the spectacular landscape played backdrop for the most merciless realities of a world at war – we stopped at various places, never idly. Here it is impossible to forget how cruel and cold humanity can be. Here no bubble is sufficient to protect you from nauseating emotions wrought from the darkest, starkest of realites.
Vassieux sits on the Drôme side of le Vercors. The Vercors is nicknamed ‘the flat iron’ for a reason … it is a high plateau with higher peaks frilling it, thrilling visitors and chilling those that know the secrets that it keeps. Mountains tend to do that. They look, are, so magnificent but they are unyielding, unforgiving places by default without being privy and council to the Résistance called le maquis in a brutal global war. Huge harsh lumps they are – they don’t actually ask for delicate humans to impinge on them but sometimes flimsy mortals have no choice.
The war, that war of 1939-45 invited such necessity. Men whose country was overtaken by a callous regime they did not invite nor condone, who wanted it freed and reverted to the values it held dear, who did not want the uneasy treaty of Vichy but rather actual and total freedom, those men, those women for can we just agree that men and women are equally people, those people formed the Résistance. And the ones who under that same treaty were told they had to go and do work in Germany. STO it was called (Service de Travail Obligatoire … I don’t honestly think you need my translation) – those young men, they said non and they joined the Résistance.
What happened in 1944 was disgraceful. Not simply by dint of the deeds of the enemy (German in this case) but actually and tragically because of the behavior of the high fallutin’ tootin’ allied commanders. Another time. Really another time I will feel fully equipped to tell the story. In the meantime all you need take to heart is that this village, and all the others barborously besieged, is a defenseless duck sitting pretty on a flat plane. That it can’t have been difficult to overpower it, however hard les maquis tried to fend off the merciless assault is painfully, graphically clear. And there are references to the places they fought and fell all around and not just here, throughout this great monolith known as le Vercors. Villages burned, Villagers slain. Men rounded up and annihilated standing proud against cold walls in the place they called home because it was. Their home. It is not pretty. Not at all. It is tough beyond the bounds of that pathetically soft word. And then you visit the Nécropole and you walk, sapped of strength, sorrow wrenching bile from your throat among the bare little crosses, pure white standing proud in pristine gravel and you pathetically collapse as though a razor has slashed your heart because you are facing a family – a grandmother, her two daughters and all the children of one of them including a baby lying side by side, their lives extinguished mercilessly. Every single one of them. See it, feel it and tell me, tell me not to weep.
My husband had the immense privilige of spending time some years ago, with Robert Favier (known as Mattres) who was created Chevalier de Légion d’Honneur having been a high ranking leader in the Maquis. Monsieur Favier, died in 2010 aged 96. HB2 also met Joseph la Picirella who founded the original museum in Vassieux. He made it because he could and because no-one should forget what happened. Really no-one should. He also died in 2010 aged 85, he was little more than a boy, therefore, when he joined the Maquis. His museum is still there where he built it, just behind the church. The French Government built another museum, the official museum, which sits perched 400 metres above the village and is of deliberately austere design.
To walk the walk I walked, in the footsteps of those braver than brave maquis was humbling. A privilege beyond privilege. And here are some photos. Because my words are meagre and poor. I will leave you to imagine it for yourself or simply to enjoy the beauty of the place. The choice is yours. Mine is not to tell people what to do, simply to bring you to a place that savages my senses and of which, when I am confident that my thoughts and facts are accurate and well-founded, I will write in greater depth.
PS: When you have digested the place, when you have taken it all in your sturdy stride, you might answer me a simple question. What did we learn? Because from where I am standing, sitting, lying down on a bed of flowers, nothing has changed. When will we learn to leave well alone? When will greed release it’s toxic grip on humanity? When? Can I have it now please? Because little girls picking flowers should NOT be perpetuating a scenario that ends in their husbands pushing up daisies for the sake of yet another bloody war. When will we ever learn?