An Interlude in France
“The ravines of death swallowed up entire units…The hill screams beneath its crown, night after night.”
The battle of Verdun in World War I lasted for 300 days and nights. The French commander, Marshall Pétain, cried, “They shall not pass!” It is considered the greatest and longest battle in the history of warfare. When it was over, 714,000 dead and wounded French and German soldiers lay in the trenches.
In August 2009 Linda and I were taken to the battlefield by our hosts, Benedicte and Olivier. We toured the Douaumont Ossuary on the site of the largest French defensive system. The structure, as long as 1.4 football fields, built in 1932, houses a basement crypt containing the remains of 130,000 soldiers killed at the site in 1916. The Ossuary faces a vast cemetery of over 13,000 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim graves.
The first floor museum bears witness to the commitment and suffering of the French, German, and American soldiers who fought on the Western Front from 1914 to 1918. There were displays of uniforms, weapons, photographs, military objects, and several films.
Nearby were other historic sites: destroyed villages, four preserved forts, and the dramatic Trench of Bayonets. We crossed the moats and drawbridge into Fort Douaumont and walked through the under- ground quarters and trenches trying to understand the reason for war.
are still fixed to twisted and rusty rifles protruding
from piles of dirt. Crosses are scattered among the bayonets. A concrete roof protects the horrible scene for future generations to ponder.
Linda had visited the Verdun battlefield as a teenager when her father served in the American occupation forces in the 1960s. Her reaction then, she said, was one of curiosity. This time, 47 years later, was one of numbing shock, similar to our visit to Auschwitz. I agree.
The Castle of Lunéville