For decades, I’ve gathered impressions about Europe’s experience with fascism in my travels. Like many of you, I have stood amid the physical remains of that dark period — the Anne Frank House, the WWII Normandy American Cemetery, the Valley of the Fallen — and I’ve been deeply moved.
The powerful narratives behind these sights were the inspiration for my new one-hour special, “The Story of Fascism in Europe,” airing now on public television (check your local listings) and streaming for free online. In the special, I travel back a century to learn how fascism rose and then fell in Europe, taking millions of people with it.
I was struck today by an article on Daily Kos. In the article, Ernest Bass shares his thoughts on my special and describes some of the lessons he’s learned in his own travels — including a stunning and sobering visit to one of the most moving Nazi sights in all of Europe: Oradour-sur-Glane.
In 1944, Nazi SS troops entered the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane and, with cool attention to detail, methodically rounded up all 642 townspeople. The women and children were herded into the town church, where they were tear-gassed and machine-gunned. Plaques mark the place where the town’s men were gathered and executed. Ultimately, the whole town was set on fire, leaving 642 victims under a silent blanket of ashes.
The ghost town of Oradour-sur-Glane has been left untouched for more than 70 years, its scorched sewing machines, pots, pans, bikes, and cars preserved as an eternal reminder of the reality of war. Visitors are greeted by a simple sign with just one word: Remember.
As history continues to unfold around us today, it’s important to acknowledge that freedom and democracy are not guaranteed. We are all participants, and we are all responsible — and the first step of that responsibility is, simply…to remember.