The Martyrs of Bordelongue

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 0 Permalink 0

They resisted when others collaborated. They paid the ultimate price. Some were murdered there but most were murdered elsewhere and their bodies brought to the internment camp at Bordelongue and buried in two unmarked pits during the war.

Their bodies were discovered in 1944 by a farm woman who had seen trucks moving back and forth during the Occupation. She followed a trail of their blood, which was still visible on the ground.

A monument was eventually erected, a stele with their 28 names on it.

Two generations later a perimeter highway was built around the city of Toulouse, and perhaps because of practicality, or even more probably because of a need, conscious or not, to tear down and erase the old wartime internement and deportation center, the area was bulldozed for a freeway.

The stele was surrounded by cloverleafs and ramp roads, and over time the barriers along those roads rose. Today the monument to the Martyrs of Bordelongue is invisible to all passers-by and inaccessible. No further information given.

The only remaining evidence from the outside is a sign along the surface Route de Seysses which points the way to the dead-end road (impasse, in French) which leads, judging from google-earth images, to the memorial site inside an exit loop.

I had seen that sign several times, passing over the Périphérique to classes, and finally looked up its meaning on Wikipédia. That history was not quick nor easy to find in any superficial searches. I went looking for the monument last week.

What I found instead of the memorial stele has worried me greatly. It is not findable and I still have not actually seen it. It is locked behind a gate which is overgrown by vines, down a long path, unkempt in a bad part of town – as bad as Toulouse gets, anyway, which is not that bad, but it’s the kind of area where a push to re-open an isolated war monument would never become a priority.

For a long time it’s been a poor and Arab part of town, the unassimilated kind of Arabs. The kind of area where the wealth gap and cultural gap both are brewing real problems for France: Fundamentalism and modernity colliding.

That wealth gap is written ever larger on the landscape of Bordelongue today because the AZF explosion in 2001 was so close to this site, and the boomerang gentrification has accelerated dramatically now 15 years later. This area of town is half-booming with new glossy industry and gated apartment complexes right alongside the old tenements and veiled women pushing and pulling babies along dirty sidewalks. It’s an active part of town, now, for two completely antithetical reasons.

It seems to me that if ever there were a time to remember what happened here during World War 2 – the arrests, the collaboration, the deportations, the Résistance fighters, those who died so that we can live free – it is right here and right now, right in that part of town.

I approached a white man about my own age who was waiting in his car for the gate to open at the entrance to the apartment complex which has just been built literally abut the monument.

A fence running along the neglected alley blocks the monument’s only access road, and the small locked gate of that stele path is physically attached to the large gate structure of the apartment building – a part of it, by all appearances. I asked him where the monument was and how I could get to it, if at all.

He just shrugged his shoulders. “Never heard of it.”

He never heard of it, and he lives almost on top of it. This is a big problem for all of us.

We are doomed to repeat the history which is not remembered. Let us get very busy now remembering it better.

I am undertaking a letter to the Mairie of Toulouse with the help of my French class. My professor has generously offered to perfect my prose before I send it.

But M is wiser and more diplomatic than me, and more sly in certain key ways. He said the Mairie of Toulouse will not care – and we must consider their point of view. They have too many other irons in the fire to worry about a forgotten monument in a derelict part of town that finally seems to be moving in the right direction.

At best they are likely to say that the cul-de-sac site must be locked to protect it from vandalism and vagrants.

No, he said. Go ahead and write to the leadership of Toulouse, but then write also to the mayors of the villages in the Lot department just north of us where most of the young heroes were from. They will want to remember their heroic dead more than Toulouse wants to remember an internment and deportation center and a few dozen more martyrs brought in from scattered villages in a region where monuments to la Résistance in all forms seem to litter the ground. Those mayors will be of more help, ultimately.

I married well. I have lived well. It’s not too much to devote some of my time now to recalling the sacrifice of those supremely brave young men who didn’t get to.

In the process we need to remind ourselves how the internment camp where their bodies were dumped got there, and why some people might have been so keen to see it erased.

It must not be erased. It must not happen again. I’ll keep you posted.