Behind the infamous Notre Dame Cathedral is a deeply moving memorial to the people who were deported from Vichy France to Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
Upon entering the memorial, a sense of claustrophobia is created by tall walls that block all views of the surrounding city and streets. Any sense of freedom is gone, but for the sky above. However, a foreboding iron gate serves as a reminder that there was no exit for those imprisoned.
Somehow, I ended up alone in the memorial, which gave me the eerie experience of total silence. With no tourists chatting and snapping pictures, I was left with nothing but the walls, the sky, and spirits of those who did not return. I stood and closed my eyes and simply allowed the moment to become part of me.
In an inner chamber, 200,000 illuminated crystals line the walls and symbolize each of the deportees who died at Nazi hands. I put my finger on one crystal and wondered which soul it represented. What kind of life did this person lead? How much did they suffer? Did they still have hope, even at the end?
Within the same chamber is the tomb of an unknown deportee who died at the Neustadt camp and the urns of ashes from the camps. It’s here that I stand and say a little prayer with hope that all those lost are truly at peace.
Upon leaving the memorial, the same engraving found at almost all sites memorializing victims of the Holocaust can be found: “Forgive, but never forget.”
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Part of the A to Z Challenge!