We left you last on the bridge taking great photos of the back of the Cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris. Now, as I mentioned in the last blog, we are going to visit a very special spot just at the tip of the island. As you leave the bridge and step onto the island, turn to the right and go into the little park called Square de l'Ile de France. You may notice a short wall ahead of you with writing on it. This is the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, a memorial to the 200,000 people deported from France during the 2nd World War, who went to their deaths in the extermination camps. This memorial was inaugurated in 1962 by General de Gaulle, then President of France. But most people don't ever find the memorial since there is no obvious indication. Even many Parisians have never been here. Notice a flight of stairs leading down. There may be an official at the stairs to inspect bags. Go down and you will find yourself in a stone enclosure suggesting a prison. Be aware that you are in a very solemn place and respect the silence and the feelings that arise in you and others around you. At the very tip of the island where you can see the river below, a metal sculpture gives the feeling of impossible escape.
Look back toward the stairway and you will notice a very narrow entrance to the crypt. Designed by the architect Georges-Henri Pingusson, the hexagonal, dimly-lit crypt opens onto a long gallery covered by lights, representing each of the 200,000 deported people killed, and the ashes of an unknown deportee from one of the camps. Whenever I visit this memorial I feel deeply moved and I am not the only one shedding a tear. You feel engulfed by the silence and the memories. The writings on the walls look like they have been scratched from the stone and are red to suggest the suffering. The two small galleries contain earth from the different camps and ashes brought back from the cremation ovens. All around, are the names of the camps and excerpts from poems by famous French writers like Robert Desnos, Jean-Paul Sartre and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Read the inscriptions, and let yourself feel the sadness as you reflect on the long voyage of humanity away from fear and hatred and toward more love and oneness. There are several inscriptions I always point out to fellow-travelers: “They went to the end of the world and they didn't come back”. And the words of the poet Paul Eluard from his famous poem Liberté:
"Et par le pouvoir d’un mot
Je recommence ma vie
Je suis né pour te connaître
Pour te nommer Liberté."
And in leaving the crypt, over the door it is written: Pardonne, n'oublie pas. Forgive, don't forget. May you hold in your heart the message of this visit, long after you leave the spot. In the next blog we will move across the street to visit the mighty cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Please join me there.