L’Enfer de Verdun / Die Hölle von Verdun
There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them
- Ezra Pound
The Battle of Verdun was of one of the most costly battles in human history. Some 300,000 died over the course of 300 days. Another half a million were hurt or lost, all in a battlefield covering less than 20 square kilometers.
I visited Verdun a summer some years ago. I saw the village of Douaumont, or what was left of it: a forest, with inscribed stones indicating where houses had once stood. The rest had been reduced to rubble by months of continuous artillery fire. Then there is the graveyard and the mausoleum.
L’ossuaire de Douaumont is a necropolis. 16,142 graves, dead soldiers, mostly young men, names written on white crosses, white Stars of David, white muslim tomb stones facing Mecca, row upon row on a sleek hill among green trees and red flowers.
And on top of that hill: the mausoleum, the bone house. Built over those not identified. Through small outside windows you look in on the skeletons, the bones, of 130,000 people, combatants of both nations. 130,000 men! The population of a small city, reduced to skeletons, in heaps.
No names. Just bones.