The Vercors Massif is a large, difficult-to-access plateau lying at about 1000m/3100ft above sea level just to the north of Die. It’s an attractive place looking almost alpine and caters both for walkers and skiers. We visited the Vercors once, many years ago when francs were francs and Euros weren’t invented, so we knew some of what to expect. A visit to the Vercors makes obvious one particular claim to fame that makes one realize that further jokes about nearby towns bearing the name “Die” would be inappropriate.
The Vercors is surrounded by higher peaks and cols with few access roads. Its situation makes it easy to defend and difficult to attack. For this reason, between 1942-43, it grew into a stronghold of the maquis, the French resistance movement, during the second world war. Standing prominently in one of the wider, flatter parts of the plateau, with the inevitable French tricolours fluttering, is a memorial graveyard.
About a month and a half after D-Day, in late July 1944, the German temper with the resistance in the Vercors ran out and they decided to wipe them out. They mounted a raid on the village of Vassieux using an SS division sent in by parachute and glider. 750 maquisards and civilians were killed and several villages completely destroyed. A wander through the memorial graveyard reveals that the Germans annihilated some particularly challenging enemies; a child of 18 months lies not far away from old lady of 91. Entire families lie together; clearly nobody was spared. Just for good measure, the Nazis went on to murder a group of wounded, together with their doctors and nurses, sheltering in a nearby natural cave, the Grotte de la Liure.
The skeletons of some of the German gliders used in the assault on the Vercors remain in Vassieux (now restored) and, more poignantly, behind the cemetery that contains the skeletons of many of the victims.
Some things made one’s apparent troubles pale into insignificance.