Posted by Richard Amor Allan
There are probably very few places on earth that are as quiet as Oradour-Sur-Glane. Not in terms of visitor numbers, there are always plenty of those. The quietness is eerie. It’s a place where there’s no birdsong, no laughter; just the sound of footsteps and muted conversation. The quiet of thought and remembrance.
Oradour-Sur-Glane’s place in history was forged in blood and fire on June 10th 1944. Four days after the D-Day landings, when the Allied forces launched a counter offensive against the Axis forces occupying France. The French Resistance were particularly active in the Limousin region, making careful strikes at the German divisions who were making their way north towards Normandy. One such strike was the kidnapping and execution of a German officer, and the retaliation for this strike was to change the face of the village forever.
There is plenty written about the events of June 10th 1944 and the revenge attack by a battalion of SS troops who decimated the entire village. Websites such as http://www.oradour.info/ contain information about the slaughter that took place, the story of how one SS officer overstepped his orders to wreak a terrible retribution on the men, women and children of Oradour-sur-Glane. The story of how the village was sealed off from the outside world, the inhabitants rounded up, separated and murdered; the story of how the women and children were locked inside a burning church, and how the men were shot in the legs before being doused in fuel and set alight. A story that stays with everyone who hears it.
Yolanda and I travelled to Oradour-sur-Glane accompanied by our 13 year old niece Megan during a family holiday in August 2014. Yolanda had previously heard of the village, and we had decided to head out and take a look. Our expectations were to find a deserted village in a rural area, but what we found was a thriving town, 12 miles from Limoges, with the ruins of the village remaining as a memorial. Access is only possible through a visitors’ centre which sells guide maps and other informational materials; the guide map gives a recommended walking route and points out the more significant locations around the village.
A visit to Oradour-sur-Glane can’t be described as a pleasurable experience. There’s an atmosphere of loss, deep sorrow, that hangs in the air over the ruined buildings and the twisted metal of the vehicles, the tables, the sewing machines. Memorial plaques mark out the locations where the villagers died, pointing out the places of the atrocities and urging the visitors to remember, to never forget. There’s very little wood left in the village – almost every building was looted and torched by the SS. The church’s melted bell remains on display in front of walls that bear the bullet holes fired into the inferno that claimed so many lives. The car of the village doctor sits rusting in the square, nature slowly taking a grip on the physical remains of a day that changed everything. The barns where the men were killed are fenced off, but the message of the place is still clear: this is where 642 lives were taken in one day, one afternoon of wanton madness. Remember.