We have just returned from another lovely family trip to France. Fantastic weather, great company and such a lovely country, but there was one place we visited that just has to be shared.
Set the scene: 10th June 1944, Oradour sur Glane, just outside Limoges in the Limousin region of central France. The allied forces had commenced the “D-Day” landings on the Normandy beaches only a matter of days before. Tension amongst german troops was high. French resistance forces had been causing much disruption to the german retreat, destroying roads and bridges, resulting in the death of numerous german soldiers. Vengeance was usually swift and calculated, rumours and intelligence pointed the Nazis to Oradour sur Glane as a potential source of this resistance activity.
SS troops entered the village early that day, under the guise of a routine check on identity papers, fairly routine, so everybody thought. Whilst this was happening in the village, further troops were surrounding the village, creating a “ring of steel”, the trap was complete, there would be no escape.
On the village green, known as “The Fair Ground”, the whole village was detained, around 650 people. There was no panic, in German occupied France this was still pretty normal. At around lunchtime that day the village was then split, the women and children were taken to the church, the men were split between 5 or 6 locations around the village, all carefully selected so that there was little chance of escape. Still there was no panic, a few were nervous but this was still fairly “normal”, even when the heavy machine guns were mounted and made ready.
There was a loud bang, probably a grenade, and this was the signal … all hell then broke loose. In the various locations around the village the machine guns were opened up and the massacre began. In one location it was reported that the guns were poorly sited which meant the guns would not fire above waist height (although some suggest deliberately), those that then lay crippled on the floor were finished off by small arms or expired in the ensuing fires.
In the church, where the women and children were, still no mercy was shown. A very large wooden box was brought in and some attached fuses were lit. There was a small explosion but then the church filled with gas, those that tried to escape or seek refuge in the chancellery were then shot. Once the gas had done it’s job a fire was then set, a fire so hot that it melted the church bell (pictured on the left). The next day, when the fires had done their work, the SS came back into town and clinically removed all evidence of human remains from the killing fields to a mass grave near the town, an operation to remove and conce6 are known to have survived, either by escaping early or hiding under corpses until escape became possible. 642 were killed, some in their 70s or 80s and the youngest being 1 week old. No mercy was shown to anybody for any reason. Residents returning on the tram from Limoges the next day were faced with armageddon, and the grim task of gathering whatever remains they could find of their loved ones.
After the war Charles de Gaulle declared that the village would never be demolished, and would be preserved as a memorial to the occupation.
A new village was built in the 50s on the hillside opposite. To this day, the preservation continues, some buildings are maintained in their demolished state by concrete internal supporting beams to ensure the stability of the memorial. If you get the opportunity, you must visit, it’s an extremely soulful place.
France will never forget … neither must we forget the ultimate sacrifice paid by innocents.
The tragic irony is that there are many “Oradours” in that part of France … they got the wrong one, the “intelligence” was flawed.