ruins

The Ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane

Oradour-sur-Glane is a village in the Haute-Vienne department of the Limousin region (now part of Nouvelle-Aquitaine) of France.  The new Oradour-sur-Glane was rebuilt after World War II next to the original village which was destroyed by a German Waffen-SS company.

The Massacre

The story of the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre is simply atrocious.  After the D-Day invasion, German troops that were stationed near Toulouse in southern France were ordered north to help stop the Allied advance.  One of the commanding officers, Diekmann, learned from the Milice (a paramilitary force of the Vichy Regime) that a Waffen-SS officer had been captured by the Resistance.  

In retaliation, Diekmann’s battalion sealed off Oradour-sur-Glane and rounded up all its residents.  The women and children were locked in the church while the men were led to six different barns.  The SS troops shot all the men in the legs so they couldn’t move and then set the barns on fire.  Then they set the church on fire.

After looting the town, the Germans set all of Oradour-sur-Glane on fire.  Of 649 civilians, only six men and one woman escaped the massacre.

The Memorial

Today, the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane stand next to the new town as a memorial as French President Charles de Gaulle ordered them not to be torn down.

Visiting only the village ruins are free. Entry to the ruins are through the Village Martyr Centre de la Mémoire which is built into a hill.  The Village Martyr Centre de la Mémoire also features displays, pictures, a ten-minute movie, and the history of WWII and the massacre. To see these exhibits, there is a 7.80 euro entrance fee. 

Most of the displays are in French though there are some blurbs in English.  I recommend reading the history on Wikipedia and watching the movie with sub-titles which sums up most of the information in the centre.

The Ruins

Exiting the centre leads visitors to the ruins which are overwhelming.  The site reminded me of Pompeii except that Oradour-sur-Glane was burned down by humans, not by a natural disaster.  It’s sickening to think of all these innocent people dying, and it is a stark reminder of why we should be so thankful for our freedom.

Crumbling stone and brick walls defining shops, offices, cafes and homes line the village streets.  The buildings are strewn with rusted bikes, cooking pots, tools and countless sewing machines.  In fact, there might have been as many sewing machines as there were burnt out cars that remained in garages.

The Church

The church, cemetery, rail station and post office really stood out to me.  A stone altar still stood in the church with a burned stroller next to it. It is sad to imagine all the women and children being trapped in the building.

The Cemetery

The cemetery includes a memorial to the victims, but it was also interesting to see the graves, both old and new. It’s common practice for the French to have a plaque made as a gift to the dead. These plaques which read “love from your cousin” or “to my friend” decorate the tombs.

The Train Station and Post Office

The train station and post office were to the side of most the ruins which gave a feeling of desertion and eeriness. The post office building, with the etched lettering, though burnt down still seemed majestic.

I spent much longer quietly wandering through the ruins than anticipated.  I was not expecting them to be so big.  They truly encompass the entire town of Oradour-sur-Glane.

Oradour-sur-Glane is a World War II site not to be missed in south central France.  What an incredible memorial to honor those who died. ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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