You cannot fail to be moved by the experience of visiting the Centre de La Memoir at Oradour. We had heard about it from fellow travellers and, finding ourselves heading this way, we could not miss it.
We parked at the free aire on the other side of the current village of Oradour and walked to the memorial site. On the day we visited we were lucky to have a beautiful sunny autumn day. The horrors of the events of 10th June 1944 were very much at odds with such a lovely day.
The memorial centre traces the historical events from 1933 to 1953, from the growth of Nazism in Europe to the Bordeaux trial. There is too much to recount here but, the massacre that took place on 10 Jun 44 was a terrible reprisal for attacks by French maquisards.
On that day, a Waffen SS unit of the “Das Reich” division encircled the village of Oradour-Sur-Glane. They hearded the women and children into the church, used the men to search for weapons and dig their own graves. Some villagers were held in the village square. Simultaneously the soldiers shot all the villagers. They set off a gas bomb in the church and when that failed to kill everyone they threw in grenades. This was a massacre of 649 innocent people in order to subdue the occupied population of France and send a warning to the resistance. After the murders, they piled the bodies up and set fire to them followed by the village buildings. Before burning the buildings the soldiers looted them, removing anything they could carry.
The entire village has been preserved as a shrine. There are rusting cars, bikes, sewing machines and, in the church, a child’s toy pram. Some of the signs are still there such as those on the garage. The post office still has it’s facade and the bread ovens are still there in the boulangerie. There is a cafe table outside one of the village cafes. It is an extremely moving memorial to those 649 people.
Outside the memorial village there are further monuments to the people who died.
The village was entirely rebuilt in the following years. The buildings were all a subdued grey as befitted the occasion but, in more recent times, colour has started to return. The people of Oradour honour their murdered relatives with two silent memorial events each year and by continuing to live and work here. Life goes on but this atrocity will not be forgotten.