When driving down the D3 on the approach to Oradour-sur-Glane, a white church is the first thing visible, growing taller with every rotation of the car wheels. Pausing at the roundabout staring straight ahead, the church is brilliantly white, unnaturally clean, distastefully modern. I glance left to make sure the road is clear, and that’s when I first saw it. A row of buildings of what was once a street. It’s unnerving.
It was morbid curiosity that brought me to Oradour-sur-Glane, also referred to as simply Oradour. On June 10th 1944, the Limousin village in west-central France was struck by unimaginable tragedy. In response to a small victory by the Resistance in a town not 10 kilometres from Oradour, a battalion of Nazi soldiers massacred the inhabitants, stole, pillaged and burnt the village. 190 men, 247 women and 205 children were murdered within a matter of hours.
Nowadays the village is deserted: the small number of survivors built new homes less than a mile away from the ruins. Oradour has been left untouched under the orders of General de Gaulle, “so that future generations might not forget”. After passing through the Centre de la Mémoire, a sign on the wall reads “Souviens-toi. Remember” and just inside the wall, a white board propped up against a tree spells “SILENCE”.
It is silent. No children playing, no sounds of laughter, no bird song; just the crunching sound of the feet of tourists trudging through this village which was once home to over 600 villagers. The ruins are fascinating. The concrete parts of the buildings still stand, although now over grown with weeds, it is still possible to distinguish between functions; the Garage, the Butchers, the Bakers. A row of bullet wounds on the side of the Dentists is just one of the indications of the inhumane actions which took place here. The Nazi’s lined men up against the wall and shot them down, defenceless.
The three schools in the village emphasise the reality of the slaughter of innocents, as does the church at the top of the village. The altar is damaged and chipped, not from age, but from the bullets fired during the massacre of women and children who were herded here. Only one woman escaped.
Cars remain parked on the streets or in their garages, riddled with rust and melted from the blaze of the Nazis. And the sewing machines still sit in the houses where they were left… One of the only indications of the time. The Singers of silence. It is hard to believe that less than seventy years ago, this place was alive.
The village is open every day from 9 o’clock and it is free to visit. It is interesting to witness the remains of the damage caused by war. Put aside at least a couple of hours for the visit, as you will be surprised at how engrossed in the history you will become. Parking is also free, although there is a small fee for entry into the museum in the Centre de la Mémoire. In order to get the full experience, I would advise doing some research beforehand, so you can understand exactly what happened and where. I recommend ‘Oradour-sur-Glane: The Tragedy Hour by Hour’ by Robert Hébras, a brief first hand account by a survivor. Oradour-sur-Glane is suitable for families and adults alike and provides an educational afternoon out.