When my dad first told me about Oradour-sur-Glane, I knew at once it was a place I would like to visit. My dad and I share a passion for history, particularly anything involving the Second World War. This made the French village, located in the Limousin district, a must-see.
I must admit that I was apprehensive about visiting a place steeped in such sadness. However, it’s an extremely important piece of history that I think everyone should see in their lifetime. So, let me tell you the heart-breaking story of this once vibrant village.
This once beautiful village had around 1500 inhabitants before tragedy struck. It had several restaurants, a number of hotels and a remarkable church that was very famous. People living in Limoges enjoyed spending a few hours there, stopping for a picnic or to fish in the nearby river Glane. It was a prosperous village that was full of life until the fateful day of 10th June 1944.
The Tragic Event
After the D-Day invasion, German troops that were stationed near Toulouse were ordered north to help stop the Allies advancing. One of the commanding officers of these troops, a man called Diekmann, learned that a Waffen-SS officer had been captured by the Resistance. In retaliation, Diekmann’s battalion headed to Oradour-sur-Glane where they believed the officer was being held.
Shortly after 2pm German soldiers descended on the village and surrounded it, ordering the inhabitants to make their way to the Fairground. After about an hour, German soldiers had finished setting up machine guns in a number of different places around the village. Men and women who were visiting from neighbouring villages, were also sent to the Fairground and soon after, the school children arrived in lines.
Around 3:30pm the soldiers separated the men from the women and children. The women and children were sent to the church whereas the men were divided into groups and sent off to the barns.
30 minutes later an explosion was heard and at this signal, the machine guns started firing on the men. Any men that did not die immediately, were shot again with a shotgun and if they tried to run they were shot in the legs. After the bullets stopped firing, the broken bodies were set on fire.
Not even an hour later, the German soldiers put a box inside the church that had cords protruding from it. They set fire to it and when smoke began billowing out, the women started to panic as they began suffocating. Instinctively, they started rushing towards the doors but the soldiers fired on them, forcing them to retreat. All of the women and children were shot, the youngest child being just 8 days old.
After looting the town, the Germans set the entire of Oradour-sur-Glane on fire.
In just 3 hours, 642 human lives were wiped out and 328 buildings were destroyed.
Only one woman and six men survived the massacres, with the remainder of the inhabitants perishing in this atrocious event. What only lasted a few hours was sufficient to wipe this town out completely.
When Charles De Gaulle visited the site, he asked that the ruins be preserved, in order to bear witness for the rest of mankind to the consequences of the barbarity of war.
The village has stood still ever since, reminding us all that no good ever comes from evil.