It seems we made the correct decision. We awoke to largely overcast skies and were not sorry that we were heading north to supposedly clearer weather. Having to pick places with open campsites from a steadily reducing number, we chose to travel 250mls/400kms north to Limoges to visit the historic village of Oradour-sur-Glane. We’ve driven by signs for it on the autoroute heading south on several occasions but never before arranged the opportunity to visit. Time to correct our oversight.
On 10th June, 1944, just four days after D-Day, the Nazi SS first surrounded and then entered the village of Oradour-sur-Glane about 25kms/15mls northwest of Limoges. The SS proceeded to round up all the inhabitants plus any visitors. The men were then taken in groups to five or six locations within the village where they were all executed and their bodies burned. 500+ women and children were sent to the village church which was then set alight. Machine gunners were stationed outside the church to prevent any escape from the choking fumes. A single woman survived. The village was burned.
Predating a similar massacre on the Vercors Massif by about a month, this was a reprisal massacre by the Nazis because of the continued irritation of the French resistance, the maquisards. The burning seems to me to form a poignant parallel to the treatment of the Cathars in the Languedoc region we have just left. The human race had advanced by 700 years but was no more civilized, apparently.
As a memorial to those massacred, the original village of Oradour-sur-Glane was left and is maintained exactly the way the Nazis left it in June 1944. [Ed: Excepting that some rubble has been cleared presumably in the search for remains] An old tramway still exists with its overhead power lines intact but now runs nowhere. Sewing machines and bedsteads have been left in the burned out carcases of the houses. Particularly disturbingly, near the altar of the now roofless church lies a distorted, rusting pushchair. The most graphic feature to me, though, is the rusting hulks of wartime cars which have been left on the street and in garages exactly where they stood at the time of this incredible act of brutality. Without these cars, ruins such as these could date from almost any time but those rusting cars fixed it for me in history and gave it a chillingly recent timeframe.
The preservation of “the martyr village”, as the French call it, is quite remarkable. How does one preserve a ruin? Workers are employed keeping the weeds down along the uninhabited streets and in what were the rooms of houses and businesses. We even saw scaffolding erected, obviously where ruins needed to be “repaired” or reinforced.
The memorial village of Oradour-sur-Glane just has to be seen. It’s shocking and it’s magnificently done. Moreover it’s completely free. Excellent!