I used to believe that time stopped for no-one. Until I went through a large museum door and into a place called Oradour-sur-Glane. There – time has (quite justifiably) ceased to exist.
It stopped on the morning of 10 June, 1944.
It will never go again.
On this terrible day, the village was destroyed and 642 people – men, women, children and babies were mercilessly massacred by a German SS company.
There was no warning for the villagers. Early that summer morning, they were all suddenly made to assemble on the square by a group of soldiers – they were told they were to present their identity papers. Half a dozen passing cyclists were also included – they just happened to be in the village at the wrong time.
Few of the villagers survived the events that followed.
The men and women were separated and the former were divided into smaller groups, then taken to local buildings around the village, tortured and shot.
Sign on the left:
“Here: Place of Torture – A group of men were massacred and burnt by the Nazis.”
Sign on the right:
“6 men escaped from this barn“
The rest of the villagers were locked into the church while the village was plundered. Then the church was torched and only one of 248 women survived, while all of the 205 children died.
Why Oradour-sur-Glane? What had the people done to deserve this? It was a mistake – it should have been Oradour-sur-Vayres that was to be punished, because it was suspected that a German officer was being held there by the Resistance.
The French people closed the village and have preserved it intact, in memory of this sad and terrible time. To this day, it is still largely left untouched. Fences ensure that visitors look but do not touch or damage anything. But such is the nature of the memorial that even where items can be handled, they are reverently left well alone.
The invaders ransacked and burnt many of the buildings during the massacre and signs of these fires are still there.
Old motor cars are still standing where they were parked on that day and other signs of daily life lie scattered on the floors of what were family homes.
The remains of a babies’ pram lies on the floor of the church – all that is left in memory of that tiny life.
All the villagers who died that day are buried close to each other in the cemetery which forms part of the protected village. It seems fitting that their remains stay as part of the memorial to themselves. A few individuals were able to escape – their stories are now a vital part of a museum display. They are heart wrenching to read.
The museum is now the gateway to the site and one gets to read and try to understand a bit about the unfortunate circumstances leading up to the massacre and why it was so dreadfully brutal. Events in other theatres of the war had apparently desensitised the soldiers to the point where they felt little about what they were doing. It is one of the best, saddest and tragic museums I have ever visited.
The preserved village has a sombre and very intense atmosphere. Apart from a sign in the church which asks for silence to be observed, no one is asked to be silent. Yet visitors walk quietly around the ruins – just looking, thinking and being moved to prayer perhaps.
I came across Oradour-sur-Glane quite by accident when I was researching a cycling route for our first bicycle tour in France.
I read a bit about it and then had a look on Google maps where I saw some images of the site. These photos were compelling and I felt had to go and experience the place for myself.
It was the most memorable part of our entire stay in France. It is difficult to describe the feeling that I had while there – a deep, intense sadness that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
For those who are interested in seeing the village where time has no meaning, Oradour-sur-Glane is near Limoges in France.
There are many websites with images and further information on the village which can be found through simple web searches. Some of the factual information for this post was obtained from Wikipedia.
(Post script: I hope my translations of the French signage is accurate – apologies if my choice of words is not quite correct).
This article was posted in response to the Weekly writing challenge: through the door.