It has been a week of somber remembrances in France marking various events of WWII.
Today is the seventieth anniversary of the massacre of 642 men, women and children in the small village of Oradour-sur-Glane. While this may seem like another odd post, and certainly not something I “love” about France, it is something I think is important to know about France, and an event to be remembered and marked.
On our way to Bordeaux in April, we stop for the afternoon in this perfectly preserved and moving village-memorial to the horrors borne by French civilians during the Nazi occupation. It is a difficult site to visit, but I am grateful that we did, and grateful to the local government for leaving the village exactly as it died on June 10, 1944.
During the war, Oradour-sur-Glane was an unimportant and peaceful town located close to Limoges, not too far from Dordogne. Like many small hamlets in France, its residents were struggling to get by during the occupation, but there is no clear record of any Resistance activity in the village, although a captured SS officer may have been briefly held there prior to the massacre. But on the morning of June 10, just four days after the D-day landings, the towns’ passive status could not save them from the wrath of the Nazis.
Early in the day, a group of SS soldiers entered the village and rounded up all the residents on the pretext that they wanted to check their identity papers and search their houses for weapons. They moved the men to nearby barns and herded the women and children into the village church, suggesting that they sing as they marched.
What followed was the methodical and evil extermination of an entire town within hours. Below is a text chronicling this horrific war crime:
“A large gas bomb, seemingly made out of smoke-screen grenades and intended to asphyxiate the occupants, was placed in the church, but it did not work properly when it went off and so the SS had to use machine guns and hand grenades to disable and kill the women and children. After they had subdued all the occupants of the church, the soldiers piled wood on the bodies, many of which were still alive and set it on fire.
At the same time that the gas bomb exploded in the church, the SS fired their machine guns into the men crowded in the barns. They deliberately fired low, so that many of the men were badly wounded but not killed. The soldiers then piled wood and straw on the bodies and set it alight, many of the men thus burned to death, unable to move because of their injuries. Six men did manage to escape from Madame Laudy’s barn, but one of them was seen and shot dead, the other 5 all wounded, got away under cover of darkness.
Whilst these killings were taking place, the soldiers searched the village for any people who had evaded the initial roundup and killed them where they found them. One old invalid man was burned to death in his bed and a baby was baked to death in the local bakery ovens, other people were killed and their bodies thrown down a well. People who attempted to enter the village to see what was going on were shot dead. A local tram, which arrived during the killings, was emptied of passengers, who after several terrifying minutes were let go in peace.
After killing all the villagers that they could find, the soldiers set the whole village on fire and early the next day, laden with booty stolen from the houses, they left.” (source: www.oradour.info)