Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Sorrow of Oradour sur Glane

This is the entrance to the museum, visitor center and to the former village of Oradour sur Glane. On June 10, 1944, the people of the village were rounded up by the SS and shot and burned. Six Hundred Forty-two people perished on that day and no one really knows why. Survivors, of which there were only a handful, describe an almost leisurely process of the Germans rounding up the residents and herding them to the town square. They were then divided into six groups. Most of the women and children were forced into the village church. Other locations held various groups of men, boys and others.

At around four o'clock in the afternoon, a grenade was exploded as a signal device, and the massacre commenced. A handful escaped, one woman from the church, and five young men from a barn. After the machine gunning of the villagers, the SS set fire to the entire town with straw and hay, oil and petrol poured on the bodies and other flamable items tossed into the mixture. The Germans left only their command post in the village untouched. They returned the following day to bury the bodies and try to cleanse the scene of their involvement.

After the war was finally over, General Charles DeGaulle visited the village and declared that it should remain in it's present condition for all time as a reminder of the vagaries of war.

In this confessional inside the village church, two young children were found with their arms wrapped around each other. Their bodies were dessicated by the intense heat.

Inside the church, where the women and children were, was this marble commemoration of the dead soldiers of World War I. Two stray bullets from the massacre left their mark on the names from the previous atrocity.

Very little of the 642 dead was recovered due to the intensity of the fires. Most bodies could not be identified. In the cemetary, inside a sealed vial are some of the charred bones and bodily

The cemetary has a series of plaques that display all the names of the dead in alphabetical order. I didn't think to count the plaques, but I'm guessing there were easily six or seven of them. To walk through the cemetary was a totally different emotional experience from that of wandering through the village itself. Pictures of the dead are everywhere along with names, ages and their relationships to others. As sad as it was to see the ruined village, it was infinitely more troubling to see the cemetary with it's tokens of sorrow. Note: I just noticed that Monsieur Compain and his wife are listed on this plaque. His photo is in the previous post, leaning out of his bakery window.

In the days following the massacre, locals were engaged in cleaning up the bodies and trying to sort out the mess the Germans had made. This is one of the few photos from the recovery effort.

In our next post, we'll present some photographs of the town as it appears today, assuming you want to see them.

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