Newest Review: ... which sits just below ground level at the foot of the hill, by the river Glane. As you enter, you will notice several huge murals, desig... more
Oradour - time frozen in memory.
Oradour sur Glane (France)
Member Name: MelissaRuth
Oradour sur Glane (France)
Advantages: A poignant insight into life in the war and of what happened in the massacre of Oradour.
Disadvantages: Can be a disturbing experience. Makes you realise what men can do to each other.
**What happened in Oradour sur Glane**
You may find the following account of what happened in Oradour distressing.
Oradour sur Glane was a small normal market town in the Languedoc region of France until the 10th of June 1944, just days after the D Day landings had happened. Around two o'clock in the afternoon on this day the locals were going about their regular business, the doctor was out on his rounds, the mechanics were working in the garage and the children had just come in from school. A convoy of German armoured cars and lorries suddenly drove into the town and the people looked out wondering what was going on in their peaceful town that had seen little action during the war. The village drum roll sounded and the residents made their way to the village green, or fairground as they called it. The soldiers began to brutally push people quickly towards the green. They divided them up with women and children on one side and men on the other and then the women were herded the short distance down the road to the church, where they felt that they had been taken to a place of safety. After an hour of checking houses and rounding up stray individuals and visitors through the town the Germans then divided the men up into smaller groups and took them to seven locations within the town; barns, garages and warehouses. At a signal the soldiers began to fire at the legs of the men in all of the locations, so that they were not able to run away and they fell down on each other. They then climbed over the men to shoot anyone who could still move. As the soldiers retreated they set fire to the buildings and the wounded men were burned alive.
None of the locations that the men had been taken to were far from the church, so the women and children could hear what was happening. Eventually the doors of the church were opened and the women thought that they were being released to find out what had happened to their husbands and sons. However two soldiers came in and brought with them a container with a cord hanging from it which they then lit and left the church. The container exploded and filled the church with an acrid smoke and there was a scene of panic as they tried to escape. The soldiers were waiting for them as they burst down the door and fired at the women and children through the door and windows, and then set fire to the church, killing all 500 of them, but for one 46 year old lady who managed to escape through a window 9 feet high.
Five men also managed to escape from one of the barns by faking death managing to crawl to corners of safety from the flames and smoke during the fires. Several people also managed to avoid the original rounding up by the soldiers and escaped. It is from the accounts of these few survivors that so much is known about what happened in Oradour on this horrendous day.
**Oradour sur Glane today**
A new town of Oradour sur Glane has grown in the intervening years a few yards away from the old town. The old town has been left as a memorial to the events of 10th June 1944 and as a reminder of what can happen when men are out of control. It was hoped that by leaving it completely untouched it would try to prevent further massacres in the future. Obviously all of the bodies were buried, but otherwise nothing else has happened in the village in those 65 years.
When we went on holiday to the Charente region of France last year, I was recommended by a friend to visit Oradour sur Glane. They explained a little bit about it, but I couldn't really imagine just what it would be like. In the gite that we stayed in there was a short book that was written by one of the survivors which gave the account that I have briefly summarised above of what happened in Oradour that day. He managed to pretend to be dead and then as the fires were lit he was able to scramble over the bodies of his friends and escape through a rear door of the barn and hide for hours and hours in a rabbit hutch just outside.
Having read this book and talked to the lady who owned the gite we were convinced that this was somewhere that we really should visit to try to understand what had gone on in France during the war. We knew that it would not be an easy place to be, but it seemed important that in the midst of all the fun that we were having on holiday, that we should step back for a while and visit Oradour.
You enter Oradour sur Glane by a tunnel which first leads you into a museum area, called the Centre de la Memoire which opened in 1999. This highlights other places in the world that massacres and genocide have happened in more recent years and draws the links between places such as Rwanda and Bosnia and the 911 World trade tower explosions to what happened in Oradour. I found some of the sites in here quite chilling, for instance there were particular artifacts belonging to people who died in the World trade tower and their individual stories were told. I understand that the exhibits regularly change here.
After spending a short time in the museum we walked out of another tunnel and back in time. It was a truly
unbelievable site and incredibly emotional. My over riding thoughts were that this was a world of stone and rusted metal. As you walk through the two main streets of the town the buildings stand on either side. The grey stone walls remain, but the window frames and glass are gone leaving you to peer through gaping holes into the remains of people's homes or work places. On the floor of each building were rusted bedsteads, cooking pots and sewing machines. Everywhere were sewing machines, many looking like you could pick them up and use them still - you know the type I mean - old singer ones with the handle on the side to turn. When I think of Oradour, sewing machines is the first thing that comes to mind - obviously each household had one and you could imagine the ladies making all of their clothes of soft furnishings, and now because they were robust and made of metal they are all that remain of these people's lives. All of the metal artefacts are now at ground floor level; over time as the floors and ceilings rotted the bed frames just fell through to land in the kitchen or living room.
Outside the remains of cars feel just as significant. Springs are all that are left of seats and the windows and tyres are gone, but otherwise they are the full remains of 1930s and 1940s type cars. In one of the garages many cars are parked together, now battered by the debris of the building that is falling down around them. The doctors' car seemed particularly meaningful. It is parked at the entrance to the village green, just where he left it when he went in to visit his last ever patient. It is sat there patiently waiting for him to come back out, having witnessed the rounding up of all of the towns people right in front of it on the green. The rusted petrol pump still stands a little way further up the road where all of these cars would once have filled up with petrol and one of the few colourful sites that is left are the bright yellow and red advertisements still mounted on the outside walls of the garage.
As you follow the main street towards the furthest points of the town you can walk along the tramline, past the post office and the doctors surgery to the tram station. This is where the tram would have stopped later that evening and the people returning to town after a day at work discovered the unbelievable awfulness of what they're friend neighbours and loved ones had experienced that day.
As you walk slowly through the streets taking in who lived there and what they did e.g. the hair dressers, the shops etc you come across signs which indicate the locations of the sites where the men had been led to and massacred. It brings it home that they died in places that would have been familiar to them all of their lives - the shed belonging to the Beaulieu family, the Desourteaux garage - just regular places that in a few hours turned into horrific mortuaries. You can only stand and try to imagine what it was like. The book that I had read and the guide book that we brought contained many pictures of life in Oradour before the massacre where you knew that everyone in them was probably killed as well as graphic pictures of the scenes that were found as people gradually returned to the town. Having seen pictures of the piles of charred bodies it was all too easy to visualise what these small buildings had been through. We were even able to locate the route by which the author of the book I read had escaped and the brick rabbit hutch that had saved his life. So much of our time was spent just gazing and wondering at the awfulness of it all.
In the church is the familiar World War 1 memorial that we are so used to seeing everywhere you go, be it in England or France. The fact that this was there and normal made me realise just how recent the events in Oradour had been and that many of the people who perished could well have been expected to still be alive today. Holes from gunshot pepper the walls and it's easy to see that there was no way out. How horrifying it must have been for these women with their children, first hearing the things that were happening to their menfolk and then realising that the church which they'd thought was going to be their place of safety was actually going to be that place where they would die. I don't know how the lady ever managed to escape. She climbed on the alter to reach a small high window, but it must have taken supreme effort and determination and the drop the other side was vast - she could so easily have died from the fall.
We took a couple of hours to walk around the main areas of the town and then walked back out through the museum into the reality of today's town, where a structure has been rebuilt, but I can't imagine how they manage to live alongside the constant reminder of what happened to their town. There is a new modern memorial at the edge of the current Oradour to the people who lost their lives.
Oradour sur Glane is situated 15 miles from the city Of Limoges in the Languedoc region of France. This is 440 miles South of Calais and takes approximately 6 ¾ hours to drive, although you can fly to Limoges.
The ruins are open every day, but opening times vary depending on the time of year, but generally open at 9.00am and close between 5.00pm and 7.00pm, with last entry 1 hour before closing. The Centre de la Memoire closes during December and January, but the ruins can still be accessed by able bodied people. The reception area is closed for lunch between 12.00 and 2.00 each day. Wheelchair access to the ruins is only via a lift from the Centre. All of the street areas are wheelchair accessible, but the church does not have access for wheelchairs. Despite this it is a visit that I would still recommend for anyone using a wheelchair. Parking is also close by and free.
There is no charge for visiting the ruins, but there is a seven euro fee to watch a background video. This is in French, but a handset can be borrowed which gives an English translation. We didn't do this as we felt that we had a good insight into what had happened through reading the book prior to our visit. We did go back in and buy the guidebook however, as we soon realised that we wanted to be able to see the map that it contained to help us orientate ourselves as we walked around. We also wanted to have something to take away with us to show to other people alongside the photos that we took, to help them to understand where we had visited. The website indicates that some building work occurs to preserve the ruins in their current state. We saw no sign of this and it is obviously being done very carefully, as everything feels very natural. It is great that it is being preserved as I think it is important for people to be able to experience this way into the future.
I would urge everyone to visit and experience Oradour for themselves if they are ever visiting this region of France. It is such a moving experience and gives as much help in understanding the history of the Second World War as the memorials in northern France. Our children were 10 and 14 when we visited. They had both studied the Second World War at school so had some understanding. They both coped well and found it a rewarding experience. Younger children would probably still find it interesting looking around the ruins and need not be told of the distressing events that happened there. I give it 5 stars as a visit leaves you feeling that you have had an incredibly powerful life experience.
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Summary: The preserved ruins of a town in France that was massacred by German soldiers in 1944.