Oradour-sur-Glane, memory of a massacre


The village of Oradour-sur-Glane is located about twenty kilometers from Limoges, in Limousin, a region of France. At the beginning of the 1940s, the central town had 330 inhabitants, and the entire area a little over 1,500 inhabitants. The population has increased following waves of migration since 1939: Spaniards fleeing Francoism, Alsatian evacuees, Moselle expelled, French Jews or foreigners fleeing persecution. Oradour-sur-Glane is a lively place, a tram directly connects the center to Limoges, and the Saturday market attracts people from the surrounding area.

On Saturday June 10, 1944, the town was therefore very lively with the inhabitants and visitors enjoying the market and the shops in the center, as well as the children of the town who were gathered in the schools for the medical visit.

The inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane and the surrounding area are not involved in the armed resistance, although it is increasingly violent in the region, particularly in Limoges. Moreover, until June 10, the village was rather spared from war and occupation. We still do not know today exactly why Oradour-sur-Glane was chosen by the Nazi army.

The Waffen SS troop that arrives in the region is infamous, the Waffen SS Das Reich division is one of the oldest of the Nazi armed branches. The troop put into practice on the Eastern front the use of terror through mass executions of the civilian population, in particular to reduce the support of the population for the resistance fighters.

What happened in Oradour-sur-Glane is a prepared massacre. To « regain control of the area », General Lammerding advocates the application of brutal repressive measures in a report of June 5. June 6 marks the start of the Normandy landings. On June 9, 8,500 men arrived in the region, perpetuating massacres, looting and fires. Many inhabitants of Tulle will be deported and 99 hostages hanged. On June 9 and 10, meetings took place between officers of the Waffen SS, SS policemen and French militiamen to decide on the way forward.

On June 10 around 1 p.m., 200 men set out for Oradour-sur-Glane, which was methodically surrounded. The inhabitants and the people passing through are driven towards the center of the town, under the pretext of an identity check, some are hiding but there is no panic movement since until now the village has been spared by the SS, and the inhabitants know that there is no maquis in Oradour itself. Gunshots are heard, the inhabitants unable to move are killed. Residents of farms outside the town are also brought in. Once in the central square, two groups are created: the women and children are taken to the church, the men to various closed places. The men will be shot at the same time, then burned. Explosives are placed in the church which resists the explosion, the survivors will be shot and burned. The village is looted and burned, anyone who crosses the path of the troops is executed on the spot. The village is guarded all night by soldiers, the next day the bodies will be methodically burned, thrown into mass graves, in particular to make it impossible to identify the victims. Following research, there are now 643 victims. This is the biggest massacre of civilians in France committed by the German army.

The ruins were preserved as they were, a new town was rebuilt next to it. Oradour-sur-Glane was in permanent mourning until the early 1960s: the women were dressed in black, no festivities were organised, no communion, no baptisms, no weddings… Living next to the ruins is not easy, a generation has been sacrificed, there are no more children in the village. With time and the arrival of new inhabitants, the village will come back to life.

The martyr village is preserved as a witness to this massacre, the Memory Center built next to it is intended as a historical and educational place on the massacre and the horrors of World War II, and more broadly for all the civilian victims of armed conflicts.

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