Oradour-sur-Glane: Site of a Massacre

Wrecked hardware - bicycles, a sewing machine etc. in Oradour-sur Glane. This is a photograph which I took during a visit to the French village Oradour-sur-Glane on June 11 2004, exactly 60 years after its destruction by the German army during World War II. Photo by Dennis Nilsson.

The unique yet nauseating site of the memorial village of Oradour-sur-Glane, which in 1944 was the site of a horrific massacre.

Oradour-sur-Glane changed forever in June of 1944. Nearly the entire population of men, women and children were callously and sadistically murdered by the Waffen-SS.

The burnt out remains of Oradour-sur-Glane have been preserved. Following the war it was decided by Charles de Gaulle that the village shouldn’t be rebuilt, and that its burnt out ruins should remain as a reminder of the many cruel exploits of the Third Reich. Former French President Jacque Chirac dedicated a memorial museum to the site of the village as tribute to the “martyred village.”

I visited the remains of the old village on a rainy day back in 2008. The desolate remains are chilling. Whilst the cool rain was enough to send a chill up ones spine I’d contend the empty burned out cars and houses of this destroyed community would be enough on their own to send a chill up your spine on a warm spring day.

The charred emptiness and mere stone brick mortar remains of what were once peoples’ homes is striking when one ponders and mentally processes the implications of what one is looking at.

The burned out doctors car parked in the center of the village is to me the most poignant reminder of how tragic this whole incident was, and how that man like most of the other villagers was going about his business on what he naturally assumed would be another normal day.

That’s what makes this town unique in some regards its preserved ruins are latently similar to the ancient ruins of Pompeii. However this was a wholly man-made catastrophe reaped upon this village, and its preserved remains serve as a very salient reminder of how horrific, inhumane and savagely primitive war can be.

The SS had been informed by French collaborators that one of their soldiers was being held by the French resistance in Oradour-sur-Vayres. So, obviously upon their arrival on Oradour-sur-Glane, the village people clearly knew there had been some mistake, after all they had no stash of arms, nor of course the captured soldier the unit were looking for.

Dispensing with any explanation for their activity the SS battalion ordered all of the women and children into the church whilst the men were gathered into the barns and sheds that the soldiers were searching for weapons in as well as for any evidence to prove the collusion of the villagers with the French resistance who were working in co-ordination with the Allied amphibious invasion of Normandy that begun earlier that month and ultimately evicted the occupying German forces from France.

Alas they found nothing.

They had come with the intention of spilling blood, and in an orgy of sadistic violence they shed an abundance. Machine gunning the buildings with the men inside they proceeded to set them alight burning their bodies, some whom were still alive faced a horrific death, as they were essentially cooked alive and smothered by the smoke.

The soldiers then closed in on the church, throwing an explosive device inside killing and dismembering several of the women and children, they then sprayed machine gun fire indiscriminately killing several more before setting fire to the church, burning both the dead and the live survivors. Machine gun bullets engraved in the wall and all across the altar still remain in the burnt out interior. To me it stands as a charred reminder of the horrific exploits of fascism.

If you ever get a chance to visit Oradour-sur-Glane just visualize what those moments in that church were like; women and children after hearing the male members of their families and friends being murdered, pleading with the unrelenting soldiers before they too were massacred.

Also, picture if you can the confusion, the claustrophobia and the sheer terror of those trapped inside that church, and imagine those who survived to the very end, hot lead having crippled them, having brought them to the floor, next to the bodies of their children, parents, neighbours as their entire surroundings and themselves were enveloped in the hot flames.

If the reprehensible actions of those soldiers on that day aren’t enough to make you feel nauseous upon thinking about that then nothing I can say nor anything I could ever show you will do so.