Village of the damned: Oradour-sur-Glane, France

image from: http://io9.com/

image from: http://io9.com/

I always gravitate toward levity and humor on my blog, but I’m going to veer sharply from that today. This post is an extremely tragic story and there is no light or humor to be found in it.

Regular readers of my website know that I’m endlessly intrigued by abandoned houses, villages and towns and the stories behind them. But when I learned about this small town in France I actually cried.

Here is the story of this uninhabited town, frozen in time and grief….

image from: www.gerard-halary.com

image from: www.gerard-halary.com

Oradour-sur-Glane was a village in the west-central Limousin region of France with roots going back 1000 years in time. The majority of the town’s inhabitants, plus a couple of unfortunate souls passing through on bicycles, were killed on June 10, 1944 by the German Waffen SS soldiers in World War II.

642 innocent men, women and children ranging in age from one week old to 90 years, were rounded up and slaughtered. The village was then pillaged and burned.

image from:www.warhistoryonline.com

image from:www.warhistoryonline.com

On the order of then president of France, Charles de Gaulle, the remains of the town of Oradour-sur-Glane were preserved as a permanent memorial and museum.

image from: www.tripadvisor.com

A new village named Oradour-sur-Glane was built nearby, but the ruins of the original town survive to this day, bearing witness to the horrors that occurred there.

image from: www.flickriver.com

image from: www.flickriver.com

On the morning of June 10 1944, a German SS battalion sealed off Oradour-sur-Glane with the aim of exacting revenge and teaching the French a lesson for a purported kidnapping of a Waffen-SS officer by the French Resistance movement.

In a sad twist of fate, the occupying Nazis mistook Oradour-sur-Glane for their intended target village with a similar name: Oradour-sur-Vayres.

image from: www.abandoned-france.org

image from: www.abandoned-france.org

They assembled all of the townspeople in the central square under the guise of having their identity papers checked. In addition to all of the local residents who were present on that day, the SS also ensnared six young people who did not live there but had the great misfortune of just having ridden through town on a bicycle trip when the Germans arrived.

image from: http://www.ushmm.org

image from: http://www.ushmm.org

The women and children were separated from the men and locked inside the village church. The men were taken to six barns where the SS had already moved machine guns into place.

The Nazis shot the men in their legs to prolong the agony. Once all the men in the barns were immobile, the structures were doused with fuel and set on fire.

190 men perished there. Six were able to escape.

Victims of the massacre at Oradour-Sur-Glane killed on 10 June 1944

image from: http://www.ushmm.org

image from: http://www.ushmm.org

 All of these children died on that day

image from: http://www.ushmm.org

image from: http://www.ushmm.org

The SS then returned to the church where the women and children were held and ignited an incendiary device. As the church burned from the inside, many of the women and children attempted to jump through windows. The SS were waiting with machine guns.

In total, 247 women and 205 children were killed there. Only one woman survived.

The church where the women & children were mudered

image from: www.dailymail.co.uk

image from: www.dailymail.co.uk

47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche slid out of a rear sacristy window along with a young woman and her child. All three were shot; only Madame Rouffanche survived her wounds. She crawled to some bushes behind the church and lay bleeding all night until she was rescued the following morning.

Madame Marguerite Rouffanche

image from: www.oradour.info

image from: www.oradour.info

She was hospitalized for over a year; but her psychic wounds never fully healed. She grieved and held vigil for her loved ones and her village for the rest of her life. She died in 1988.

During the night of the massacre, the village was burned and partially razed.

image from: www.flickriver.com

image from: www.flickriver.com

In the following days, relatives of the dead were permitted to recover the charred bodies and bury them.

image from: en.wikipedia.org

image from: en.wikipedia.org

Burned out cars and household goods still litter the remains of the village.

image from: www.woophy.com

image from: www.woophy.com

Today, the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane are preserved as a memorial to the dead, and to acknowledge similar events that were perpetrated around Europe during the Second World War.

image from: www.dailymail.co.uk

image from: www.dailymail.co.uk

image from: civilwartalk.com

image from: civilwartalk.com

In the years after WWII, a new village named Oradour-sur-Glane (present population 2,100) was built northwest of the site of the massacre where relatives of the dead gathered and where their descendants still reside.

image from: www.flickr.com

image from: www.flickr.com

In 1999 French president Jacques Chirac dedicated a memorial museum, the Centre de la mémoire d’Oradour, near the entrance to the Village Martyr (“martyred village”). Its museum includes items recovered from the burned-out buildings: watches stopped at the time their owners were burned alive, glasses melted from the intense heat, and various personal items.

– from: wikipedia

image from: www.flickriver.com

image from: www.flickriver.com

 We will rememberOradour-sur-Glane

 

On this day of Remembrance and deference to Veterans, please spare a thought for not only the soldiers of war, but the innocent victims who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, or just riding their bicycles through town…

image from: www.flickr.com

image from: www.flickr.com

 

~~~

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oradour-sur-Glane

http://io9.com/the-strangest-and-most-tragic-ghost-towns-from-around-t-1308304680

http://www.oradour.info/

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007840

 

 

 

 

 

20 Comments

  • Judy says:

    Thank you for acknowledging the innocent. The remains of the buildings tells the story so much more than just a stone or statue monument. What foresight to leave the town as it was, and not bury it in a rubble.

  • Val Sparkle says:

    Very moving, and so so sad.

  • Sue says:

    Glad to see this post as so many times we hear on the radio or TV of people claiming none of this ever happened. Moved to tears for the innocent and wonder about men capable of committing such horrific acts.

  • This- and so many others. Beautifully written Sarah.

  • livewire1965 says:

    Brought me to tears just thinking of the horrors of that war,Thanks for sharing this story and those wonderful photos.Makes me even prouder of our soldiers who helped end that miserable regime.

  • I noticed that there isn’t any type of foliage that took over the site. I assume there it is kept up in this manner? Do you know? Is this unfortunate town fenced, or is it completely respected? I noticed the bike and sewing machine. Even though they are in bad shape, I would think that looters would continue vandalizing.

  • Sel says:

    throughout history this type of behavior and worse took many away from life….
    one difference, much of it disappeared with no mention of the whys. This
    should open the eyes of many…..well done, hopefully we will never live to see
    the other side of the evil humans can bring….

  • Joyce says:

    I visited this site two years ago to research a novel. It’s unspeakably sad. There seems to be no vandalism and is very well-tended and respected. One of the people in a nearby village told me that when the new town was built, the last building erected was the school. There was no need. the children were all dead.
    People from the outlying areas sent their children to school in Oradour. Many parents lost all of their children in the massacre.
    Every school child in France is taught about Oradour-sur-Glane. In the U.S. we hear mostly about Normandy, but know little more about what went on in France. The area around Limoges (where Oradour-sur-Glane is situated) was a hotbed of resistance activity.
    Souvien-toi.

    • housecrazy says:

      Joyce, thank you for leaving a comment! I am so pleased to hear from someone who has visited the site. It is very tragic and poignant to think of the school house and all the children that were lost. I am going to send you a personal email

  • Kate says:

    What a heart wrenching thing to have happen to those innocent people. Thankfully the site is being preserved so no one forgets. Thanks for your dedicated love of “house porn”!

  • Suzan S, says:

    I came back here to look thru these photos again. I had forgotten it was all because the German SS had Mistaken this town for the one they actually Wanted !…..
    On a much much smaller scale it made me think of when police have raided someone’s house, terrifying everyone, only to discover they had the wrong house…..
    Or an officer responding to a “violent dog” call, getting the address Wrong, and shooting dead someone’s innocent family pet.

    I’m glad the French president decided the town would be left untouched as a memorial.

  • Marcia says:

    Thank you for this article! Though tragic and horrifying, we should not turn away. It’s the least we can do for those who suffered so much. You are right, we must remember the victims of war as well as veterans and those who died fighting.

    I found your blog entry while looking for an incident I read about in a book, The Underground City by H.L. Humes. This novel is about WWII Resistance fighters in southern France, the central event is a massacre in a small French village where the villagers are burned in the church. It is probably based on the Oradour-sur-Glane tragedy. The novel is pretty good, if you are inclined to learn more about the French Resistance.

  • Emma says:

    I visited oradore sur glane today. It is beyond belief what happened on that day that will never be forgotten. So very very sad, and evil. This day will stay with me now. So emotional.

  • Sonia E says:

    I never knew a thing about this town. Two of my great uncles fought in the French resistance; neither one wanted to talk about the war. One great uncle was caught by the Nazis and nearly died in a concentration camp…I wish I knew the name. I never got much information about what happened to him in that horrible place, but as I remember my father telling me, he collaborated in a book written in French called “An Experience of Torture” I would love to find that book if anyone has heard of it.

    The photos of this town have really brought that horrible time to life or me. Thank you for writing and showing us.

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