Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane
The weather had closed in and it was bucketing down with rain. I was very grateful to be tucked up in a lovely bed in John's gorgeous villa. We decided to take the truck and visit Oradour-sur-Glane. This little town had been devastated in 1944 by the SS - the entire population shot and burned. This was just a few days after the D-Day landing and in retaliation for action taken by the French Resistance. The Germans got the town wrong as it was Oradour-sur-Vayres who were supposedly harbouring the fugitives. The full history is below.
It was an eerie place. I thought I was imagining the smell but John confirmed that it did still have that "burnt" odour, 68 years after the razing and torching of the town.
In fact it was 68 years to the day as the atrocity occurred on June 10. We expected there to be crowds and perhaps some sort of memorial service but it wasn't like that at all. The town was virtually empty - the rain was persistent and the atmosphere was aptly dreary.
Diekmann's battalion sealed off the town of Oradour-sur-Glane, having confused it with nearby Oradour-sur-Vayres and ordered all the townspeople – and anyone who happened to be in or near the town – to assemble in the village square, ostensibly, to have their identity papers examined. In addition to the residents of the village, the SS also apprehended six people who did not live there but had the misfortune to be riding their bikes through the village when the Germans arrived. All the women and children were locked in the church while the village was looted. Meanwhile, the men were led to six barns and sheds where machine-gun nests were already in place.
According to the account of a survivor, the soldiers began shooting at them, aiming for their legs so that they would die more slowly. Once the victims were no longer able to move, the soldiers covered their bodies with fuel and set the barns on fire. Only six men escaped; one of them was later seen walking down a road heading for the cemetery and was shot dead. In all, 190 men perished.The soldiers proceeded to the church and placed an incendiary device there. After it was ignited, women and children tried to escape through the doors and windows of the church, but they were met with machine-gun fire. A total of 247 women and 205 children died in the carnage. Only two women and one child survived; one was 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche. She slid out by a rear sacristy window, followed by a young woman and child; the Germans' attention was aroused and the three were shot. Marguerite Rouffanche was wounded and her companions were killed. She crawled to some pea bushes behind the church, where she remained hidden overnight until she was rescued the following morning. Another group of about twenty villagers had fled Oradour-sur-Glane as soon as the soldiers had appeared. That night, the village was partially razed.
When President de Gaulle saw what the Germans had done, he decreed that the village should be left exactly as it was as a permanent memorial to the 642 people who had perished there.