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Car in Oradour-sur-Glane

Oradour-sur-Glane Ghost Town - France

Oradour-sur-Glane was a quiet agricultural and market town prior to the start of World War II but during that conflict that was to affect the lives of millions, none would be so terribly afflicted as Oradour. The soul of the village was destroyed in the afternoon of the 10th June 1944 when virtually the whole town including women and children were massacred by a unit of the German Waffen-SS. The handful of survivors didn’t have the heart to return to the village and a new one was built nearby with the original maintained as a memorial.

From February of that year, the 2nd SS panzer Division of the German army was stationed in the French town of Montauban waiting for supplies and new recruits. Once the Allies had begun their assault on the Normandy beaches the unit were moved north with the remit of halting the Allied advance.

Remains of Oradour-sur-GlaneEarly on the 10 June 1944, a German commander was approached by two French civilians who claimed that an SS officer was being held by the Resistance in Oradour-sur-Vayres, a nearby village. The captured German was alleged to be Helmut Kämpfe, commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion who had been captured by the resistance the day before. 

Later that day the battalion closed off all access to the town of Oradour-sur-Glane, mistakenly thinking it was nearby Oradour-sur-Vayres and assembled all the population and anyone else in the village that day in the village square. They were told that their papers were to be checked. 

The women and children were herded into the village church whilst the soldiers ransacked the homes looking for valuables whilst the men were taken to  barns and sheds where the Germas had set up machine guns in readiness for the massacre that was to come. One of the few survivors said afterwards that the soldiers deliberately aimed to ensure the villagers died slowly.

Oradour sur Glane ChurchOnce 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 and one of them was later shot dead as he tried to leave. In all, 190 men were viciously murdered. The soldiers then set fire to the church and anyone trying to flee from it was machine gunned. 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 a rear window, followed by a young woman and child. The Germans' attention was stirred and the three were shot. Marguerite was wounded but survived but the others died. She hid in nearby bushes overnight until rescued the next day. Another group of about twenty villagers had fled Oradour-sur-Glane as soon as the soldiers had appeared.

Oradour sur Glane RemainsThat night, the village was partially demolished. A few days later the survivors returnedto bury their dead. 642 inhabitants of the peaceful village had been callously murdered in the space of a few hours. 

After the war, the French President General Charles de Gaulle decided that the village would never be rebuilt. Instead, it would remain a memorial to the cruelty of the Nazi occupation.

In 1999, President Jacques Chirac dedicated a memorial museum, the Centre de la Mémoire d'Oradour, near the entrance to the Village Martyr. The new village of Oradour-sur-Glane was built after the war at the northwest of the site of the massacre. The ruined village still stands as a reminder of the fateful day. It now hosts a museum which displays items recovered from the burned-out buildings; watches that had stopped at the time of death, glasses melted from the  heat and other personal items and money. All visitors are requested to remain silent while visiting the martyred village.