Today’s post isn’t going to be happy or fun. But it is a post of respect. I had the privilege to visit Oradour-sur-Glane while I was in France this year.
Known as the martyr village, it was a place where pure evil happened.
I will try to explain the circumstances surrounding the massacre and the aftermath, as they were explained to me at the museum.
The Martyr Village
Entrance to the village is free, but for the museum you have to pay for the upkeep. I would recommend 100% to go to the museum otherwise the importance of the massacre is not as clear.
The prices are –
7,50 for adults
5,20 for students
It wasn’t super clear on the prices, but was worth it.
Audio tours are 2 euros, but I’m glad we didn’t have those as it was emotional enough. I feel I would have been crying the whole way around.
The village was a very busy place, with lots of shops and places to socialise. Many of the men had been drafted into the army and after 1940, the village was in the ‘Free Zone of France’.
I knew about the occupation of France during the war, but wasn’t entirely aware of the free zone. There was timelines that explained the rise of Nazi Germany and the impact that was had on France.
Oradour had an influx of refugees from the annexed areas of Alsace and Lorraine. The village also took in refugees from northern Spain who were escaping the Spanish Civil war or were enemies of Franco.
The events that led to the massacre
There was a few battalions of SS stationed near to Toulouse from February 1944. Once the allied Invasion of the DD landings happened in June 1944, this battalion was ordered to go north and prevent further invasion.
One of its units was the 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment (“Der Führer”). Its staff included regimental commander Sylvester Stadler and Adolf Diekmann commanding the 1st Battalion and Otto Weidinger who was Stadler’s successor.
Early on the morning of 10 June 1944, Diekmann informed Weidinger that he had been approached by two members of the Milice, who claimed that a Waffen-SS officer was being held prisoner by the Resistance in Oradour-sur-Vayres.
Stadler ordered Diekmann to have the mayor choose thirty people to be hostages in exchange for Kämpfe the SS Officer being held hostage.
Diekmann’s battalion sealed off the village of Oradour-Sur-Glane and ordered everyone to assemble in the village square with their papers. This included 6 people who were passing through the village or visiting friends.
They rounded up all the women and children and put them in the church. All men were led to 6 barns with machine guns already in place.
The SS shot at the men’s legs, rendering them unable to escape and pour fuel over them and set the place alight. With the women and children, they placed an incendiary device inside and machine gunned down everyone who tried to escape out the windows and doors.
In total 190 men died, only 5 escaped. 247 women and 205 children died, with only one woman escaping the church.
The whole village was looted and destroyed, the fires were hot enough to melt glass and to this day only 10% of the bodies were ever formally identified.
The 6 survivors and 20 people who escaped when the Nazis arrived were allowed to bury the dead a few days later. A temporary village was made nearby, and the area was in mourning.
SS Officer Stadler believed that Diekmann overstepped his orders and a inquest was put into place, although Diekmann died at the battle of Normandy later that year.
In 1950 Charles De Gaulle announced that the village would be sealed off and become and memorial site and museum for the massacre.
I will enclose some pictures I took of the village. I tried to experience it properly and only took a few photographs so I could share the museum and its history with you.
The whole place was very eerie and unnerving. We all agreed it was uncomfortable and we should stay in silence.
There was some fellow Brits who were being very disrespectful and taking a group photo smiling. So I told them to have some respect. Otherwise everyone else was very respectful.
While we were there a thunderstorm rolled in and the cracks of thunder really made it feel harrowing.
I did find it really wrong that you could walk into the church. This was the place that 453 people had died (in a space that was about 15m square) and yet we could walk all over it. My mum couldn’t step inside and I really struggled with the overwhelming feeling that kept washing over me.
The train lines, the half fixed cars and sewing machines really got me. I ended up crying a little bit, mainly angry at the evil that happened. How someone could round up so many innocent people and just brutally murder them.
There is even reports of a baby being crucified, but even before that news it was such an evil event.
The New Village
This seemed really strange to me that they built a new village. It was for those who survived, but only 25 people did so it seemed odd. Everything was made to be dark and in mourning until the 21st century when they were finally allowed to paint their shutters in true French style. It just seemed odd to me that people would choose to live there, in the new village just down the road from the martyr village.
Every year there is still a memorial service, which is conducted in silence.
I am very glad I got to come to Oradour. It was an emotional, harrowing and error experience. However, I feel I get to share some light on a very horrible massacre in France. It is not something that was mentioned during my history A level on World war two. It was also different from the Holocaust as it wasn’t systematic ethnic cleansing.
In this instance, they rounded up 642 members of a village and killed every single one. Regardless of religion, profession, sexuality or race.
It was evil.
Until next time,
If you were as shocked as I was. Please pin it.