The town was almost deserted. Two other couples peacefully wander the streets of this small rural village in Central France in silence. A family with two young boys languidly stroll near the church. Even the children walk quietly here. A gentle refreshing breeze rustles the surrounding trees and speaks a quiet hush through the church spire. The early summer day was clear and sunny.
Indeed, the weather was identical on Saturday, 10 June, 1944 – the day this quiet unassuming village was forever changed. The soldiers entered the village and had everyone gather in the middle of town for a check of identity papers. Or so it was said. Only a few hours later, almost everyone in the town was dead – 642 people murdered in cold blood – the men shot in front of the nearby barns, the women and children burned alive in the village church. Only a bare few survived, escaping to the nearby forests. The population of Oradour-sur-Glane had been annihilated in one furious afternoon, the village looted and destroyed in the name of revenge.
The village today stands as it was left that day –a memorial, a martyred village. Only the ravages of time have altered the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. Each year, the doctor’s car sitting on its grassy verge, rusts a little more. Ferrous brown bedframes sitting in the remains of the villagers’ houses, grow redder with age.
A bicycle lies discarded on a pile of rubble. A simple treadle sewing machine sits nearby. Tables and chairs await guests at the village café. Ovens remain open at the back of the boulangerie (bakery) ready for more loaves. You can imagine the sweet aroma of baguettes and croissants each morning wafting down the streets of Oradour-sur-Glane. A village frozen in time under a blanket of ashes.
A nearby museum holds many of the smaller treasured items. Watches poignantly stopped at the time of the massacre. Pairs of spectacles mounted in displays, their lens charred by the burning flames.
The silence remains with you for many hours after you leave Oradour-sur-Glane. No words seem adequate or appropriate. No expression able to capture your feelings. Lunch had been completely forgotten. Food seemed so unimportant.
Like many, I will never forget.