The village of Oradour-sur-Glane in southwest France is frozen in time. For more than 70 years nobody has lived there, and the village has been left to fall into disrepair and ruin. This is because Oradour-sur-Glane is a museum, a memorial to the calamity that befell it on 10 June 1944.
On 10 June 1944 at around 2pm, 150 Waffen-SS soldiers entered the idyllic and tranquil village of Oradour-sur-Glane. The reason for their sudden appearance has baffled historians to this day, with no confirmed explanations. However, a popular theory is that the Germans believed the village to be involved in the French resistance and had captured a Waffen-SS officer – an unconfirmed claim. When they entered the village the soldiers had with them the few occupants of lone farms lying on the south of the village.
The first thing the Germans did was seal the exits of the village, so nobody would be able to easily escape. As the townspeople of the sleepy village enjoyed their midday meal, an announcement was relayed by the village crier: the Germans were there to conduct an identity check and all inhabitants were ordered to assemble on the fairground. Every single person was commanded to attend, even babies, the sick and elderly. Some people did not even have time to dress and assembled in the square in their nightclothes.
Although the majority of the residents complied peacefully, for some alarm bells were ringing. This was especially true of the few Jewish families who were hiding in the village and young men who feared they would be plucked for forced labour in Germany. About 20 people managed to avoid the round-up, but six people who didn’t live in the village and just happened to be riding their bikes there at the time were not so lucky – they were forced to the fairground with the inhabitants. Anyone seen attempting to flee was shot on sight.
After all the people had been gathered the men were split into groups and taken to several buildings such as barns, a blacksmiths and a wine storehouse. At 4pm an explosion was heard and the SS began firing their machine guns at the unarmed men. Most of them were shot in the legs and then burned alive as the buildings were set on fire. 245 women and 207 frightened children were then led into the village church and locked inside as their homes were looted. Then a gas bomb was thrown into the church, the women and children struggling to escape as thick black smoke filled the building. The SS then re-entered the church and fired upon the crowd, taking special care to crouch down to hit the children. Anyone who managed to escape was shot by the guards waiting outside. Then, to ensure there were no survivors, the church was set alight along with the rest of the village. Only one woman managed to escape and was rescued 24 hours later.
642 inhabitants of the village were murdered, and General Charles de Gaulle wanted nobody to forget it. After the war was over he declared the village should never be rebuilt, instead serving as a memorial to the brutal Nazi occupation and the people who paid the greatest price during it.
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