A small village situated in the heart of France
, 14 km NW of Limoges
. Or at least it was...
On the 10th June, 1944
(four days after D-Day
) a German Panzer
division entered the town and massacred the whole populace while en route to Normandy
Nobody is quite sure why Oradour was picked on but the theory is that it was a retaliatory strike following an earlier resistance action. The French resistance were becoming very active after the Normandy landings in an attempt to slow the German reinforcements. A short distance away from Oradour the resistance had destroyed a bridge at St Junien. The Germans wanted to retaliate but did not have the time to attack the people of St Junien because of the strong resistance presence there. Instead they chose a peaceful village of less than 700 people as their target.
Early in the day, the Germans drove into the village and ordered all of the inhabitants to congregate on the village green. They were then split into women and children and men. The men were split again into five groups before being marched to various barns and garages. The women and children were locked in the church.
On a signal all the men were shot, first in the legs and then shot to kill. The bodies were then covered in hay and other kindling before being burnt.
The women and children on the other hand watched as a German soldier entered the church with a box. He placed the box on the floor, lit the various strings sticking out of it and then ran. The box exploded, setting fire to the church and filling it with deadly smoke. The Germans also randomly fired bullets into the church from various windows.
There were actually some survivors from this massacre - one boy, a refugee from Lorraine who ran on sight of the Nazi vehicles and 5 men who on hearing bullet fire played dead and then hid in the corner of their barn while it was set alight. at first chance they ran away into the fields. Not one woman survived, nor did any of the 246 local children.
to this day the village has been preserved as a shrine to the atrocity, full of small signs with 'souviens-toi' (remember) written on them.
I must have been about 11 when I visited this village, shown around by a local. I was told stories of how the baker and his wife were thrown in their own oven and how the Germans had feebly tried to cover up thier actions by hiding some of the bodies (bodies were found in the village well and a pile of 15 children hidden behind the church was also found). But this was not what stuck in my mind...
Near the village a memorial was erected, most of the bodies were unrecognisable so they were buried in a large communal grave. There was a tall tower and in front of that were two glass topped coffins, full of random body parts. And one of those body parts was a hand. The finger bones were exposed but there was still brown leathery flesh on the palm. This hand was half clenched as if to grip something - gripping a shoulder perhaps. Gripping the last thing that the owner ever saw....
A new Oradour town has been built very close to the old one, it has about 2000 inhabitants and it has a motto which i greatly respect: 'Ni haine - ni oubli' - Neither hate nor forgetfulness.