We stepped out of the car to be greeted by 35˚ heat. From the cool air-con in the car to the extreme heat outside, I didn’t have much on my mind except to find shade and to put on sunscreen immediately. We made our way down a flight of steps, winded our way through a museum and then back out to the heat.
As we went through the gates the silence was deafening. The road inclined ahead of us and we walked slowly along, our eyes drinking in the site and our ears unaccustomed to such quiet, began to buzz. The wall on either side of the road was perfectly built, a testament to the men who had many years ago created it. The village was humming with sounds of bees and chirping from birds overhead, tiny lizards whizzed by on the ground only to disappear into invisible nooks in the walls.
Cars were left abandoned and some burnt out. Still there was silence. Houses and buildings were now decrepit and no longer had a purpose. Signs on walls indicated the names of once busy and well used streets. The schoolhouse stood empty and lonely, children’s singing and laughter a long and distance memory in this place. The church was haunted by the ghosts of those who worshipped there, a once warm and comforting place was now a place of horror and despair – ruined by the events that had taken place there.
The only place in the village that was full to capacity of villagers was the graveyard. Row after row of crosses marked the final resting place of a massacred population. To move along this sacred place was a humbling experience, for these fallen people had been annihilated for no reason.
The place is Oradour-sur-Glane (old town). It is a village that has been preserved from World War II. In June of 1944, the whole village was massacred by the Nazi’s – around 640 men, women and children. The men were led to sheds, shot in the legs and then the sheds were set on fire. The women and children were brought to the church where they too were murdered.
We visited this village last year, as one of our days out and about in the Charente region of France. I can honestly say the only other place that equaled in horror and absolute devastation that I have visited is Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Weimar. The memory of that visit 15 years ago is still vivid in my mind, as I’m sure the visit to Oradour-sur-Glane will be for many years to come.
Someone asked me before why would I visit such places, what is it that I feel I must take from such a visit. My answer was and is – we must not forget history, we did not experience the horrors but I feel that we must face what has happened and honour those that died by acknowledging that what happened to them was not right. We have no right to take anything from visits to places such as these, we can however give our respect and acknowledgement to those who suffered.