Reading material for those who love the camping life

Text and photo: Olav Barhaugen
Motorhome and Caravan magazine, No. 4, 2016 September

Oradur-sur-Glane: The town where time has stood still in 70 years

Once was Oradur-sur-Glane a thriving village somewhere in France. Until the German SS division "Das Reich" reported his arrival a few days after the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944. BoCM looked into the town that is still so, the SS left it, and where thousands of tourists every year heading seven decades back in time

The town of Oradour-sur-Glane was the site of one of the cruelest events of the Second World War. The entire 642 people were killed, and the city was set on fire. Now the ruins there as a memorial to the victims and the cruelty that was displayed. The 10. June 1944 was an ordinary Saturday in the tiny town of Oradour-sur-Glane in the region Liomousin west of France. The weather was good and many of the city's residents were outdoors. Also, several of the farmers in the area had made the trip into town to sell or trade items and hear the latest news

France was occupied by the Germans, but the people sensed a glimmer of hope after the Allied forces had landed in Normandy a few days earlier.

The siege

A little further south, a company from the SS division "Das Reich" (Kingdom) was on its way to stop the Allied progress. The French resistance movement was active in this area, creating a lot of trouble for the German forces. When the leader of the German troops, SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, heard that an SS officer had been captured by the resistance movement, he decided to set an example. This was to be revenge for the activity of the resistance movement and the kidnapping of the SS officer. The German forces surrounded the city and gathered all the inhabitants and others who happened to be there in the city square. Everyone had to show identification and women and children were taken to church. The men were taken to six barns and sheds, where the machine guns were waiting. After mowing down all the men, they were sprinkled high over and soaked with gasoline. Then the soldiers went on to the church where a firebomb was set up. When it went off, someone tried to flee, but was shot down by the soldiers waiting outside. 350 women and children ended their lives inside this church. Only one lady, 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche, managed to escape and hid in a bush. Her testimony became important in clarifying what happened. A total of 30 people managed to escape the massacre. Most fled when they saw the Germans coming, while others hid on the outskirts of the city.

massacre enforced

After killing the inhabitants, the city was looted and set on fire. Eyewitnesses could tell that the fire was visible from a long distance. They also heard music and shouts from the German soldiers who had looted the town's wine shop. The next morning, the Germans had buried some of the dead in mass graves, but it was still a gruesome sight that met the first to enter the city on the day of June 11. Charred bodies, some clearly clustered in terror. Small child corpses in the mothers' arms are other descriptions from the first eyewitnesses. Identification was almost impossible, and only 52 of the 642 killed were identified. The bodies were buried in the city's cemetery, which is located at the very top of the city.

Those responsible punished

The brutal massacre also attracted the attention of the German military leadership, and the responsible officers were reprimanded for having gone far beyond their powers. Many of those who participated also received severe penalties in the court settlements after the war. One sergeant was sentenced to death, and several others were sentenced to lengthy forced labor. The last sentence was handed down in 1983. Colonel Heinz Barth had sought refuge in East Germany, but was discovered in 1981 and sentenced to life in prison in 1983. 29.

Name Confusion?

Why just Oradour-sur-Glane was chosen there are different perceptions of. That it was directed against the resistance movement there is little doubt, but their activity was greater in other surrounding cities. SS troops had as main task to track down and destroy these groups. Several cities were invaded and both members of the resistance movement and innocent civilians did feel the German's wrath. Reprisals against civilians was often used when one is not able to track down members of the resistance movement.

The aforementioned SS officer who was captured was however in the nearby town of Oradour-sur-Vayres. Possibly had Diekmann confused these two cities. Another theory is that the city was chosen because of its location and structure, so it was easy to encircle the city and isolate the population.

A new city established

The survivors were accommodated in temporary barracks on the outskirts of the city, and after the war there was no one who could bear the thought of going into the ruins and rebuild the city. It was therefore decided to build a new city next to the broken. The ruins of the destroyed city was going to get left in peace in respect for the dead and as a memorial for the brutality that one should not believe that people were able to perform. There was a special atmosphere in the newly built city. All residents had lost much of his family, and the grief was palpable on. For many years, baptisms, weddings and other big occasions marked in silence, and colorful clothes were a rare sight. As new people moved to and new generations came to the mood a little lighter, but still there is a special tranquility of the city.

visited memorial

Beyond 80 century was the increased interest in the city and the history. New generations should learn about the horrors of war and the need for organized information was increasing. The idea and a memorial center was launched, and in 1999 was Village Martyr opened by President Jaques Chirac. The center represents the entrance to the ruined city and contains an exhibition that tells of the massacre and the story around. It is obtained photographs of many of the 642 victims, and these are shown on a big screen while the names and ages will be read aloud. At the cemetery at the top of the town is an underground building with several display cases containing objects and assets that were picked up from the rubble in the aftermath of the massacre. It gives a strong impression to go around among these ruins while being shown pictures of the victims and their personal belongings. Somewhere after the tank visit for both campers and motorhome travelers.

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