France marks 75 years since Oradour-sur-Glane tragedy

Today (Monday June 10) marks the 75th anniversary of the massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane (Haute-Vienne), in which 642 civilians were slaughtered by the Nazis in 1944.

10 June 2019
Signs at Oradour-sur-Glane recall the 1944 tragedy and request that visitors stay silent as a sign of respect
By Connexion journalist

The town, which is near Limoges, was once a thriving community - with many shops, a bakery, a garage, and a cafe. There was even a school, a tram to Limoges, and two hotels.

Yet, on June 10 1944, German SS entered the town, and shot and killed every man they could find. The women and children were rounded up into the local church, which was set alight; and the town was looted.

In response, then-President General Charles de Gaulle ordered that the town remain in ruins, as a permanent memorial to the atrocities, and the suffering of the people.

Oradour-sur-Glane remains in ruins as a symbol of respect (Laurentrekk Photographies / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Now, the town remains in disrepair, but there is a visitors’ centre, which explains the significance of the tragedy, and continues to memorialise the events for future generations.

The town is often remembered with the simple phrase: “Souviens-toi (Remember)”.

And despite the intention to keep the town in ruins as a memorial, funds have recently been allocated to help repair the church, to ensure it does not collapse completely.

A plaque outside the Oradour church marks the atrocity (Pug Girl / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

One survivor, Robert Hébras, was 19 when the events took place, and managed to escape. Now aged 93, he has told the story of what happened for almost his entire adult life, giving tours and explaining his memories of what happened on that fateful day.

Two years ago, Mr Hébras visited the town for the last time, in the presence of President Emmanuel Macron, and schoolchildren remembering the disaster.

Speaking to lycée students, in a video filmed for French news network FranceInfo, he said: “When the fire reached me, I had no choice. I thought, I either get out or...I knew I was going to die. Because they were knocking on doors and shooting people. But I didn’t want to die, that was all.”

The site serves as a memorial to the 642 people who died on June 10 1944 (Jez.Atkinson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

He said: “We lived through the drama, but we didn’t live through it in the same way as mothers who lost children that were at school or elsewhere. We wanted to live, and to relive. [But] I do have regrets. My best friends who were standing next to me, died. That is why I am here.”

Referring to the ruins, which continue to fall into a state of disrepair, he said: “I believe that we should wait [for the ruins] to disappear themselves. Whatever we do, they will disappear.”

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