President Emmanuel Macron will visit the memorial site of Oradour-sur-Glane (Haute-Vienne) this afternoon to lay a wreath in memory of the devastating massacre that took place there during World War Two
On June 10, 1944, 642 civilians in the village were killed, including 205 children, by a German Waffen-SS company. Many were burned alive, others were shot. There were only around 20 survivors from the village.
Mr Macron will also decorate Robert Hébras, the last living survivor of the massacre, with the title of commandeur de l’Ordre national du Mérite.
The honour, founded in 1963 by President Charles de Gaulle, is third in the hierarchy of decorations still given out in France, after the médaille militaire and the ordre national de la Légion d'honneur.
The Ordre national du Mérite consists of three ranks: knight, officer and commander, as well as two dignities: grand officer and grand cross.
Mr Macron’s visit to the site comes as part of a tour around rural areas of France in the lead up to the presidential elections in April. He visited Oradour-sur-Glane shortly after he was elected president in 2017 to mark the 73rd anniversary of the massacre.
The ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane still stand as a permanent museum and memorial.
The Connexion’s Samantha David visited the site in 2017 and wrote: “Half close your eyes, use your imagination and you can conjure up what life was like here during the war…the children playing, women cooking and making clothes, old men sitting in the cafés.
“But open your eyes wide again and the reality is stark…Being confronted with the evidence of such extreme violence is shocking. Fragments of human bone. The pieces lie jumbled up together, just as they were found. The horror of it is breath-taking,” she said.
You can read her full, emotive account of the trip here: The village where time has stood still since Nazi atrocity
In France, memorials of both world wars are vivid across the country, and commemoration events, such as the one taking place in Oradour-sur-Glane this afternoon, are solemn and respected occasions.
Dr Tim Blakemore, a former senior law lecturer at the University of Northampton who now lives in France, explained in an article for The Connexion in 2019 why the country places such emphasis on remembering the First and Second World Wars.
He contrasted, in particular, why memorials to victims of the wars are far more present in France than in the UK.
“The explanation for these differences is simple, he said.
“The ordinary people in the two countries had a very different experience of the war.”
Read his full account here where he goes into more detail on France’s memorials to the wars: France’s wartime tragedy still resonates