There’s something fascinating and tragic about places that have been abandoned, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, but mostly I’ve described places that people visit on a casual or necessary basis, but not places where lives were regular. Oradour-sur-Glane is set apart from these other locations, because in actually it was a place of living and daily routine, it was a home and part of a country, filled with people who slept, ate, worked and raised families, and I think for that reason, it’s far more tragic then most other abandoned spaces; and they way in which is achieved its vacancy is also overwhelmingly powerful in its sadness. Deliberately kept empty and in ruin Oradour-sur-Glane, stands a monument to victims to some of wars greatest cruelties.
Oradour-sur-Glane was once a quiet, country village. Its located in the southwest Lumoousin region of France, and once this small spot was the home of hundreds of people. As I imagine it, it was the type of village with one bakery, and a single school. There was even a tram system which would carry inhabitants into town, and a church where they would pray. When I think about theme-parks, or even hospitals, I construct short stories about limited periods of time, but with Oradour-sur-Glane, a home to so many, I picture whole lifetimes, and generations of families growing with the times, facing the trails of war and occupation, and going to the bakery once a day to buy bread. People who set out in the mornings to tend feilds, mothers walking their children to school, cats sitting on warm summer rooftops. When I stare at the picture above, it’s like their ghosts move through the streets. Perhaps I conjure the idea of a utopia that did not exist, but even in the faults that were obviously a component of this village, theres a sense of solidarity that comes with the understanding that once upon a time, somebody as human as I am lived here. Many of them in fact. And now they do not.
The story of Oradour-sur-Glane is a bleak one, and as haunting as the town now is. A tale of war, and innocence, and the awful things that happen when such matters collide with desperation, anger and separation.
On June 10th 1944, the first battalion of the 2nd Waffen, the SS Panzer Division Das Reich, stormed into Oradour-sur-Glane. Secret police had claimed that a Waffen SS officer, and close friend of their division leader Weidinger, was being held by the Resistance in Oradour-sur-Vayres, a nearby village. In an attempt to punish the persecutors of this as yet unproven ‘crime’, the team entered the incorrect village, and began to blockade the exits. Meanwhile, the division began to systematically gather the residents of the town. All men, women, and even children, were gathered in the square under the pretense of a simple identity check. Then, the officers ordered the residents split into two groups. The men were taken to the barns on the outskirts of town, and were further separated into smaller groups, while the women and children were locked inside the church.
It’s actually difficult to write this, it hurts to consider the fear and panic that must have been in their minds. Their bravery must have been immense in the face of that awful scenario, simply to have walked.
The barns were machine-gun traps. Germain solders fired at the men trapped in the barns, deliberately aiming low so as to injure not kill. Meanwhile, more division soldiers placed a wooden box at the centre of the church where the women clutched at their children; they lit fuses, releasing tear gas in an attempt to asphyxiate the prisoners. Their scheme failed however, and instead they opened fire. After the devastation, they began to set fire to the church, the barns, where men lay still alive, and to all the villages 328 buildings, amongst several other heinous acts, which I can’t find the heart to mention. The village was looted of all valuables, and then deserted.
Of 648 residents, only 6 survived the massacre. One women, who managed to climb out of the church by an unguarded window, and received several shots, survived a day hiding in a field until rescue arrived the next day.
The French Government made the beautiful choice to leave the burned ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane as a monument to its people.That’s what the village and everything that was committed there was really about: people A mistake, an emotion, fear on both sides no doubt, grief, and the removal of so many everydays. Objects can still be seen scattered about the blackened remains of family homes, and small businesses. Cars reduced by time to rusted, wheel-less shells, almost a metaphor for the stationary spirit of the old-village. The walls are outlines to a faded painting where if you look hard enough you can still see the colour that once filled it. I think it’s a fitting, honest, and sincere way to honor the victims. Keeping their homes intact, praising them as people who lived much like everyone else, who were unfortunate, but strong in the face of injustice. I hope to visit one day, and pay my respects to these people, feel their paths as I walk them, touch their lives as I see them.
After the war, a newer village of Oradour-sur-Glane was built at the northwest of the old.
You can crush the flowers, but you can’t delay the spring.