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Posted on Aug 17, 2005 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Oradour sur Glane

Armchair General

The Centre de la mémoire.

Although the old town of Oradour has been preserved, the new town sits just a short distance away, and the new Church overlooks the old town with a sorrowful bell, which rings mournfully across the scene of devastation. A large memorial plaque to the dead has been placed on a wall alongside the Church. The main street of new Oradour is named after the 10th of June, the day of the atrocity.

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In the past, entrance to the village could be made through any one of about 5 streets around the periphery. However nowadays, there is only one way in and one way out, and that is through the newly constructed Centre de la mémoire. With modern glass screens displaying maps and signs, the Centre is a marked contrast to the architecture of the village itself.

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Within the Centre, a small bookshop sells books, maps, Video, DVDs and postcards all pertaining to the martyred village. However entrance to the village itself is totally free.

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Along from the shop, display cabinets hold artefacts unearthed from the village, and personal effects from the dead.

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Large displays explain the possible motivations behind the crime, and the historical context of the period. The displays seem to be keen to emphasise that this was not a German crime per se, but rather a Nazi crime – and there is a spirit of reconciliation, not hatred, for the German people themselves. At this stage, it is also worth observing that some estimates suggest that at least half of the SS troops engaged in the massacre were actually French themselves, and indeed a section of the display does deal with the thorny issue of collaboration.

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The massacre at Oradour is unusual in that it is one of just a few such occurrences that took place in the west. However, as dreadful as the extermination was, one must also remember that such massacres were commonplace in the Soviet Union on a regular basis as the Nazis swept through Russia in their eastern campaign.

Indeed, the Das Reich Division had just been transferred piecemeal to France from the Soviet Union, and one can draw the conclusion that they had perhaps become used to perpetrating such actions on the eastern front, and thus the action at Oradour was second nature to them. No one will ever really know for sure, but many reasons have been given for the massacre, not least of which was the belief that a Resistance cell was operating from the village and that weapons were stored there. Later trials of the men held responsible revealed that the SS knew this to be false, there was never any question of weapons being held at Oradour sur Glane, and in light of this, we must ask ourselves why was such an atrocity conducted on the French people?

One possible answer could be one of sheer frustration. Operation Overlord had taken place on the 6th of June 1944, and the Das Reich Division had received general orders to head to Normandy to bolster the defences there. However Resistance activity was sabotaging the Division’s efforts to move forward and their progress was slow. With the Allied forces at Normandy gaining strength by the hour, and with the invasion some four days old by the time of the massacre, perhaps the decision was taken to exact revenge on the local inhabitants for any aid they might have given to the Resistance forces.

Whatever the reason, the massacre remains one of the most infamous war crimes in the west.

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1 Comment

  1. I heard a rumour that the real reason for the massacre was that there was a great deal of gold bullion that had to be removed very quickly and the massacre was an excuse or cover up for those wishing to hide the fact that they were there to take the gold, and that a day before a crack team of special forces people arrived to oversee the shipment wondering if you could shed any light on this, it was something i learned at school years ago back in the seventies
    best regards
    Sean Schofield

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