Why You Should Visit Oradour-sur-Glane: The Martyr Village of France

Oradour-sur-Glane looks exactly as it did after the fires of June 10, 1944, stopped smoldering, leaving behind only the memories of 642 villagers who were inexplicably massacred.

The burned-out shells of buildings where there once stood a church, a bakery, a deli, a town hall, are a reminder of what this village was before it became the martyr village of France.

What was once a cafe in Oradour-sur-Glane
This was a cafe in Oradour-sur-Glane before the Nazis burned the village

Oradour-sur-Glane is purposefully preserved in a state of total ruin so that we never forget the atrocities of war or of the Nazi Regime.

This blog explains exactly why you should visit Oradour-sur-Glane.

It Was a Day Like Any Other Day in Wartime France

Oradour-sur-Glane was a quiet farming commune with no discernable connection to the French resistance movement.

There were certainly strongholds of resistance nearby, and the resistance was absolutely emboldened by the very recent landing of the Allied Forces at Normandy, but the people of Oradour-sur-Glane seemed, for the most part, to keep their heads down in the midst of the Nazi Occupation.

A car left after the burring of Oradour-sur-Glane
The owner of this car drove into Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944. It was a tobacco-ration day.

June 10, 1944, was a tobacco-ration day, so most villagers were in town that day to get their rations.

Then Everything Changed for the Town of Oradour-sur-Glane

In the afternoon, the 2nd Panzer Division of the Waffen-SS began searching farmhouses and buildings on the outskirts of the village. They started in a wide circle, systematically closing the size of that circle until they reached the village, bringing with them every person who they found along the way.

Once in town and under the guise of an identity check, the Nazis ordered the villagers to gather in the square. This was unsettling, but not unheard of in Nazi-Occupied France. Most of the village population moved into the square.

About 20 people, including four Jewish refugees, chose to hide or run into the woods or across the River Glane. Some who ran would survive the impending massacre.

This used to be a home in Oradour-sur-Glane before it was burned to the ground.
The remains of a home

Once assembled in the town square, no identity cards were checked.

The church in

Instead, the women and children were separated from the men and marched to the church. The men were marched in six different groups to six different buildings throughout the village.

Inside the ruined church of Oradour-sur-Glane
Inside the ruined church of Oradour-sur-Glane

The Massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane

The Nazis brought a large box into the church and placed it in the center of the women and children. They left, locked the door, and positioned themselves outside with guns aimed.

The box soon exploded, filling the church with smoke. When the women and children tried to crawl through windows to escape the suffocating smoke and the scorching flames, they were shot by the waiting soldiers outside.

There was only one survivor from the church. Madame Marguerite Rouffanche climbed out of a window and hid in a bush, ultimately recovering from the gunshot wound she received during her escape.

Sun shines on the remains of the church of Oradour-sur-Glane
Only one woman survived the church massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane

At the same time that the makeshift bomb went off at the church, the six groups of men were gunned down.

The soldiers aimed their gunfire at the legs of their victims and then piled straw and wood on top of the fallen men. They lit the straw on fire. And then they lit fires throughout the rest of the town.

There were five men who somehow survived the massacre.

One of the six shooting sites of the men of Oradour-sur-Glane
One of the six shooting sites of the men of Oradour-sur-Glane

The Aftermath of the Oradour-sur-Glane Massacre

In all 642 people lost their lives in Oradour-sur-Glane that day.

Though World War II has more than its fair share of atrocities, the maddening, eye-watering part about Oradour-sur-Glane is that there seemed to be no reason for the massacre.

A German soldier had been taken hostage by resistance fighters the previous day, but the SS made no announcements following the massacre to warn the local population of the consequences of killing a German.

In contrast to the usual warnings and announcements following a reprisal, the soldiers of the 2nd Panzer SS-Division were ordered not to talk about the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane.

A burned out car and building in Oradour-sur-Glane in France

There was no mention by the Nazis about Jews hiding in the town, making it likely that the SS did not know of the four hiding refugees.

There is no official explanation for the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane.

Why You Should Visit Oradour-sur-Glane

In the end, having a reason for the massacre will not change the outcome for the people who once lived in this quiet farming village in west-central France.

What struck me the most, as I wandered through the wrecked village that is frozen in time, was the tragic irony of a memorial inside the church that all of the villagers would have known well.

A WWI memorial in the burned church and site of Oradour-sur-Glane massacre
A WWI memorial in the burned church

It was a memorial to the villagers who died in the First World War, and it was riddled with bullet holes and shrapnel scars from the June 10th massacre of the Second World War.

History has every opportunity to repeat itself if we let it.

While it was an intense and difficult day, I am glad that I visited this village that serves as a memorial to the atrocities of war and to the evil of the Nazi Regime.

It is our duty to remember. It is our responsibility to never forget.

A sign requesting silence at the entrance of the martyr village of Oradour-sur-Glane
A sign requesting silence at the entrance of the martyr village

Quick Logistics for Visiting Oradour-sur-Glane

Where is Oradour-sur-Glane?

The village is near Limoges in the sparsely populated Haute Vienne department of France. It is a 4.5-hour drive southwest of Paris, a 2.5-hour drive northeast of Bordeaux, and a 4.5-hour drive due south of Normandy.

What is the best way to get to Oradour-sur-Glane?

By car. You can take the train to Limoges and rent a car there. Europcar is available at the Limoges Railway Station. There is also an airport in Limoges.

When I visited the Oradour-sur-Glane museum and village memorial, I was coming from France’s Loire Valley. I hired a car at the train station at Saint Pierre des Corps and drove 2.5 hours south, doing it in a long but impactful day trip.

How much does it cost to Visit Oradour-Sur-Glane?

Visiting Oradour-sur-Glaneis free of charge. There is a charge to enter the Centre de la Mémoire. Information is outdated online, but I recall paying 8 euros.

Budget 10 euro since prices may have gone up and sometimes there is a cost for parking (depending on the season). I found the audio guide unnecessary as all information is printed on the information panels throughout the museum.

What should you expect when visiting Oradour-sur-Glane?

The village and museum open at 09:00 and close between 17:00 and 19:00 depending on the season.

When you enter the martyr village, you will see a sign requesting silence. Not that you will need a reminder. The village is tragically beautifully with its remnants of daily life frozen in time by senseless flames and gunfire.

Wandering through the village, you will see a former café that likely bustled with activity on June 10, 1944. You will see the remnants of daily life: a sewing machine, a car parked in front of a house, and the village church.

Inside the church, you will see where the women and children were trapped and burned alive.

The Oradour-sur-Glane museum takes you through the entire day of June 10, 1944, and the events leading up to the massacre. Here you will learn about the villagers who died and the very few who survived. You will also learn about the Nazi Panzer Division that committed this WWII atrocity.

What NOT to expect when visiting Oradour-sur-Glane

Do not expect answers. There are none.

Why you should visit Oradour-sur-Glane:

It is our duty to remember. It is our responsibility to never forget.

Save for later

Thank you for reading this post about the martyr village of Oradour-sur-Glane. This post is part of my Never Forget series about sites remembering WWII and the Holocaust:

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    1 Comments on “Why You Should Visit Oradour-sur-Glane: The Martyr Village of France”

    1. Jen, We visited Orador Sur Glane in 2006; it truly is an exceptionally moving place. Your profound well-written words capture my feelings about this place exactly. Thank you.

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