The ruined village of Oradour-sur-Glane is one of the most chilling places I’ve ever been. Even on a warm summer afternoon, the knowledge of what happened here on a similar sunny day, June 10, 1944 brought a shiver to my skin and a sick twist to the pit of my stomach as I walked through its shattered streets.
It was a Saturday, just after lunch, when around 200 Nazi SS soldiers rolled into the sleepy village near Limoges in south west France. No-one knows exactly why; it’s possible they confused it with somewhere with a similar name and links to the Resistance a few miles away.
They ordered every man, woman and child to the village green, claiming they wanted to check identity papers.
The men were separated from the women and children. They were taken in groups to barns and sheds like the one below, where they were first shot in the legs, then covered with fuel and set alight.
The women and children were marched to the church. The soldiers set off an incendiary device, locked them inside and machine gunned anyone who tried to escape through the windows.
Six hundred and forty two people, aged between one week and 90 years died: 190 men, 247 women, and 205 children. A handful survived to tell the world what they had seen.
The soldiers looted and burned the village that night. Its silent ruins now stand as a memorial for those who died here and a reminder of the horrors of war. Burned out cars rust outside the shells of buildings.
Sewing machines, bicycles and other souvenirs of stolen lives lie amongst the rubble.
The buildings are marked with the names of the people who lived and worked in them; victims of a terrible atrocity that can never be forgotten.
Oradour-sur-Glane is worse than any imagined horror story. What happened here is real. To real people, with real lives, who lived and loved and laughed and had no idea when they woke up that morning they’d be dead by nightfall.
This martyred village is a place of remembrance and a reminder of the evil that human beings are capable of. I will never forget it.
Pictures copyright Penny Randall