The Oradour-sur-Glane Center of Memory

The photo above shows the Center of Memory, which is a Museum and tourist center for the ruined village of Oradour-sur-Glane. The building is actually underground, but it is built on a hillside so that there are windows at ground level on the other side of the building.

In the photo below, notice the buildings in the background on the left side; this is part of the ruined village, which is directly across the road from the Center of Memory.

The only entrance to the ruined village of Oradour-sur-Glane today is through the Center of Memory at the edge of the new town. The door to the Center opens at 9 a.m. and visitors must walk down a set of outside stairs, go through the lobby of the Center and into a tunnel that goes under the road to a flight of stairs on the other side. At the top of the stairs is the entry gate into the ruins. Elevators, or lifts, are available for the handicapped.

When I first walked into the Center of Memory, I was taken aback by the enormous panoramic photo in the lobby. It shows Hitler, facing a huge crowd of people, while he is making a speech in Munich in 1936. I think a photo of Charles de Gaulle would be more appropriate. However, the photo reflects the theme of the Center of Memory, which is that Hitler and the Nazis were to blame for the tragedy of Oradour-sur-Glane. But instead of showing the evilness of Hitler, this photo depicts his overwhelming popularity among the German people. Some of the French people collaborated with the Nazis after the fall of France in 1940, while others fought as insurgents under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle.

On the way through the Center to the tunnel that leads to the entrance of the ruins, there are photos of German soldiers burning a village in Belarus on the eastern front in 1941. The caption tells us that this was where the Nazis first began burning innocent villages. The photo below shows the display near the entrance to the tunnel, which is on the extreme left.

The old photo below, which shows two French children standing in front of the sign at the entrance to the ruins, is included in the display shown above. The caption says that the German SS soldiers dishonored their mothers by killing children, but the caption doesn't mention the French soldiers from Alsace who took part in the massacre and also killed children, some of whom were refugees from Alsace.

Entrance to the ruins is free, but there is a charge for the exhibits. The two photos below were scanned from a book entitled "Centre of Remembrance for Oradour, Permanent Exhibition," which I purchased from the book store in the Center of Memory. The exhibit begins with the story of the Nazis and then continues on with the history of Oradour-sur-Glane.

The top photo below shows Area 1 of the exhibits, which is about the rise of Nazism in Germany. The bottom photo shows Area 2 which is about the Terror in the East, Terror in the Limousin and Preparing to "make an example" out of Oradour-sur-Glane. Understandably, the exhibits are presented only from the French point of view. From the German point of view, the civilian partisans were the "terrorists" who were fighting illegally in violation of the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929.

Area 3 is an account of the massacre in Oradour; area 4 is about the discovery of the ruins and "Justice and amnesty." Area 5 is devoted to "A desire for peace."

The following quote from the book about the exhibits explains why the innocent village of Oradour-sur-Glane was chosen to be made into an example:

On 9 June the Waffen-SS 'Der Führer,' one of two amoured infantry units in the 'Das Reich' regiment took over Limoges and its surrounds. The general staff of the four companies commandeered accommodation in Limoges while the 1st battalion with staff and four companies settled themselves to the west in Rochechouart and Saint-Junien.

From archival material we know about meetings that were held. On Friday 9 June, the Milice met in Limoges. On the morning of Saturday 10 June first in Limoges, then in Saint-Junien, Waffen SS officers and SS police posted to Limoges met. The Milice would follow their operations. Several days earlier, on 5 June, a memo from the SS General commanding the division mentioned "making an example" and this was confirmed in another memo sent this same Saturday 10 June saying it would be put into action.

Troops were billeted in the evening of 10 June in Nieul. Oradour lies between Saint-Junien and Nieul.