Justice was not done after the war either. Though the remaining members of the 1st Battalion were put on trial by the French for war crimes, many of the soldiers were from Alsace, a border region that had changed hands between France and Germany numerous times in the past. At the end of the Second World War, the French regained control of Alsace. In an effort to bond Alsatians back to France, the government granted amnesty from war crimes prosecution to any Frenchman who had fought for the Germans, and the 1st Battalion Alsatians were released from prison. A walk into Oradour’s cemetery reveals that the victims’ relatives, as a protest against the government, have deliberately not allowed the victims’ remains to be buried in the official crypt.
As I walk out of the ruined village, still silent, I think again of the six hundred forty-two people who were killed and then burned. Two hundred five were children.
Then I notice that one of the French boys in the still-silent group of schoolchildren ahead of me has vomited on the floor of the restroom. By seeing the actual ruins of war, perhaps he and his classmates, like me, have been affected more deeply than by seeing the typical statues and monuments. I know I will never forget what I saw at Oradour-sur-Glane.
When You Go
Oradour-sur-Glane is located in the Limousin region of France, about twelve miles northwest of Limoges. Best traveled to by car, it is a natural stop on the way south to the scenic Dordogne region. Admission to the Centre de la Mémoire costs seven euros, but entry to the village is free.
Where to Stay
Adjacent to the ruined village is a new Oradour-sur-Glane, rebuilt in 1953. Oradour is home to two hotels: the Hotel de la Glane, 8 Place du Général de Gaulle (33 05 55 03 10 43); and the Hotel le Milord, 10 Avenue 10 Juin 1944 (33 05 55 03 10 35). Other accommodations can be found two hours north in Sarlat, where visitors can feast on specialties such as fois gras and cabécou cheese, available at the weekend market. Gîte Toulemon, a seventeenth-century house built on twelfth-century foundations in the heart of medieval Sarlat, offers three large rooms to tourists (33 05 53 31 26 60; toulemon.com/anglais.htm).
What Else to See
Southwestern France is home to numerous prehistoric sites. Two of the most famous are the Lascaux caverns and Font-de-Gaume, each of which boasts a formidable collection of prehistoric cave paintings.