A Dark Day In Hell
On June 10, 1944, time stopped in the small town of Oradour-sur-Glane, not far from Limoges. You can go there today and everything in the old village will look just as it did on that day, except that no one lives there anymore. Early in that day, that 10th of June, 642 people were in the village, going about their daily business of sewing, baking, farming, learning the alphabet, making babies, tending the sick; by the end of the day no one lived there, nor ever would again.
On June 11 no little girls skipped into this school yard, braids flying, carrying their homework in blue satchels.
A little boy did not come searching for his lost bike, his father did not yell at him for leaving it outside yet again.
The baker’s ovens were empty, there was no one to eat the bread. No one strolled through town with a baguette under her arm.
No one came to eat the dinners that had been prepared, the good Limousin beef, the vegetables of early summer.
Cars in the garage for repairs went from bad to worse.
The dentist wasn’t able to see any of her patients, all appointments were cancelled.
The seamstress never finished that wedding dress.
Because on that day members of a Panzer division came to town and did what the Nazis were infamous for doing: they rounded up every person in town at gunpoint, 642 men, women, and children, and divided them into groups. The 247 women and 205 children were sent to the church. The 190 men were separated into six groups, then machine-gunned, many in the legs, then heaped with wood and straw. Their bodies were burned, many still living.
The women and children waited in this church, listening to the screams of the men. They waited while the Nazis built a fire and tossed canisters of asphyxiating gas into it, which exploded into the church. Hand grenades were tossed in for good measure.
One woman managed to survive, which is how we know that next came piles of wood and straw.
The bullet holes still remain, so some of the women and children must have been mercifully shot.
Anyone left living faced flames so hot that the bell melted and fell from the steeple.
The French government has preserved this site to remind us, and it’s true that once you’ve visited you’re not likely to ever forget. June 10th is Shel’s and my wedding anniversary. From here on out we’ll have a lot more to remember when that day rolls around.