Remains of the Day

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

It was late August but the leaves were yet to turn. The pale green of the grass was still the dominant hue – neatly trimmed along paths, growing wild along the crumbling brick walls and among piles of twisted and rusty metal. Dashes of purple and yellow sprouted in odd patches and swayed gently in the breeze that broke the heat of the pounding midday rays.

These bright signs of life, however, distracted us only momentarily from visions of death. For while the gentle serenity of Oradour-sur-Glane was at once beguiling, it was similarly menacing in the devastated ghost town. Made so on June 10, 1944, when 642 of its residents were massacred in a matter of hours.

Silence
“Down this road, on a summer day in 1944…The soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, the community which had lived for a thousand years…was dead.

The is Oradour-sur-Glane, in France. The day the soldiers came, the people were gathered together. The men were taken to garages and barns, the women and children were led down this road…into this church. Here, they heard the firing as their men were shot. Then…they were killed too.

They never rebuilt Oradour. Its ruins are a memorial. Its martyrdom stands for thousands upon thousands of other martyrdoms in Poland, in Russia, in Burma, in China, in a World at War…”

~ From “The World at War”

Empty Yard - Oradour
Oradour Ghost Town
Oradour Window

This was just four days after the allied forces landed on Normandy, and the Nazis had to know that their days of war were limited. Soliders from the Das Reich Division took to Oradour on claims that a single SS officer was being held by Resistance fighters, but had actually mistaken it for another town nearby. There was no Resistance, no SS officer being held. The citizens were surprised by the invasion but took to their orders dutifully and gathered for an identity check. They had no idea what was to come.

Plaques mark the spots where residents were murdered. Other labels mark who lived in which houses, or what shops had been present. Yet more for where some were buried, and for the large crypt of unidentified remains.

Visions of a once vibrant town could be conjured but shouldn’t, I told myself, to spare me the emotions that would accompany them.
Oradour Sign
Oradour Victims
Oradour School for Girls

Inside the church, the bell was a melted mess of green metal. Statues still stood, but with their faces melted off. Bullet holes were visible from their rain on those women and children who tried to escape the inferno.

Tracks continue to run through the small town. On that day, trams carrying visitors were turned around and sent away, sparing those inside (considering the still inexplicable motives of this tragedy, such an act of humanity seems random and unbelievable). Few old cars spot the town in tangled heaps, grass and flowers creep up where engines used to be. Metal signs of advertising linger with rust creeping in on the edges.

On one corner, an empty schoolyard. On another, a cafe with a table still standing, planters surrounding the tiny patio, bursting with green. Walls were repaired only insomuch as so to remain standing, to allow them to endure as a reminder.

Visions of a once vibrant town could be conjured but shouldn’t, I told myself, to spare me the emotions that would accompany them, as I walked among the remains of that day.

Oradour Car
Oradour Train Station

24 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Tammy Young
    October 16 2014

    Heartbreaking.

  • Linda Dunbar
    October 16 2014

    Heartbreaking to think that nothing has changed in 70yrs! Thank you for your beautiful pictures and words!

  • mom
    October 16 2014

    Heartbreaking indeed. My mind can’t fathom the atrocities mankind has suffered.

  • October 16 2014

    Powerful photos.
    Kirstie recently posted..8 Favorite Memories from My First Year in Australia

  • I only recently heard about this town. I think that it was a good idea to leave it as it is as a reminder. Lest we forget
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..Bucket List for a Summer in Sydney

    • October 18 2014

      I agree with you, I’m glad it was left. I hadn’t even heard about it before we were in the area!

  • I cannot even imagine such horror…

  • mustafa
    October 17 2014

    hey guys!I am so happy to hear that you have been the travellers of the year by national geographic.You are like celebrities, one day on the radio programme another day on tv channels.I remember vividly the day you left burhaniye and what I told you” never look back, be moving forward”And what I told you came true.You are really good friends of mine. I am proud of what you have succeeded in.And thanks for everything you have told about turkey and me.I love you very much.Lots of love from Turkey.

    • October 18 2014

      Mustafa!! How nice to hear from you! I very much remember that (sad) day, and your words of wisdom. Our time in Burhaniye still holds our most treasured memories. I think it is time we come back for a visit….

  • mustafa
    October 18 2014

    HiDalene,here is your second hometown you know.whenever you come,we are ready to put you up.I really want you to be happy and when I saw you on tv I felt that you were really happy,your eyes were shining,ıt was the thing that I wanted to see.You are happy and you still run after your dreams.

  • mustafa
    October 18 2014

    HiDalene,you know Roy died and no internet at home!! but we have one more new dog.And Moira lives in England with her son.Yusuf looks after the dogs and the house.

    • October 18 2014

      I do know about Roy, I have been in touch with Moira. So very sad. 🙁 We will figure it out when we come to visit. Will be in touch! I hope all is well with you and your family, and your classes. We still hear from some of the kids quite often, and it always makes our day. 🙂

  • mustafa
    October 18 2014

    Thanks so much Dalene, all is well with me ,my students and my family.May good luck be your friend in whatever you do and may trouble be always a stranger to you.Give my best wishes to Pete.

  • October 19 2014

    Beautifully written D

  • Dale
    October 19 2014

    Such a tragedy that such a place need exist to remember people who lost their lives so needlessly, not just because of mistaken identity and incorrect information, but because they died because of the megalomaniac tyranny of a collective of people who terrorised not just their own nation, but a continent.

    A really well put together piece. Bravi to both of you.

    • October 21 2014

      Thanks so much Dale. It’s sad that so many such places exist, probably more we’ve never even heard of.

  • October 20 2014

    Wow. What a piece, both the words and photos. And I agree that the town should have been left as it was. The list of atrocities suffered during WWII is unbelievable.

  • October 20 2014

    What a sad story – and to think that this is only one of the many places where hundreds of people lost their lives during that war. It’s good there’s a place to go to remember, as it’s important to never forget.

    Wonderfully written, thank you.

    • October 21 2014

      That is the saddest part about it – there are probably so many more. We can barely scratch the surface of suffering.

  • Beautifully written. What a tragic story.
    Miriam of Adventurous Miriam recently posted..10 things I learned from my yoga retreat

  • October 21 2014

    Great writing and very powerful images. I’d be lying if I said I’d heard of this place before reading this so thanks for bringing it to my attention. It really is unbelievable that all this actually happened, but humanity needs to be reminded of how evil it can be so the town’s existence in this state is important and justified.

    Not an easy place to blog about. Well done.

  • Wow, these are powerful photos. You wrote this beautifully too on a difficult topic. Thanks for sharing it since most don’t know it!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..Top 5 Ecotourism Attractions In Sabah, Borneo

  • October 31 2014

    This must have been a a very sombre experience. It’s good that this place has been left as a memorial to what happened. These places are important to remind us of what humanity is capable of.
    Dean recently posted..Spicing it up at the Fremantle Chilli Festival

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