On the 10th of June 1944, four days after D-Day, a retreating German SS Panzer division entered the town of Oradour-Sur-Glane in the Haute-Vienne region of France and killed 642 men, women and children. This was essentially the entire population of the town.
This was the worst civilian atrocity carried out in France during World War II.
Oradour-Sur-Glane has been preserved in the state that it was left in on that day, as a memorial to the hundreds of civilians who lost their lives.
In this post I’m going to share with you some information for visiting Oradour-Sur-Glane, as well as our experiences from our visits to Oradour.
Where is Oradour-Sur-Glane?
Oradour-Sur-Glane, often referred to as Oradour, is in the Haute Vienne department of France. The original town that you visit stands in ruin, but a new town has been built nearby which shares the name.
The closest major town with rail and flight connections is Limoges, around 15 miles away.
Note that there are a number of towns in France called Oradour, including Oradour Sur Vayres, which is just nearby. So if using GPS for navigation, be sure to pick the correct one!
How to Get to Oradour-Sur-Glane
The best way to reach Oradour-Sur-Glane is by car, and it’s around a 20-30 minute drive from Limoges. Limoges has good rail connections across France, and also has an airport with flight connections. So you can either rent a car and drive it, or arrange a taxi.
It is also possible to take a bus from Limoges to Oradour-Sur-Glane. However, do be aware that buses are not that frequent, with only 2-3 services a day. The bus is Ligne 12, and you can see timetables on this site.
When is Oradour-Sur-Glane open?
The ruined village of Oradour-sur-Glane is open year round with the exception of Christmas Day and New Years Day. The village opens at 9am throughout the year, and closes between 5pm and 7pm depending on whether it is summer or winter.
As well as the ruined village, there is also the “Centre de la Mémoire”. This is a large visitor centre which tells the story of the village and its inhabitants, which is open from the 1st February to the 15th December.
When the visitor center is open, access to the village is through the visitor center. When the visitor centre closes, you access the village through a separate gate.
Is there an Entrance Fee for Oradour-Sur-Glane?
Visiting the actual village is free of charge throughout the year. For the Centre de la Mémoire, there is a an exhibition which is free, and there is an exhibit and video which is paid. There is also a shop and toilets at the visitor center. Sometimes there are also special exhibits which may have a separate fee.
Parking is available on-site and is also free.
Where to Stay Near Oradour-Sur-Glane
There are a few options in the new Oradour-Sur-Glane village which are within walking distance of the site. These are:
- L’Ancienne épicerie – a well reviewed small guesthouse with free wifi, free parking and a terrace
- Petit Coin pres du Moulin – a small bed and breakfast with free wifi and free parking
- La Croix De Camargue – another well reviewed small bed and breakfast with free wifi and parking
Of course there are plenty more options in the surrounding area and further afield, and you can see some options here.
Be aware that if you visit during one of the memorial days, such as the 11th November or 10th June, hotels in the area book up far in advance. So do keep this in mind if visiting Oradour-Sur-Glane on one of these days.
Our Experience Visiting Oradour-Sur-Glane
I’ve visited Oradour-Sur-Glane three times, twice in winter and once in summer. This trip report is from our first visit, which we took on a gloriously sunny winter morning.
The first thing that struck me, walking down the gutted and empty streets to the sound of birdsong, was quite how large this village had been. This was no backwater hamlet. This had been a thriving town. A tram line ran down the centre of the street, and there were countless houses on either side, and on the side streets leading away.
So often when I have heard about war atrocities, the numbers involved are unimaginable to my mind. How can I imagine six million – the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust? It’s just so big of a number that it stuns my imagination. It becomes almost unreal.
Even 642 is a tricky number to put into perspective. Visiting Oradour-Sur-Glane brought that number to life for me.
The houses are labelled. Some labels state who used to live there. Other depict the function of the building. There were cafes, butchers, bakers, hairdressers. A school. An entire community of people, who up to the 10th of June, had no doubt been hoping to get through the war alive.
The very human nature of the village is what is perhaps so striking. This is no concentration camp designed from the outset for mass murder. This was a place where people lived out their lives, where families were raised. That is incredibly apparent, even sixty years on, and it is terribly moving.
The reasons behind the events of the 10th June are not entirely clear. It seems there may have been a misunderstanding, that the village was mistaken for another village, thought to be harbouring resistance fighters. Personally I think trying to apply reasoning to acts like this is folly of itself. There can never be a reason to murder this many people in such a brutal manner.
At the end of the village street, which runs for about two thirds of a kilometre, is the village church. This was where the most unspeakable of acts was carried out. Into this church were herded the women and children of the village.
Of the 241 women and 205 children who were herded in, some only weeks old, only one made it out alive. The rest were first gassed, then shot, then burned.
Today, the only obvious visual reminder of this atrocity are the bullet holes in the church walls and altar.
Within the village grounds, by the cemetery, sits a memorial, where personal artefacts and the stories to accompany them can be found. The cemetery holds all that is left of the towns inhabitants, as well as a wall listing all the victims.
Just next to the original town of Oradour-Sur-Glane is the new town. Walking around here was another difficult experience. It’s another town, full of life and people. But for the acts that occurred on the 10th of June 1944, this town wouldn’t be here as it is.
The dead village is the one where, were the world a kinder place, the streets should be alive and vibrant.
I don’t really have brilliant closing words for this post. War is clearly a terrible thing. And it’s not something that has gone away in the time since this tragedy. I’m just lucky to live in a time period where the countries I live in are relatively peaceful.
Visiting places like Oradour-Sur-Glane help remind me of that fact. Thanks for reading, and as always, do share your thoughts in the comments section below.