The town of Oradour-sur-Glane is spread across a broad hillside; it looks down on the remnants of its old town, destroyed by Germans on 10 June 1944, when 642 inhabitants were massacred by a German Waffen-SS company. Only six escaped.
The massacre involved men, women and children, some as young as one week, and some as old as ninety. The officer responsible, 29-year-old Sturmbannführer Diekmann, was killed in action shortly afterward during the Battle of Normandy, and a large number of the Third Company, which had committed the massacre, were themselves killed in action within a few days.
These events are commemorated in the Centre de la Mémoire (87520 Oradour-sur-Glane. Tel: 05 55 430 430; www.oradour.org. Open daily from Feb-mid Dec, from 0900, with variable closing hours according to season).
Whether this sort of pseudo-macabre ‘preservation for posterity’ is bona fide tourism only each of us can say individually as we face the conflict and sadness of what the scene represents. It is, admittedly, very moving. But the answer to the question ‘Why do we find it moving?’ is a subjective issue, as is much of what today is called 'Black Tourism'. As with the battlefields of the Somme, only by coming face to face with the past and making a study of it do we begin to have a chance to understand. In that regard, Oradour-sur-Glane is a valid tourist destination, but you may need a stiff drink in the new town square afterwards.
The new town was built just above the ruins of the old village, The first stone was laid on 10 June 1947, exactly three years after the old village was destroyed, and the new town was deliberately designed to look as austere as possible, with all the buildings painted gray with white shutters. The new town opened in 1953, but it took several years before it was fully occupied.