Next Tuesday, 10th June, is the 70th anniversary of the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane. I am sad not to be able to travel to France for the anniversary to be able to pay my respects but the village shall be very much in my thoughts over the next few days. Understandably, a lot of the focus in the British media this week is on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, but I hope that Oradour is not missed in all the coverage over here of the events which preceded and followed those Normandy landings. After all, the fate of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane and its inhabitants – as well as the visitors who were in the village on 10th June 1944 – was intrinsically linked to the events on those beaches of Northern France.
It was in response to the Allies’ invasion on D-Day that German troops – including the SS battalion led by Sturmbannfuhrer Adolf Diekman – were rushing North to reinforce their coastal defences, and it was in an attempt to slow down that movement of troops, that French Resistance activity in the Haute-Vienne region was reaching a peak. In turn, the German military leaders’ response was to clamp down on anyone supporting or assisting Resistance activity, and there appeared to be no limits to the lengths they would go to make sure that the local French population were frightened into inactivity.
Historians still argue over the reasons why Oradour-sur-Glane was chosen as a target, and the story told in my book One Day In Oradour offers just one interpretation of events. But whatever the true cause of the massacre that took place there, on that hot June afternoon in 1944, the results were catastrophic.
What happened at Oradour-sur-Glane revealed the very worst in human nature – and yet out of that horror grew an incredible determination among the survivors to fight for justice, to rebuild and – most of all – never to forget.
I shall return to Oradour-sur-Glane later this year, and no doubt will make many more visits there throughout the rest of my life, because once you have walked those empty streets, passed through the burnt-out buildings and read some of the many hundreds of inscriptions in the cemetery, you are, quite simply, never able to forget what happened there.