by Sam Pellman ’20
It was closing time. The gates were starting to be secured and locked up. Our group had split up about halfway through, but it would be fine, we’d meet up with them outside the car. At least that’s what I thought. It was what any normal person would think. It’s definitely not what happened though.
It was 5:26 p.m., and the sun was just starting to sink down. The air was warm but without the sun it became cool. We were in France. At a museum, but not your average museum. We were in a village called Oradour-sur-Glane in Haute-Vienne.
The history of the place is remarkable. This village was destroyed by a German Waffen-SS company on June 10, 1944. The Nazis wanted to use the village as an example. Six-hundred and forty-two of its inhabitants were massacred all in one night. The scene was traumatizing as women and children were locked in churches that were set on fire.
Men were led into barns and sheds and shot with machine guns. Only a few people were able to survive, but the majority of the village was completely wiped out in only a few, short hours. During the time, a new village was called to be built nearby, but the French president, Charles de Gaulle, ordered the original to be maintained as a permanent memorial and museum.
I had been on vacation, traveling through France with my mom, dad, brother, aunt, uncle, and two of my cousins. My dad has always been fascinated with history and when he heard about this museum, he knew he had to see it. As for me, the topic piqued my interest. To hear about such a tragic situation was one thing but to be able to walk through it and see it first hand was much different.
We arrived at the museum early afternoon and began first in the inside area where we read much of the history and eventually made our way outside to walk the streets of this untouched village. It was silent, no one said a word. The vibe was eerie and as I looked at the building remnants and churches, I could see the women and children pounding on the doors to let them out. I heard the screams, and I smelled the fire. There were rusted cars, bicycles and even baby strollers, all left in place, untouched. I felt scared as I walked these streets, sticking by my cousins, horrified of wandering off and getting myself lost.
My dad, uncle, and aunt all strolled away in a different direction than the rest of us. The ruins were large and led to all different places. It soon began to get darker, as I realized the sun was setting. The workers in the museum began to come out and said the museum was nearing closing and we should begin to make our way back to the front. My cousins and I hurried our way out, this was not a place I’d like to be trapped in. We met up with my brother and mom at the front gates. But where were my dad, uncle, and aunt? We hadn’t seen them in a while. We went to go back in, but the gates were locked. In fact, all the gates were locked, the side ones as well. They had closed down the whole place, just like that, without even looking to see if anyone was still in there. Okay, don’t panic, I thought. We’ll just call them. Too bad I forgot we were in France and the only people who had the international phones were the three that were stuck inside. It was getting dark now, we needed a phone and we needed one quick. All we had to do was drive into town and ask a local shop to borrow a phone. Too bad I also forgot the only cars they drive in Europe are stick shifts and the only people who knew how to drive a stick were the three inside, once again. This was a disaster. That’s it; they were stuck inside this haunted town forever.
We had to act and it had to be now. My brother jumped into the car. Just before this trip my dad had only briefly taught my brother how to drive stick shift, but he was no pro. The car was also parked on a hill… Yet he somehow pulled himself together and got us to the closest town nearby. We frantically ran inside and tried to call them, although the phone system didn’t match up as nicely as we thought. Finally, finally! We got a hold of them and found out they had safely left the eerie village. The local French people must’ve thought we were crazy Americans. My dad said he could’ve sworn he heard a gunshot noise while inside. I believe him; what happened in that village should most definitely stay in that village.