By Liza Perrat
1944. The people of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, sitting peacefully in the heart of the Limousin countryside, farm the land, fish the lakes and gossip on the village square. They drink in the café, share games of cards and pétanque. To outsiders, it appears they exist in almost ignorance of WWII raging around them.
That is until, on the sunny morning of June 10, 1944, Das Reich’s SS march into Oradour-sur-Glane. The soldiers order the inhabitants from their homes.
‘Everyone assemble on the village square,’ they say. ‘Just a simple identity check … nothing to worry about.’
The entire population of Oradour-sur-Glane is rounded up, a circle of increasingly anxious faces as the minutes slip by, and nothing happens. It’s almost lunchtime, and children complain of thirst, and hunger. Mothers comfort them, fathers glance at each other, but the soldiers forbid chatter.
Then the SS take the men off, ordering groups of them into various barns around the village. They herd the women and children into the church.
Several moments later, those women and children hear gunfire, shrieks and moans, as the SS machine-gun their menfolk, cowering in the barns. The women clutch their children to their breasts, smelling whiffs of smoke as the German soldiers smother the bodies of their husbands and sons –– many still alive –– with fuel. They set the barns on fire, flames streaking, smoke billowing, into the cloudless blue sky.
The soldiers march back to the church. Once inside, they detonate a box of explosives, and finish off the women and children with machine guns and hand grenades. Spreading straw over the dead and wounded, they set the church ablaze.
Only one woman will survive this terrible massacre: 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche, who manages to scramble out of a sacristy window, the stained glass of which has been blown out. She falls to the ground, and despite five gunshot wounds, crawls away and hides in a garden. And there she remains all night long, shocked and terrified, until she is rescued the following morning by a group of villagers who’d fled when the soldiers had first appeared.
Later that night, after looting the entire village and setting it alight, the SS flee. In a horrific violation of the tranquillity of Oradour-sur-Glane, in just a few hours, 642 inhabitants are murdered.
Once WWII ended, the then French president, Charles de Gaulle, decided to maintain the massacre site as a permanent memorial. It was thus left as it was the day of the Das Reich soldiers’ murder and torching rampage.
Several years ago, I visited these ruins, staring in disbelief at the burnt-out homes and buildings. Tram tracks ran everywhere, but to nowhere. The car from which the village mayor was hauled and shot lay by the roadside, a rusted-out ruin. Some items survived the inferno: a sewing machine, plates set at a table for the midday meal, the charred remains of a child’s doll, the blackened, crumbling façades of their homes. A rusty, flattened pram littered the church floor in front of the altar – all gruesome witnesses to a village full of living, laughing, loving people. Of families cut down in the midst of their daily routines.
There weren’t too many tourists that day, so I was able to stop in the street and listen to the silence. But it wasn’t quiet. No, their noise echoed in my ears –– the banter of adults on the marketplace, the playful shrieks of children, the barking of dogs, the cries of the village artisans. The echoes of a village obliterated.
I left those ruins knowing that one day I would write a story about Oradour-sur-Glane. And many years later this tragedy became the basis for Wolfsangel, story tracing one woman’s unforgettable journey to help liberate Occupied France. Wolfsangel is the second novel in my French historical, The Bone Angel series –– three standalone stories spanning six hundred years, featuring three midwife-healer women all linked by an angel talisman.
‘A heart-stopping novel of love, betrayal and courage which will leave you shaken and profoundly moved.’ Karen Maitland, bestselling author of Company of Liars
… a powerful story that has stayed with me since finishing the last page…wow. Megan ReadingInTheSunshine (TOP 100REVIEWER)
… reviewed for Historical Novel Society … entertaining play on the familiar theme of love in the twilight of politics and honour … grippingly dramatic … prose and writing are beautiful, the central character conflict and outcome are satisfying … a solid achievement. ChristophFischerBooks”Chris” – (TOP 500 REVIEWER)
‘… one of the best books I have ever read.’ Kimberly Walker, reader
‘I didn’t think I could hear of more shocking atrocities committed by the Germans in WWII, but it seems I now have! Brilliantly written, and highly recommended. A 5 star read which will be in my top reads for 2018.’ https://readingwritingandriesling.blog/2018/02/07/guest-review-wolfsangel-liza-perrat/
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