It is a WWII memorial unique in Europe. Where other martyred villages destroyed and exterminated by the Nazis have been rebuilt or covered with flowers, Oradour-sur-Glane in France was left as it was, ruined and blackened by fire after the SS ravaged it in 1944 and killed 642 people.
German President Joachim Gauck became the first leader of his country to visit on Wednesday, meeting President François Hollande, locals, and survivor Robert Hebras, one of only six people to escape the massacre.
“I say that only truth is the basis for reconciliation. Mr. President, the day following the war our two nations decided, with courage, I think of Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, to share their future by overcoming the past,” said Hollande.
“The crime that was committed here was perpetrated by soldiers under German command. Consequently it is for every German a tough task to come here, regardless of how much time has passed,” responded Gauck as the two men shared a podium.
No-one knows to this day why the SS committed the atrocity; the village had hardly seen the war. Gauck hugged Hebras after laying a wreath in the graveyard, the two men’s silence the only possible end to an emotional day.