Robert Hébras stepped carefully through the crumbled ruins of the village where he once lived. “There’s the school bell still hanging up there, reminding me how I was always late,” said the 88-year-old former mechanic.
Almost 70 years after this idyllic rural village near Limoges burnt down, there are still traces of life. Not far from Hébras’s old house, the carcass of the mayor’s Peugeot 202 is still parked. “When I come here, I see faces, people, not ghosts,” he said. But for the French state, this is Europe’s most important ghost village and there are fears that its ghosts are under threat.
Oradour-sur-Glane is unique in Europe: a fully preserved, ruined village that was the site of the worst Nazi massacre of civilians carried out on French soil. A total of 642 people, including 247 children, were shot or burnt alive on 10 June 1944 in an unexplained act of barbarity. Hébras, who hid under a pile of dead bodies, was one of only a handful of survivors. He lost his mother and two sisters in the carnage that saw virtually all the villagers killed, shot or burned alive.