Memorialising Oradour-sur-Glane in print

Books are often published with the aim of memorialising events such as massacres, atrocities and crimes, ensuring that memory both of the acts and of the victims is preserved. The 10 June 1944 massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane is an example of this phenomenon, on which the Cambridge University Library’s collections can provide significant insight. You can read more about the events and the ruined town that acts as a permanent memorial, but this post looks specifically at publications in our collections, rather than the history of the event.

A number of books were published very soon after the massacre, coming as it did just before the liberation of France. Several of these form part of the Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection in the UL. In addition, books continue to be published that both memorialise the massacre and chart the physical changes to the ruins of the town.

The church, as it appears in Massacre d’Oradour-sur-Glane(published 1945), and in Oradour-sur-Glane : samedi 10 juin 1944 (published 2015)

By 1945, many books had been published about the atrocity, mostly in an attempt to document and remind readers of the horrors of the occupation from which they had just escaped. The following list provide an excellent overview of the books being published at the time:

The cover of Liberation.a.20

The cover of Liberation.a.20

  • Oradour : ville martyre / par Franck Delage, agrégé de l’université, président de la Société archéologique et historique du Limousin (1945)
    Delage, Franck, 1873-1950
  • Oradour-s-Glane : souviens-toi = remember / photos, André Gamet (Lyon), A. Naulleau (Limoges) et équipes d’urgence F.T.P.F. ; mise en pages André Gamet ; texte de Claude Vallière (1945)
    Gamet, André, 1919-
  • Crimes ennemis en France. 1, Oradour sur Glane (1945)
    This is the first book in a set that we are collecting as part of the Liberation collection; the fact that Oradour is the first should probably not be seen as a coincidence.
  • Massacre d’Oradour-sur-Glane par les hordes hitlériennes (1945)
  • Dans l’enfer d’Oradour : le plus monstrueux crime de la guerre (1945)
    Poitevin, Pierre
  • Souvenez-vous! : crimes allemands en France (1945)
    André Ver, ancien prisonnier de guerre
    In process.558

As well as these nearly contemporary accounts, a number of recently published books serve as further reminders of the atrocity, while at the same time as testaments to the post-war reconciliation between France and Germany. While emphasising the importance of remembering, they also view the event in the context of the role of memorials to the war within France of 2016. The introduction of one of these books, Les ombres d’Oradour : vérités et mensonges sur un crime inexpié / Jean-Paul Picaper (C210.c.6524) discusses the history of Franco-German reconciliation and of memorial ceremonies attended by the heads of state of the two countries, including one at Oradour in 2013. Picaper concludes by saying that nothing is worse for those who died than to be forgotten. It is obviously that sentiment that led to early books being published about the massacre, and that drives this continued interest in the subject, at least among French publishers. In addition, we have recently received Oradour-sur-Glane : samedi 10 juin 1944 / Bruno Calvo (2016.13.26), a large-format book that is primarily images of the deserted and ruined town as it exists now.

Massacre d'Oradour-sur-Glane par les hordes hitlériennes (Liberation.b.18) contains a number of before-and-after photos, which show the bustling streets of Oradour before the massacre, followed by haunting and desolate images of the same view after.

Massacre d’Oradour-sur-Glane par les hordes hitlériennes (Liberation.b.18) contains a number of before-and-after photos, which show the bustling streets of Oradour before the massacre, followed by haunting and desolate images of the same view after.

The tone in these publications has changed significantly over the decades, while the stated purpose of the books (memory) has changed less. The 1944 and 1945 publications are explicit about their purpose: the title dripping in blood (Liberation.a.20); using terminology such as “les hordes hitlériennes” (Liberation.b.18). However, in an illustration of the poignancy of the ruined town as memorial, some of the subjects of the photographs are the same (among others, the church, bakery and tram lines are themes common to both groups of books). The 70 year difference in publication means that the quality of the photography and printing is significantly better in the more modern books, which can help to obscure the slow changes in the site itself. Ironically, the newer images can appear to be fresher and more vivid, even while the subjects of the 1940s photographs haven’t yet been smoothed by time.

Josh Hutchinson

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