French and German Presidents Meet in Oradour-sur-Glane, Site of Nazi Massacre

This coming year will mark a few key dates in world history that helped mold the relationship between France and Germany. 2014 symbolizes the 100th anniversary of World War I’s outbreak. The anniversary of the Treaty of Elysée is coming up on January 22, as it is the 51st year since Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer signed the document for reconciliation between France and Germany. Additionally, the 70th anniversary of Europe’s freedom from Nazi occupation is approaching. 

On September 4, 2013, French President François Hollande met with German President Joachim Gauck to honor those who were killed during the Third Reich period. Gauck has visited many sites of Nazi massacres during his time in office, showing his sympathy for the victims and their families, his disgust for the atrocities committed, and his desire for the world to understand how Germany is no longer characterized by cruelty.

The two leaders met in Oradour-sur-Glane – a “martyr village,” which is  part of the Haute-Vienne section of the French region of Limousin. It was in this small village that Nazis killed 400 women and children (642 people in total) on June 10, 1944. The presidents walked the grounds, arm in arm, supporting an 88-year-old man named Robert Hebras, who survived the massacre. He was not yet 20 on that day when his entire family was killed before him. The three men walked the cemetery, the church, and the Centre de la Memoire. The Centre was inaugurated in 1999 by Jacques Chirac and is situated near ruins that were classified as a historical monument in 1946.

“You are the dignity of Germany today, capable of plainly seeing the barbarianism of the Nazis in the past,” said Hollande to Gauck. “Today your visit confirms that the friendship between our countries is challenging history itself and is an example for the entire world, and its strength is illustrated in this exact moment in Oradour-sur-Glane.”

Hollande then made a comment to his German counterpart, which alluded to the tragedy occurring in Syria. “That is why your presence, Mr. President, is so symbolic as it is a promise to defend the rights of men near and far.” Gauck  answered Hollande’s  words:  “I see you, Mr. Hollande, and I see the families of the assassinated victims. I want to thank all of you in the name of all Germans for coming with a desire for reconciliation. I will never forget. I see in my eyes those who carry the fingerprints and experiences of past crimes, and I share your bitterness…Today, Germany is a country who desires the development of Europe and not her domination.”

The day concluded with a meeting in the Centre between the two remaining survivors, the families of the victims, and the presidents. Gauck felt this meeting was a “culmination of a visit of historical dimensions.” To stand before the people whose lives were deeply altered by what occurred at that spot 70  years ago was visibly humbling to both men. Gauck spoke to the crowd, stating, “I do not hesitate to tell [the survivors and victim’s families], in full political conscience, that the Germany I have the honor of representing is a Germany different than that which haunts survivors.”

This visit was, according to Hollande, “a symbol in history…that the past has been pronounced, proclaimed, and recognized.” He went on to say that this visit shows “we are obliged to go, once having recognized the past, to prepare boldly for the future.”

The massacre that occurred in Oradour-sur-Glane stands as a lesson to the world, and the visit will remain a symbol of peace and reconciliation. More than a decade after the end of World War II, Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer stood arm-in-arm in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises on September 14, 1958. As the Cold War neared its end, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl walked in Verdun on September 22, 1984. On September 4, 2013, François Hollande and Joachim Gauck added themselves to the history record of Franco-German reconciliation in Oradour-sur-Glane.

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  1. […] The French president, François Hollande, met with German president Joachim Gauck to honor those who were killed during the Reich. Gauck has visited many sites of Nazi massacres during his time in office, showing his sympathy for the victims and their families, his disgust for the atrocities committed, and his desire for the world to understand how Germany is no longer characterized by cruelty. The two leaders met in… […]

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