The advice came from a friend as I went through the itinerary for a forthcoming vacation to France.
The ultimate destination was the Dordogne where a cosy gite near Saint-Cyprien was waiting to welcome us. En route we had decided to lay up for a couple of days a few miles north of Limoges and that’s when Oradour entered the conversation.
Regular driving holidays to France had inevitably brought us into contact with the world wars; the Normandy beaches, immaculately kept cemeteries across the north, to Cambrai, where tanks rolled into battle for the first time (maybe my grandfather had been stationed here, I remember thinking) and poignant small town tributes to sacrifice and courage.
But I had never heard of Oradour-sur-Glane and, as it turned out, no amount of pre-research could ever have prepared me for the actual visit.
At Oradour-sur-Glane the clocks stopped forever on June 10, 1944.
Here, once, was rural France at its most charming, a typical Limousin market town with a population a little over 700, at ease with itself and its way of life: a peculiarly French attitude that I find immensely reassuring.
Today you get to Oradour through a showpiece visitor centre and a short walk that winds past vivid and haunting interpretation boards. Up a flight of steps and you are in the village where time has stood still since that fateful day in June.
In all 642 men, women and children, were murdered by SS troops of the Das Reich Division who then went on to destroy the town. Their actions that day would become a perpetual reminder of the obscenity that was Nazism and the madness of those who choose to demonstrate the power of life and death over others.
The enormity of what took place at here settles on you like a weight as you walk around its gently decaying streets and buildings; past the Town Hall, the school, the church and around the village green, all drawing you to the Oradour memorial and a martyrs grave in the cemetery.
Of Oradour’s 247 children only one – eight-year-old Roger Godfrin, a refugee from Lorraine who had seen the Germans in action before, escaped death by hiding in a garden.
They, together with the women were herded into the church and set on fire.
Alone among the 500 incarcerated, a Madame Rouffanche managed to climb to safety through a window. Her family, two daughters, a grandson, husband and son weren’t so fortunate.
It is said that you will never hear a bird singing in Oradour and I don’t remember hearing or even seeing one.
Silence is a constant companion as you take in the enormity of what took place and conversation is replaced by pointing; through a living room window where a rusting sewing machine leans against a wall and at burnt out cars that lie exactly where they were torched all those years ago.
And the reason for the atrocity? Well, it’s still anyone’s guess but we do know it happened four days after the D-Day landings when the French resistance were making life as difficult as possible for German troops re-deploying to Normandy.
This was one way for the occupation forces to make a point.
The SS troops at Oradour were also said to have been sent to search for weapons and, in the best traditions of the conspiracy theory, looking for gold bullion that had reputedly stolen from the Nazis.
The man in charge at Oradour, First Lieutenant Heinz Barth, was eventually brought to trial in 1983 and sentenced by an East German Court to life imprisonment. He had previously been tried in absentia by the French and sentenced to death. Barth was released in 1997 and died ten years later.
The Limousin region is a wonderful part of France and, with its fine city of Limoges, has much to recommend it.
But if you are visiting the Limoges region it’s worth finding time to go to Oradour and reflect.