Centre de la mémoire d'Oradour Opens

The Centre de la mémoire d'Oradour (the memorial center of Oradour) has made its mission to commemorate the crimes of the 2nd armored division of the Waffen-SS "Das Reich" in Oradour-sur-Glane, to inform about the crime, and to act as a memorial for coming generations.

On initiative of Jean Claude Peyronnet, president of the Conseil Général of Haute-Vienne and with the agreement of the French association of families of the martyrs, the project was presented to the former French president François Mitterrand in 1989.

In 1992 the project management was decided in an international tendering process and received the support of the ministry of culture, the ministry of war veterans and the European Community.

In 1994 a project director was engaged, to coordinate the process of historical research. At the same time, the architect Yves Devraine was assigned to design and build the Oradour memorial center.

In 1999 the Oradour memorial center was opened by the French president Jacques Chirac and the French minister of culture Catherine Trautmann.

By 2002 the center had had 300,000 visitors, who were able to see the permanent exhibition as well as temporary expositions.

According to the architect's conception, the memorial center and the landscape unite to a unique symbiosis of a so-called "non-architecture".

This "non-architecture" is realized in a roof which allows a view over the Glane valley, the ruins of the former village, and also of the new, reconstructed one. Rusty steel blades brutally separate the centre of the building, symbolising destruction and remembrance as well as resistance to the elements. Materials, left in their natural state, appear aged.

In the circular entrance hall two large photographs are symbolically displayed. The one depicts Hitler haranguing the crowds at a Nuremberg rally and the other is the sign at the entrance to the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane "Souviens-toi" (Lest you forget). The permanent exhibition is displayed through contrasting areas in black and red where picture rails hang clear of the wall and depict the Nazi movement and the advance of the division "Das Reich" towards Oradour, and light areas which depict in a much softer way the village and people of Oradour before the massacre.

On the lower level is the resource center and rooms with temporary partitions that can accommodate school groups and teachers. Originally designed as a resource for the historical research that was undertaken in the preparation of the center's permanent exhibition, the resource center houses French and foreign archive material, photographs, films, publications and magazines.

The feeling of exposure that is reflected in the external appearance and the layout of the exhibition areas enable each visitor to pursue his or her own thoughts. Much importance has been placed on windows and mirrored surfaces, which encourage visitors to make the journey from the past towards the future and explore the other side of the mirror.