Updated: May 17
There are far more personal stories attached to Oradour-sur-Glane than I was able to fit into a single volume. Now that the book, Silent Village, is published, the time has come to tell more of them.
The photographs of whole classes of Oradour's school children continue to move me more than any others.
One of them features pupils from the school for girls, taken in the summer of 1943. Standing at the far right of the middle row, jutting out slightly from the rest and dressed in a knitted jumper is Nuria Lorente Pardo. Born in Barcelona, she was eight years old on 10 June 1944, the day the SS Das Reich came to Oradour-sur-Glane.
Nuria's father was called Francisco Lorente Prior and on 7 October 1944, four months after the destruction of the village, he wrote a letter to the authorities. At that moment he was lodged in the nearby city of Limoges.
Monsieur le Préfet
I used to live in Oradour-sur-Glane at the residence of Madame Dagoury.
The sacking of the village by the Germans reduced me to utter impoverishment with the destruction of everything I had by way of clothes and furniture. My wife, my children, my sister-in-law and her three children who were under my charge, all died in the fire. I am now alone without resources and without any linen or even a change of clothes. What I have on is all I have left.
May I ask of you therefore, Monsieur le Préfet, to be good enough to provide a little assistance in order to help me to be able to eke out a living?
With thanks in advance.
Francisco Lorente Prior
Originally from El Esparragal in the Murcia region of southern Spain, Francisco and wife Antonia had been shopkeepers in Barcelona. Antonia's parents set up home there in 1926 due to poor living conditions in the south and most of the family followed. Married when Antonia was just 18, the couple ran the shop in the Catalan capital where they had their two children. Civil war broke out in 1931 and Francisco joined the Republican army, loyal to the left-leaning Popular Front government. When the tide turned against the Republicans and bombs started falling on Barcelona most of the family returned to Murcia but Francisco and Antonia stayed where they were. With Francisco fighting, Antonia struggled to make the business work so her sister Maria came to join them. But as the Nationalist offensive against Barcelona gathered momentu, the Republican army crumbled during 1938. Franciso and Antonia decided to leave what they had behind and make the perilous journey across the Pyrenees with their young children Francisco and Nuria. Maria accompanied them.
Faced with a surge of Spanish refugees the French government under Daladier, keen to avoid a spill-over of civil war inspired by the Spanish revolt, introduced measures of internment for those who arrived from Spain. Francisco's family were held at a detention camp in Argelès-sur-Mer for several months before arriving in the Limousin alongside more than 6,000 other Spanish refugees, some of whom had been injured before or during the journey north. Francisco was assigned to the 643e GTE, one of a vast network of work camps established to keep the Spanish, and other immigrants, separate from the rest of the population while exploiting their labour. Originally in the village of Saint-Jouvent, in 1941 the 643e GTE was relocated to Oradour-sur-Glane.
Life was not easy for the Spanish in France during the early 1940s. Most, however, were safe and eventually reunited with their families. Back at their home in Esparragal the family's mail was being opened by Francoist police, leading to intimidation and threats from the Spanish government who continued to look for Francisco. Many of the Spanish women who had arrived in France took on menial jobs, some in hotels such as those in Oradour. Francisco and Antonia had settled in the village but were visited by tragedy in August 1943 when ten year old son Francisco died of meningitis. Nuria was installed in the girls school where she thrived.
Antonia’s sister Maria lived with the rest of the family in rooms above the Café de la Promenade in the west of the village. She had met her husband, José Serrano Robles, during the course of their stay. He had also been assigned to the GTE and despite his background as a teacher had been assigned to work in quarries. Their three children were all in the village being looked after by their mother on that fateful Saturday. The eldest, a daughter called Armonia, had been born in 1941 and the couple also had twins who were just ten months of age. All died in Oradour that afternoon, José presumably there on a day of rest. On 10 June 1944 Francisco Lorente Prior was carrying out his duties as a driver, assigned to the organisation Todt. He was left with nothing, and nobody, and joined the French Resistance for the final months of the war as a fighter in the FFI. He remained a victim of the Oradour massacre until his death in Argentina in 1958 at the age of 55. His family had been among the nineteen Spanish victims of the Oradour-sur-Glane tragedy.
"...one of the most astonishing achievements in the historiography of Occupied France [...], a triumph of detailed research and histonsight and empathy."
Silent Village is published by The History Press and is available from all good booksellers.