A German Waffen-SS company massacred 643 civilians, including non-combatant men, women, and children, in Oradour-sur-Glane, Haute-Vienne, Nazi-occupied France, on June 10, 1944, four days after D-Day, as a form of collective punishment for resistance activity in the area.
The village was utterly destroyed.
In essence, the Germans killed anybody they came across in the village at the time and anyone they brought in from the surrounding area. Those traveling through the village when the SS company arrived are included in the death toll.
Men were placed inside sheds and barns, shot in the legs, and doused in gasoline before the sheds and barns caught fire. Children and women were forced into a burning church; those who tried to flee through the windows were shot with machine guns. There was extensive looting.
Overall, 643 murders are known to have taken place. There have been 17 Spaniards, 8 Italians, and 3 Poles reported dead.
Six people managed to flee the carnage. Robert Hébras, the last surviving survivor and a prominent advocate for peace between France, Germany, and Austria, passed away on February 11, 2023, at 97. He was 18 years old when the slaughter took place.
The village was never reconstructed to its former state. After the war, a brand-new community was created nearby. According to a presidential order from Charles de Gaulle, the old village’s ruins were to be preserved as a permanent memorial and museum.
Background to the Brutal Nazi Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane
The 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich was stationed in Valence-d’Agen, a town in southern France, north of Toulouse, in February 1944. It was awaiting resupply with new supplies and new personnel. The division was sent north after the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944 to aid in halting their advance.
The 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment “Der Führer” was one of its units. SS-Sturmbannführer Sylvester Stadler, the regiment’s regimental commander, SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, in charge of the 1st Battalion, and SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Weidinger, Stadler’s projected successor, were among the regiment’s staff members. On June 14, Weidinger received the command.
Diekmann informed Weidinger that two Milice had approached him, a paramilitary group affiliated with the Vichy Regime, early on June 10, 1944. They asserted that the French Resistance was imprisoning a Waffen-SS officer in the nearby village of Oradour-sur-Vayres.
The 2nd SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion’s commander, SS-Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, was identified as the captured officer (also part of the Das Reich division). The Maquis du Limousin might have taken him the day before.
Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane
On June 10, Diekmann’s unit surrounded Oradour-sur-Glane and instructed everyone within to congregate in the village square so that their identification documents could be checked. Six visitors were among them; they were riding through the village when the SS squad showed up.
The community was robbed as the ladies and children were locked up in the church. The men were directed to six barns and shed with machine guns installed.
According to a survivor, the SS men started shooting, aiming for the victims’ legs. The SS men doused the helpless captives with fuel, then lit the barns on fire. Only six men were able to get away. Later, one was shot dead after being observed strolling down a road. 190 Frenchmen perished in total.
The Burning of Women and Children in a Church
The SS men then went to the church and set up an explosive device next to it. Women and children tried to flee via the doors and windows when it caught fire, but they were met by machine gun fire. 205 children and 247 women also perished in the onslaught.
The 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche was the only survivor. A young woman and a child followed her as she fled from the rear sacristy window. Two of the shots were lethal, striking all three. Rouffanche climbed up some pea plants and hid there all night before being discovered and rescued the next day.
When the SS unit arrived at Oradour-sur-Glane, some twenty locals immediately left. The village was partially destroyed that evening.
The 643 Oradour-sur-Glane residents who had died were finally buried by the survivors a few days later. According to Adolf Diekmann, the SS leader Helmut Kämpfe was abducted, killed, and burned alive in a field ambulance with other German soldiers, who said the atrocity was carried out as reprisal for rebel activity in nearby Tulle.
Three priests who served in the parish were among the individuals from the community who were slaughtered. Additionally, it was said that the SS soldiers intentionally scattered Communion hosts about the church before bringing the women and children inside.
One of the first notable individuals to visit the village in the days following the slaughter was the Bishop of Limoges, and his account of what he saw is among the oldest known. Some local seminarians were among those who went to bury the dead and record the occasion through photography.
Report By Murphy
The aftermath of the slaughter was seen by 20-year-old American B-17 pilot Raymond J. Murphy, who was shot down over Avord, France, in late April 1944. Murphy was flown to London on August 6 after being kept secret by the French Resistance.
On August 7, he completed a questionnaire and began working on a formal report. The final draught, presented on August 15, includes the following handwritten addendum:
About three weeks before, I visited a community for 4 hours by bicycle up [sic] from the Gerbeau farm [of Resistance leader Camille Gerbeau]. The Germans had massacred 500 men, women, and children. One infant who had been crucified was what I saw.
Following a Freedom of Information Act request by his grandson, a lawyer in the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice, Murphy’s report was made public in 2011. Only this account mentions the crucifixion of a child.
Shane Harris concludes that Murphy’s remark in the addendum is accurate and that the town—which was not identified in Murphy’s report—is most likely Oradour-sur-Glane.
German Reaction to the Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, General Walter Gleiniger, the German commander in Limoges, and the Vichy Government all objected to Diekmann’s unilateral move. Even Stadler launched an inquiry because he believed Diekmann had greatly exceeded his instructions.
Yet, shortly after the massacre, Diekmann was killed in combat during the Battle of Normandy, along with many other members of the 3rd Company. Then, the inquiry was put on hold.
Trials of the Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane Perpetrators
A military tribunal in Bordeaux heard the accusations against the 65 surviving participants out of the 200 SS members on January 12, 1953. Only 21 were there because the majority were in East and West Germany, which refused to deport them.
Fourteen of those in attendance for the accusations were Alsatians, French nationals whose home territory had been annexed by Germany in 1940 and later incorporated into the German Empire. Just seven of them in attendance were German citizens.
The majority of the Alsatians—all but one—said they were coerced into joining the Waffen-SS. The malgré-nous, which translates to “against our will,” was the name given to these coerced conscripts from Alsace and Lorraine.
Twenty defendants were found guilty on February 11. The French parliament passed an amnesty statute for all the malgré-nous on February 19 due to the ongoing unrest in Alsace, including calls for autonomy. Shortly after, the ex-SS members from Alsace who had been found guilty were released, prompting vehement demonstrations in the Limousin region.
All of the German defendants had been freed by 1958 as well. After having a thriving economic career, General Heinz Lammerding of the Das Reich section, who had given the orders for reprisal against the Resistance, passed away in 1971.
He resided in Düsseldorf at the time of the trial, in the West Germany region formerly under British rule. The French government was never successful in getting him extradited from West Germany.
Involved members of the Waffen-SS were last brought to trial in 1983. Heinz Barth, a former SS-Obersturmführer, was located in East Germany. As the platoon leader of 45 SS soldiers in the “Der Führer” regiment, Barth had taken part in the massacre.
He was accused of directing the shooting of 20 persons in a garage. The First Senate of the Berlin City Court convicted Barth and sentenced him to life in prison. He passed away in August 2007 after being freed from jail in the newly united Germany in 1997.
In connection with the massacre in Oradour-sur-Glane, Werner C, an 88-year-old former soldier with the 3rd Company of the 1st Battalion of “Der Führer,” was prosecuted on January 8 by the state court in Cologne with 25 counts of murder and numerous counts of accessory to murder.
Werner C., the suspect’s only name, had until March 2014 to answer the allegations. Due to the suspect’s young age at the time of the incident, a juvenile court may have handled the case’s trial if it had gone that far. According to Rainer Pohlen, the man’s lawyer, the suspect acknowledged being in the village but denied participating in any deaths.
The court dismissed the case on December 9 because of a lack of witness testimony and solid documented evidence that may refute the suspect’s claim that he was not involved in the slaughter.
Memorial for the Victims of the Oradour-sur-Glane Massacre
General Charles de Gaulle decided the community should not be rebuilt after the war but should instead stand as a monument to the brutality of the Nazi occupation. Northwest of the location of the massacre is the new community of Oradour-sur-Glane, which was constructed after the war and had a population of 2,375 in 2012.
The old village’s ruins are still present to honor the deceased and to symbolize other locations and occasions.
By the Village Martyr entrance in 1999, French President Jacques Chirac dedicated the Centre de la mémoire d’Oradour, a memorial museum (“martyred village”). Items salvaged from the burned-out buildings are displayed in the city’s museum, including watches that stopped when their owners were burned alive, glasses that melted in the sweltering heat, and various other objects.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder vowed on June 6, 2004, at the Normandy invasion memorial celebration in Caen, that Germany will never forget the crimes committed by the Nazis, mentioning Oradour-sur-Glane in particular.
The ghost village of Oradour-sur-Glane was visited by French President François Hollande and German President Joachim Gauck on September 4, 2013. Following their tour of the location, the two leaders broadcast a joint news conference.
A German president had never visited the scene of one of France’s most significant World War II atrocities.
On April 28, 2017, Emmanuel Macron, a candidate for the French presidency, went to Oradour-sur-Glane and spoke with Robert Hébras, the sole survivor of the massacre. Hébras, 18 at the time of the murders, passed away in 2023 at 97.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?