75th Anniversary of the Oradour-sur-Glane Massacre
Oradour-sur-Glane is a small farming village located near some 15 miles west-north-west of Limoges. During World War II, it was located in the German-occupied zone of France. On June 10, 1944, troops of the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division (armored division), Das Reich, massacred 642 people, almost the entire population, and then destroyed the village.
When the 2nd SS Division redeployed to Normandy, French resistance fighters harassed it. On June 9, 1944, Lammerding issued orders for the division to “cleanse” the area around Clermont-Ferrand of partisans. That same day, members of the division had displayed what “cleansing” of partisans would mean. In retaliation for an attack, soldiers of Das Reich hanged 99 male inhabitants of the village Tulle, near Limoges.
The next day, June 10, 1944, soldiers of the 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, 4th SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment (motorized infantry) Der Führer, a subordinate unit of the 2nd SS Panzer Division since April 1944, advanced to the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. Led by the commander of the 1st Battalion, SS Major Adolf Diekmann, the Waffen-SS troops surrounded the village at midday. At that point in time, the village population had almost doubled to about 650 people, swelled by refugees, including some Jewish refugees, from other parts of France.
Massacre and destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane
The SS soldiers rounded up the entire population and concentrated them on the market square. Members of the 1st and 2nd platoons took the 197 men to several barns on the edge of town and locked them in. The 3rd platoon locked up 240 women and 205 children in the village church. Then the SS men set fire to the barns and threw grenades through the windows of the church, shooting those who sought to escape the flames.
After the 642 inhabitants were killed, the company looted the empty dwellings and then burned the village to the ground. At about 8:00 p.m. on the evening of June 10, the SS men withdrew from the smoking ruins. Only seven villagers survived the massacre: six men and a woman, all of them more or less severely injured. About fifteen other inhabitants of the village were able to escape the Germans before the massacre started or evade the roundup by hiding.
After the war, the massacre in Oradour-sur-Glane also received a great deal of attention. In 1946, the French government declared the site to be a national memorial site and mandated its conservation. The French prosecution team presented documentation of the killings at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1946.
Why Diekmann and his superiors chose Oradour-sur-Glane and who gave the order to kill the inhabitants remains disputed. Neither the International Military Tribunal nor the French authorities at proceedings in Bordeaux in 1953 produced conclusive evidence either linking Oradour-sur-Glane with the French resistance or determining who ordered the massacre. When authorities in the Democratic German Republic prosecuted Heinz Barth, an NCO who participated in the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, in 1981, they too could not reach a conclusive answer to these questions.
“Oradour was not a crime due to madness but the logic of a system. We must remember this not to see it again, we must live and build a world in which crime will be folly again, and reason will be peace.” Claude Roy, French poet, journalist and essayist (1949)
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