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November 17, 2012

The claim that German soldiers were crushed to death in a wine press in a French village

Filed under: World War II — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 8:06 am

After a reader of my blog made a comment in which a reference was made to a book which claims that German soldiers were crushed to death in a wine press in the French village of Oradour, I ordered the book so that I could read this for myself.

The book is Gold in the Furnace by Savitri Devi.  This quote is from page 110 of the book:

…. not a word must ever be said or written — and not a word is ever said, if they can help it — about their atrocities; not a word about what went on in the torture chambers of Ham Common, a few miles from London, during the war, and in similar ones in other places, in all Democratic countries as well as in Soviet Russia; not a word either, about the manifold horrors perpetrated on Germans, also during the war, by that scum of the earth which composed, by the many honest Frenchmen themselves, the bulk of the French “resistance”; not a word for instance, about the rascals who, having caught hold of twelve German officers and tied them up, slowly pressed them to death between the iron teeth of an enormous winepress in a village in the centre of France named Oradour;

There are two villages in France with the name Oradour: Oradour-sur-Glane and Oradour-sur-Vayres. A map on the Wikipedia website shows the location of Oradour-sur-Glane. I previously blogged about Oradour-sur-Glane here.

According to Sarah Farmer, the author of a book about Oradour-sur-Glane entitled Martyred Village, the name Oradour comes from the Latin word oratorium which means “place of prayer.” Oradours were “rudimentary square chapels at the intersection of important roads.”

The Official Publication of the Oradour-sur-Glane survivors says that the Lantern for the Dead in the cemetery there dates back to Roman times when it was the custom to bury people at an intersection. The church in Oradour-sur-Glane was originally built in the 12th century according to Sarah Farmer’s book.

The ruins of the church in Oradour-sur-Glane

The photo below shows the Oradour-sur-Glane cemetery; in the foreground is an ancient Lantern for the Dead which probably dates back at least to the 12th century. It is the tall stone column on the left. In the background on the right is the Ossuary which contains the ashes of the victims of the massacre in Oradur-sur-Glane on 10 June 1944. On the side of the Lantern you can see an opening which looks like a place for something to be burned.

Lantern for the Dead in Oradour-sur-Glane

This quote from Wikipedia explains that Oradour-sur-Glane was selected for a reprisal by the SS because of a mistake:

Early on the morning of 10 June 1944, Diekmann informed Weidinger at regimental headquarters that he had been approached by two members of the Milice, the French secret police that collaborated with the German Gestapo, who claimed that a Waffen SS officer was being held by the Resistance in Oradour-sur-Vayres, a nearby village. The captured German was alleged to be Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion (another unit of the “Das Reich” division), who may have been captured by the Maquis the day before.

On 10 June, Diekmann’s battalion sealed off Oradour-sur-Glane, having confused it with nearby Oradour-sur-Vayres, and ordered all the townspeople – and anyone who happened to be in or near the town – to assemble in the village square, ostensibly, to have their identity papers examined. In addition to the residents of the village, the SS also apprehended six people who did not live there but had the misfortune to be riding their bikes through the village when the Germans arrived.

All the women and children were locked in the church while the village was looted. Meanwhile, the men were led to six barns and sheds where machine-gun nests were already in place.

One of the the “six barns and sheds” mentioned on the Wikipedia page was the Denis Wine and Storage “shed” which is shown in the two photos below.

On the left is the ruins of a wine storage place in Oradour-sur-Glane

The photo above shows the intersection of the St. Junien road and Rue de Emile Desourteaux; the Denis Wine and Spirits storehouse is on the left. Notice the pile of metal bands for wine barrels. This view is looking north toward the upper town with the tram station in the far background. A white sign on the corner of the building in the center of the photo tells visitors that the St. Junien road is the only exit from the village.

The photo below shows the interior of the ruins of the storehouse. The bodies of a few women were found in this barn, along with the men that were killed here.

Wine storage place with iron bands for wine barrels

The fact that there was a wine storage building in Oradour-sur-Glane indicates that wine might have been made there and that there might have been a wine press in the village.

But what about Oradour-sur-Vayres?  Was there any wine making done there?  I checked Wikipedia and found a map which shows the two villages named Oradour were in almost the exact same location, a mere 15 miles apart.

This quote is from the Wikipedia page on Oradour-sur-Vayres:

The massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane was supposed to take place there as some Germans had been killed by the Maquis there. Source: Time magazine World Battlefronts: Murder at Oradour Monday, Jul. 24, 1944

So now we know that, only six weeks after the reprisal, Time Magazine was reporting the story of the mistake that the SS had made in executing the innocent people of Oradour-sur-Glane when it was really the village of Oradour-sur Vayres that had killed German soldiers.  Is this the village of Oradour to which Savitri Devi was referring when she mentioned the German soldiers who were crushed to death in a wine press?

Oradour-sur-Glane is now a popular tourist attraction.  Entrance to the ruined village is through the Museum which is shown in the photo below.  The ruined village is on the other side of the road, opposite the Museum.

The red building is the Museum at Oradour-sur-Glane

Photo show two large posters in the Oradour-sur-Glane Museum

The top photo above shows Area 1 of the exhibits, which is about the rise of Nazism in Germany. The bottom photo shows Area 2 which is about the Terror in the East, Terror in the Limousin and Preparing to “make an example” out of Oradour-sur-Glane. The exhibits explain the story only from the French point of view. From the German point of view, the civilian partisans were the “terrorists” who were fighting illegally in violation of the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929.

Entrance to the ruins is free, but there is a charge for the exhibits in the Museum. The two photos above were scanned from a book entitled Centre of Remembrance for Oradour, Permanent Exhibition, which I purchased from the book store in the Center of Memory. The exhibit begins with the story of the Nazis and then continues on with the history of Oradour-sur-Glane.

I visited the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane several years ago.  Upon entering the ruins, one of the first sights that I saw was “The Tragic Well” where bodies were found.  Allegedly, these were the bodies of villagers that had been thrown into the well.  But could “The Tragic Well” have held the bodies of German soldiers who had been killed by the villagers?  Since I have read about the soldiers who were killed in a wine press, I am re-thinking “The Tragic Well,” which is shown in the photo below.

The Tragic Well is marked by a cross on the right side of the photo

The following quote from the Museum book about the exhibits explains why the innocent village of Oradour-sur-Glane was chosen to be made into an example:

On 9 June the Waffen-SS ‘Der Führer,’ one of two amoured infantry units in the ‘Das Reich’ regiment took over Limoges and its surrounds. The general staff of the four companies commandeered accommodation in Limoges while the 1st battalion with staff and four companies settled themselves to the west in Rochechouart and Saint-Junien.

From archival material we know about meetings that were held. On Friday 9 June, the Milice met in Limoges. On the morning of Saturday 10 June first in Limoges, then in Saint-Junien, Waffen SS officers and SS police posted to Limoges met. The Milice would follow their operations. Several days earlier, on 5 June, a memo from the SS General commanding the division mentioned “making an example” and this was confirmed in another memo sent this same Saturday 10 June saying it would be put into action.

Troops were billeted in the evening of 10 June in Nieul. Oradour lies between Saint-Junien and Nieul.

I previously blogged about Oradour-sur-Glane here.