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October 18, 2013

Madame Rouffanche, the only survivor of the massacre in the Oradour-sur-Glane church, tells her story

Filed under: World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 12:23 pm

One of the regular readers of my blog asked a question, in a comment on my previous Oradour-sur-Glane post, about how a German soldier managed to put a fire bomb inside the Oradour-sur-Glane church without burning himself up, or allowing the women inside the church to extinguish the fire.

The question is

Were the strings (wicks) short, and the soldiers were blown up with their victims?

or were [the stings or wicks] long enough to give them time to escape the church for safety — and allow people inside to extinguish them?

The only person, who could answer this question, would be Madame Rouffanche, the lone survivor of the Church, who is now dead. However, she did testify in the trial of the SS soldiers after the war.

The answer, according to the testimony of Madame Rouffanche, is long and complicated, so bear with me, while I explain the story with words and pictures.

Madame Rouffanche was over 50 years old, and overweight

Madame Rouffanche was over 50 years old, and overweight

The photo below shows the front of the Oradour-sur-Glane church, where women and children were burned alive on June 10, 1944 by SS soldiers, including some soldiers from the French province of Alsace.

The front of the ruined church in Oradour-sur-Glane

The front of the ruined church in Oradour-sur-Glane

The photo above shows the front of the Oradour-sur-Glane church. On the left side, there is an open doorway, with no door, which is the entrance into the sacristy, sometimes called the vestry. The sacristy was the room that contained the ceremonial clothing of the priests, called the vestments. In the photo above, the main door into the church is on the right, at the top of the steps into the church tower.

Madame Marguerite Rouffanche, the only survivor of the fire in the church, said that SS soldiers entered through the front door, and placed a “smoke bomb” near the choir, which was in the back of the church.

Damage from the smoke bomb inside the Oradour-sur-Glane church

Damage inside the Oradour-sur-Glane church

The photo above shows the damage to the floor of the church near the communion rail which was in the front of the Oradour-sur-Glane church.  You can see a bit of the remains of the Communion rail on the right in the photo. This photo contradicts the testimony of Madame Rouffanche who said that a smoke bomb was placed in the back of the church.

The photo below shows that the location of the floor damage is close to the altar of the church, not in the back of the church, as Madame Rouffanche testified in court. The damage might have been caused by a hand grenade, or something else thrown into the church, as there is no smoke damage.

Damage to the church floor was in the front of the church

Damage to the church floor was in the front of the church

Madame Rouffanche testified that the women and children rushed to the front of the church and tried to escape through the sacristy door. The  women broke open the sacristy door and some of the women entered the sacristy, but were gunned down by SS soldiers who were standing guard outside.

The photo below shows the inside of the damaged sacristy of the church. Soldiers were standing outside this door, shooting the women who tried to escape.

Door to the outside of the sacristry

Door to the outside of the sacristy

The photo above shows the inside of the sacristy. The original door, which probably burned in the fire, has not been replaced, but you can still see the enormous hook that once fastened this door from the inside. The room is filled with rubble and the stair on which Madame Rouffanche said that she sat is no longer there. Through the doorway you can see the courtyard of the church.

Door to the sacristry from inside the church has been nailed shut

Door to the sacristy from inside the church has been nailed shut

The door to the sacristy, from inside the church, has been replaced with a wooden door that has been nailed shut.  Note the child’s pram that has been placed strategically inside the church.  The heartless German soldiers were killing babies in their prams inside the church.

Window inside the sacistry was too high up for the women to escape

Window inside the sacristy was too high up for the women to escape

The sacristy was an unfamiliar place to the women in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. In those days, women were not allowed to go beyond the communion rail, unless they were cleaning the church. They were not allowed near the main altar unless they were placing flowers there or decorating the church. The sacristy was a private room that only the priests and the altar boys could enter; it was off limits to women.

The following testimony was given by  Madame Rouffanche in the 1953 Military Tribunal at Bordeaux, as quoted in the Official Publication:

“Shoved together in the holy place, we became more and more worried as we awaited the end of the preparations being made for us. At about 4 p.m. some soldiers, about 20 years old placed a sort of bulky box in the nave, near the choir, from which strings were lit and the flames passed to the apparatus which suddenly produced a strong explosion with dense, black, suffocating smoke billowing out. The women and children, half choked and screaming with fright rushed towards the parts of the church where the air was still breathable. The door of the sacristy was then broken in by the violent thrust of one horrified group. I followed in after but gave up and sat on a stair. My daughter came and sat down with me. When the Germans noticed that this room had been broken into they savagely shot down those who had tried to find shelter there. My daughter was killed near me by a bullet fired from outside. I owe my life to the idea I had to shut my eyes and pretend to be dead.

Firing burst out in the church then straw, faggots and chairs were thrown pele-mele onto bodies lying on the stone slabs. I had escaped from the killing and was without injury so I made use of a smoke cloud to slip behind the altar.

The altar inside the Oradour-sur-Glane church had 3 windows behind it

The altar inside the Oradour-sur-Glane church had 3 windows behind it

In this part of the church there are three windows. I made for the widest one in the middle and with the help of a stool used to light the candles, I tried to reach it.

The widest window was the one in the middle

The widest window was the one in the middle

The wall underneath the window where Madame Rouffanche climbed

The wall underneath the window where Madame Rouffanche climbed up

I don’t know how but my strength was multiplied. I heaved myself up to it as best I could and threw myself out of the opening that was offered to me through the already shattered window. I jumped about nine feet down.

Madame Rouffanche jumped out of the window on the left

Madame Rouffanche jumped out of the window on the left side; note the plaque under the window

Madame Rouffanche jumped out of the middle window and stuck the landing

Madame Rouffanche jumped out of the middle window and stuck the landing

Note that the ground underneath the church windows slants down to a retaining wall that is 10 feet high.  The window, where Madame Rouffanche jumped is 9 feet from the ground.

From there, she crawled around to a garden behind the church and hid between the rows of peas until she was found the next day at 5 p.m. and taken to a hospital.

Madame Rouffanche checked into the hospital under an assumed name, just in case the SS soldiers should try to track her down and kill her. After all, she was the only witness to what happened in the church, so her life was in danger.

Many accounts of her escape from the church say that Madame Rouffanche used a “ladder,” but it is more likely that it was a stool, as Madame Rouffanche mentioned in her testimony. The space between the back of the altar and the wall under the window is only about two feet wide, hardly wide enough to use a ladder.

Strangely, the bodies of 15 to 20 children were found piled up behind the alter in the narrow space where Madame Rouffanche said that she had used a stool to climb up to the window, according to the Bishop’s Office report.  Why didn’t the children climb up and jump out of the window?  They didn’t need a stool; the children could have stood on each other’s shoulders and climbed out.  But for some reason, they didn’t.

The bottom edge of the middle church window is around 9 feet from the floor of the church. The wall under the window is about six feet straight up and then it is an additional three feet up a slanted section of the wall. Apparently, Madame Rouffanche shoved the children aside and climbed out by herself, leaving the children to burn to death.

The stool or ladder, which Madame Rouffanche used, apparently burned up in the fire in the church, as it is no longer there.

Madame Rouffance said that she picked the middle window for her leap to freedom because it was wider than the other two; her photo shows that Madame Rouffanche was not skinny, so thankfully, there was a window wide enough for her leap.

In her court testimony, Madame Rouffanche said that she did not climb up to the window until after the church had been set on fire by the SS soldiers. By this time, most of the women in the church were already dead. She had survived the gas bomb that was set off in the church and the shots fired into the sacristy, as well as the grenades tossed through the doors and windows and she had not been wounded by the hundreds of shots fired by the soldiers inside the church. She testified that she went behind the altar, hiding behind a cloud of smoke, and found a stool that had been used to light the candles on the altar.

Back in 1944, when I used to go to Mass in a Catholic Church in a small town in America, the altar boys used a long stick to light the candles; they did not climb up on a stool.

The bars which are on the Oradour-sur-Glane church window today were not there when Madame Rouffanche made the leap from the window, according to a staff member at the Center of Memory.

The staff member at the Center of Memory also told me that Madame Rouffanche was not injured when she jumped from the window because shrubbery near the building broke her fall. The shrubbery might also have prevented her from rolling off the ledge, since the ground under the window slants down to a retaining wall. Today this area has been closed off and there is no access to the spot where she landed after leaping from the window.

The bodies of 23-year-old Henriette Joyeaux and her 7-month-old son, Rene, were identified after they were found buried near the church. According to Madame Rouffance, another woman had also climbed up to the window and had called out to her to catch her baby which she then threw out the window.  Meanwhile, there were 15 to 20 children cowering behind the altar, while Madame Rouffanche and the other woman completely ignored them, and only tried to save themselves.

Madame Rouffanche didn’t manage to catch the baby.  The baby fell to the ground and began crying, which alerted soldiers nearby, and they began shooting. Madame Joyeaux and her baby were both killed.  Their bodies were buried, and were only found later.

Madame Joyeaux was from Soudanas, part of the commune of Panazol; her maiden name was Hyvernaud. In her story, Madame Rouffanche referred to the other woman as Madame Hyvernaud. Madame Germaine-Marie Hyvernaud, a resident of Oradour-sur-Glane and probably one of her relatives, was also among the 52 victims whose remains were identified.

These were the final words of Madame Rouffanche to the court:

“I ask that justice be done with God’s help. I came out alive from the crematory oven; I am the sacred witness from the church. I am a mother who has lost everything.”

In my humble opinion, Madame Rouffanche was not “the sacred witness from the church,” but a woman who lived near the hamlet where German soldiers were burned alive in an ambulance.

Here is the real story of Madame Rouffanche:

Just outside the southern entrance to Oradour-sur-Glane, in the tiny hamlet of La Ferme de l’Etang, the SS soldiers came upon the horrible scene of a recent ambush of a German Army ambulance. Four wounded German soldiers had been burned alive inside the ambulance; the driver and another soldier in the passenger seat had been chained to the steering wheel and burned alive.

Before entering the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, the SS rounded up all the residents of the farming hamlets near the southern entrance of the village, where the ambulance was found, and took them in trucks to Oradour-sur-Glane, including family members of Madame Marguerite Rouffanche.

Madame Rouffanche, who lived in the hamlet of La Ferme de l’Etang, allegedly survived the massacre by jumping out of a window in the church; she testified under oath that the SS soldiers had set off a smoke bomb in the church in an attempt to asphyxiate the women and children, and had then set fire to the church, burning some of the women and children alive.

What really happened?  Did Madame Rouffanche hide when her relatives were taken to Oradour-sur-Glane.  Did she survive because she was never inside the church?

19 Comments

  1. In the tumult of the massacre, details in her mind of her ordeal got mixed up. Overall, she was telling the truth I think.

    Comment by Mel — July 23, 2017 @ 4:45 pm

  2. As reportage goes this is poor and unsubstantiated. Is the writer really saying that Mme Rouffanche was lying? And if so why?

    Comment by Mark Foster — June 7, 2017 @ 10:48 am

    • You wrote: “Is the writer really saying that Mme Rouffanche was lying? And if so why?”

      Yes, I am saying that she is lying. Read this part of my blog post:

      Begin quote from my blog:

      Here is the real story of Madame Rouffanche:

      Just outside the southern entrance to Oradour-sur-Glane, in the tiny hamlet of La Ferme de l’Etang, the SS soldiers came upon the horrible scene of a recent ambush of a German Army ambulance. Four wounded German soldiers had been burned alive inside the ambulance; the driver and another soldier in the passenger seat had been chained to the steering wheel and burned alive.

      Before entering the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, the SS rounded up all the residents of the farming hamlets near the southern entrance of the village, where the ambulance was found, and took them in trucks to Oradour-sur-Glane, including family members of Madame Marguerite Rouffanche.

      Madame Rouffanche, who lived in the hamlet of La Ferme de l’Etang, allegedly survived the massacre by jumping out of a window in the church; she testified under oath that the SS soldiers had set off a smoke bomb in the church in an attempt to asphyxiate the women and children, and had then set fire to the church, burning some of the women and children alive.

      What really happened? Did Madame Rouffanche hide when her relatives were taken to Oradour-sur-Glane? Did she survive because she was never inside the church?
      End quote

      Comment by furtherglory — June 7, 2017 @ 11:35 am

  3. This blog was… how do you say it? Relevant!!
    Finally I have found something which helped me. Kudos!

    Comment by dgn2200v3 wrt54g firmware — September 26, 2016 @ 6:10 pm

  4. Just because she said there was a stool behind the altar does not mean the smaller altar boys did not use it to reach the candles to light them (according to you that was not done in USA back then is your reasoning, as if Europeans knew or cared about American religious customs back then! Yankee hubris much?) Also, the candles needed to be snuffed out, no small altar boy could safely reach up to snuff out candles to see and make sure they are completely out, so clearly a stool is a safety measure. There could be various other reasons for the stool behind the altar too. It could have also been used for the altar boys to set-up the altar prior to services, or for a hidden altar boy to sit behind altar to assist clergy for any reason whatsoever. Frankly, during the surviving woman’s horror of watching her daughter murdered and then trying to survive afterwards, the nature of the original purpose for the stool behind the altar matters not

    Comment by aspiesmom — January 23, 2016 @ 5:34 pm

  5. Your fiction does not explain why the surviving woman was found in the pea patch behind the church and taken to the hospital. Is everyone who found her and cared for her in the hospital lying?
    Is the purpose of your fiction to absolve the poor Nazis that invaded France?

    Comment by aspiesmom — January 23, 2016 @ 5:10 pm

  6. What a disrespectful blog against this survivor! Your “opinion” does not matter, you were not there! Logic would tell you the children were already dead and were piled up behind the altar by the SS after the surviving woman leapt from the altar window, then SS probably piled the children after their gunfire to make a human bonfire. Most likely the children that were scared would be crying and therefore would be the first to be shot on the spot by the cruel SS who wanted to leave no vocal witnesses. It only makes sense that the children were piled after they were dead, which is why none of them leapt out the window.

    Comment by aspiesmom — January 23, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

  7. I can’t have an opinion on Mme Rouffanche and whether or not she was in the church. I have just learned of this incident and need to educate myself more before forming a thoughtful opinion. That being said, it is tragic enough what happened to the people of this small town. The horror of their death makes me shudder when I imagine what they had to endure. I appreciate this blog and any thoughts you might ad to help me understand this incident more thoroughly.

    Comment by khepri (@hebony) — September 28, 2015 @ 9:55 am

  8. bollox

    Comment by mark — July 19, 2014 @ 11:48 am

    • I am from Northern Ireland. I have a house beside Oradour-sur-Glane. I am very familiar with the Church in question and have visited Madame Rouffanche’s grave many times.I am disgusted by some comments on this blog. Please have the greatest respect for the memory of this woman, her bravery in the midst of absolute and complete terror. What have you left to lose when your child is dead. You do your best. I am not naive. I have lived through bombs and terror in Northern Ireland . I know what blind panic to escape is like. Leave it all alone. May they all rest in peace. God bless them all.

      Comment by Pauline Shields — June 26, 2015 @ 6:42 am

      • Madame Rouffanche said that she used a ladder to climb up to the window. There were many little children hiding behind the altar. Why didn’t any of the children use the ladder to climb out? The ladder was not found in the ruins. What could have happened to it? The bodies of the children were found behind the altar. These are just a few of the clues that Madame Rouffanche was never in the church.

        Comment by furtherglory — June 26, 2015 @ 8:28 am

      • Madame Rouffanche said that she used a ladder to climb up to the window. She claimed that this ladder was there because the altar boys had to climb up to light the candles on the altar.

        Back in those days, the altar boys used a long wand to light the candles. They did not climb up on a ladder to light the candles.

        This lie told by Madame Rouffanche shows that she was never in a Catholic church in her life.

        Comment by furtherglory — June 26, 2015 @ 8:43 am

  9. you are all talking bollocks there is no way she could of got back in to save the children its over 6 feet tall with the heat of a furnace coming from the window. she was a middle aged overweight woman with nazis shooting at random get real! mark wicks

    Comment by mark — July 19, 2014 @ 11:42 am

  10. Thanks furtherglory;

    Mme Rouffanche’s recollection is so fishy that she certainly earned her Holocaust Survivor’s stripes with flying colors.

    You’re absolutely right she never set foot in that church, on that fateful day at least.

    Comment by Eager For Answers — October 19, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

  11. Posted this page to my article in Russian.

    http://www.battlefield.ru/tulle-oradour-sur-glane.html

    These pictures are telling us a lot. There had never been a fire in the church, but the explosion, set by French guerillas AKA terrorists. They would not spare lives of their own people, would they?

    Comment by Gasan — October 18, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

  12. Worth watching the video made by Vincent Reynouard which landed him in prison for “denial “. From 7 minutes in Vincent explains how the bodies found in the church showed evidence of a massive explosion but none of a fire eg chausseurs (shoes) intact and robes ( dresses ) showing no evidence of fire. He compares the bodies with real fire victims.
    His contention is that there was an explosion but it was in the bell tower where the maquis had hidden explosives. He also finds the jump of Madame Rouffanche impossible to believe.

    Comment by peter — October 18, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

  13. Is it a federal law?

    Comment by Anonymous — October 18, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

    • Is what a federal law?

      It is a crime in France to deny the official story of Oradour-sur-Glane, as told by Madame Rouffanche. Vincent Reynouard was put into prison for denying the official story of Oradour-sur-Glane. You can read about him on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Oradour-sur-Glane/Story/VincentReynouard.html

      Comment by furtherglory — October 18, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

      • It should never be a crime to have an opinion about a survivor’s testimony being true or not, just as it should not be a crime to have an opinion about a blogger’s vile unproven thoughts on same topic.

        Comment by aspiesmom — January 23, 2016 @ 5:04 pm


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