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March 19, 2018

It all started with Oradour-sur-Glane

Filed under: Holocaust — furtherglory @ 11:19 am

One of the first places that I went, when I began traveling, was to Oradour-sur-Glane.

I wrote about it on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Oradour-sur-Glane/Story/OfficialStory.html

The Official Story of Oradour-sur-Glane

The official story of the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane is told in a 190-page book entitled “Oradour-sur-Glane, a Vision of Horror.” This is the Official Publication of the Remembrance Committee and the National Association of the Families of the Martyrs of Oradour-sur-Glane, written by Guy Pauchou, sub-prefect of Rochechouart, which is a nearby town, and Dr. Pierre Masfrand, the curator of the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane.

The book tells the official story of the destruction of the peaceful village of Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944 when 642 innocent men, women and children were brutally murdered for no reason at all and the whole town was destroyed by Waffen-SS soldiers in Hitler’s elite army.

On June 6, 1944, four days before the Massacre, the Allies had landed at Normandy; this was a crucial time for the German Army. If the Germans had any chance of winning the war, they had to get to Normandy as soon as possible and stop the invasion, yet Waffen-SS soldiers took time out to go to Oradour-sur-Glane to murder innocent civilians who were not involved in the war in any way.

This official version of the Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, as told by the survivors, reveals the enormous pride that the inhabitants had in this unique village in the rolling farm country of the Limosin. The survivors never recovered from the overwhelming grief that gripped them after they lost their entire families and the village that held so many fond memories from their childhood. Their peaceful way of life was destroyed forever by marauding Waffen-SS soldiers who targeted defenseless French civilians for no good reason on a beautiful Summer day in 1944.

After the war, the town received a citation from the Nation of France, which reads as follows:

“The methodical rounding up, the deliberate massacre of these 700 men, women and children, the systematic destruction of these 328 buildings, is the archetypal example of a French community that suffered under barbarism. A motiveless crime, an unthinking cruelty which did nothing but lift the patriotic fervour of the French people, stiffen their desire for liberation, and add to, if possible, the dishonour of Germany and the disgust it engendered.”

According to the Official Publication, the perpetrators of the atrocity at Oradour-sur-Glane were Waffen-SS soldiers of the 3rd Company of the SS regiment “der Führer,” which was part of the 2nd Panzer Division known as “das Reich” Division.

On June 9th, the day before the massacre, a detachment of “das Reich” Division soldiers was billeted in the area bordering Oradour. Some of the soldiers were staying at Rochechourart and others were staying at Saint-Junien, only 13 kilometers from Oradour-sur-Glane, where the French Resistance had blown up a bridge that day. That evening, the soldiers at Rochechourart were moved to Saint-Junien after committing acts of violence and killing several citizens in the town.

Included among the SS soldiers, who were involved in the Rochechourart violence, were some from Schiltigheim, a suburb of Strasbourg in Alsace, a former French province that had been annexed by the Germans into the Greater German Reich after France was defeated in June 1940. There were also refugees from Schiltigheim living in Oradour-sur-Glane.

One out of every three soldiers in the 3rd Company of “der Führer” regiment, the perpetrators of the Oradour massacre, was a Frenchman from Alsace and most of them were under 18 years of age. Except for one man who had volunteered to join the SS, the Alsatians who participated in the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane had been drafted into the regular German Army and were then assigned to the volunteer SS army, according to their testimony in the trial held in 1953.

At least one survivor, Monsieur Paul Doutre, was a 21-year-old “draft dodger” who stayed in his home while the villagers were being assembled and then managed to escape after the SS set fire to his house. Although the booklet doesn’t mention it, he might have been a refugee from Alsace or Lorraine and was called a “draft dodger” because he had refused to join the German army after Alsace-Lorraine was annexed into the Greater German Reich in 1940.

The authors of the booklet, “Oradour-sur-Glane, A Vision of Horror,” point out that what was most striking about the destruction of the village was “the methodical, systematic and even scientific manner in which it was perpetrated.” As the booklet explains, “The German insistence in asking whether there were any munitions dumps was evidently a step of prudence which may be explained by the desire to protect against explosions which the fire might cause and of which they might be the first victims.”

The SS soldiers brought with them all the equipment necessary to destroy the village including bombs, grenades, cartridges, and incendiary bombs, a collection of modern weapons which the authors call “the last word in science and progress!”

According to the authors, “An asphyxiating gas container intended for the liquidation of the unfortunate victims in the church was specially brought in by lorry.” In the opinion of the authors, “The Germans have distinguished themselves from other peoples by their delirious taste for torture, death and blood.” The official story is that the German beasts made plans in advance to gas the women and children and to carry out this terrible crime in the sanctity of a church.

The official version of the massacre makes it abundantly clear that the people of the village were completely innocent. Although the Limosin region was the center of the Communist Resistance movement, the villagers in Oradour-sur-Glane were completely isolated from the war going on all around them.

No German soldier had ever before set foot in Oradour, because there was no reason to. No one in the village had anything to do with the French Resistance. No weapons had ever been stored there and no Maquisards, as the Resistance fighters were called, had ever stayed there. No attacks on SS soldiers had ever occurred in the town, nor anywhere near it, according to the official version of the story. Nothing had ever happened that could possibly offer any justification for the murder of defenseless civilians, nor the burning alive of women and children and the desecration of a Catholic Church.

In 1944, Oradour-sur-Glane was an idyllic village that was heretofore untouched by the war. The inhabitants were neither collaborators with the enemy, nor connected in any way with the Resistance movement. They were engaged only in peaceful pursuits such as playing soccer, fishing in the Glane river, gathering in the numerous cafes, or socializing at the tram station where it was the custom for the villagers meet the daily trains from Limoges.

The word Oradour comes from the Latin oratorium which means an altar and a place to offer prayers for the dead who, in Roman times, were buried in the vicinity of a crossroads. An ancient “lantern for the dead” in the cemetery at Oradour-sur-Glane is one of the few that have survived from the Roman days.

The Glane river flows past the southern entrance to the village, “singing under deep green cradles its eternal hymn of glory to our beautiful Limousin,” as the book so poignantly describes it.

Oradour-sur-Glane was an island in a sea of chaos, where hundreds of refugees had come to get away from the war, including some of the Red Spaniards, the Communists who had fought in the Spanish Civil War which ended in 1939. The town itself had 330 inhabitants, but there was an equal number of refugees there at the time of the massacre. There were even a few Jews hiding in the village, safe in the knowledge that the villagers were non-partisan, so there was no reason for the German occupiers to ever enter the village.

This quote from the Official Publication mentions the Jewish survivors:

“We must also mention: Monsieur Litaud, former postman; Madame Lauzanet, a woman in her sixties; and finally two young Israeli girls by the name of Pinede, and their younger brother, who managed to escape the massacre by fleeing under the Germans’ noses.”

The town was surrounded by small hamlets where the farmers lived. They shopped in the town and sent their children to the Oradour schools. According to the 1936 census, the commune of Oradour-sur-Glane had a population of 1,574 people, including the 330 residents of the town and the inhabitants of all the surrounding hamlets. As the Official Publication states, “It was into this small, quiet, delightful town that the German hordes would perpetrate the most monstrous and abominable crime in our history.”

There was no excuse whatsoever for the German occupiers to select Oradour-sur-Glane for such a horrific crime. The official version points out that “the Nazis had no valid reason to attack this peaceful town.”

There are various theories about why the village of Oradour-sur-Glane was randomly selected by the SS. One possible reason was that the town was mistaken for another village, only 15 miles away, with a similar name, Oradour-sur-Vayres, which was active in the Resistance.

In his book entitled “Justice at Nuremberg,” author Robert E. Conot wrote the following:

When a popular battalion commander was killed in the village of Oradour-sur-Vayres, near Limoges, the troopers descended in error on Oradour-sur-Glane. Unable to extract any information, they machine-gunned the 190 men of the community in the square, and burned 245 women and 207 children alive in the church. The account of an eyewitness was introduced into evidence: “Outside the church the soil was freshly dug, children’s garments were piled up, half burned. Where the barns had stood, completely calcinated human skeletons, heaped one on the other, partially covered with various materials, made a horrible charnel house.”

The above testimony was given by one of the survivors at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946. The “popular battalion commander” was Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, a close personal friend of Adolf Diekmann, the man who had ordered the massacre. (Diekmann’s name is given as Otto Dickmann in all the official accounts.)

Another story is that an SS officer dropped a pencil on a map and the tip pointed to Oradour-sur-Glane.

Some say that nearby Saint-Junien was originally the target because Resistance fighters had blown up a bridge in the town the day before, but when the mayor told the SS that there were 1800 partisans in the town, they chose Oradour-sur-Glane instead. As the authors of the Official Publication explain, Oradour-sur-Glane was targeted since “it was not because of elements of resistance there, but rather because they knew very pertinently that there were not and that they could consequently commit their odious crime with impunity.”

In a book entitled “Oradour, Village of the Dead,” the author Philip Beck wrote the following:

Colonel Rousselier, commander of the 12th military region of the FFI at Limoges, stressed: “There were no engagements of any sort in the region of Oradour-sur-Glane. We had no camp, no arms cache and no explosives anywhere near the village.”

The FFI was the French Forces of the Interior, a French resistance organization which was very active in the area near Oradour-sur-Glane; it was the army of Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French, who had his headquarters in London.

Philip Beck points out that the inhabitants of Oradour would have been fearful of reprisals and would have tried to flee when the SS arrived if they had been involved with the resistance. He wrote: “All accounts point to their air of innocence throughout.”

The Official Publication paints a vivid picture of the Waffen-SS and the German people as barbarians devoid of any civilized manners or feelings. The first sentence of their version of the story tells us that Oradour-sur-Glane was “a charming, attractive, small town” before it was “crucified with such atrocity by German barbarity.”

Oradour-sur-Glane is today called a “martyr village;” the ruins have been preserved as a symbol of German barbarity, according to the Official Publication.

The authors of the Official Publication were particularly offended by two reports filed by the SS shortly after the massacre. Regarding the first report, on June 13, 1944, the Official Publication states that “it is understandable that its purpose was to justify the massacre by mentioning the importance of the advantages that the Reich had gained from it.” This is a reference to the fact that Resistance activity in the area ceased after the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane and the SS troops were finally able to get to Normandy to fight the Allied invaders, instead of battling the guerrillas.

The second report by the SS on June 17, 1944 was even more offensive because it “raises the matter of its salutary influence on the troops’ morale.” Before the massacre, the morale of the SS had been low because they were frustrated by the delay in getting to Normandy since the railway lines had been sabotaged by “terrorists,” and the SS soldiers were being attacked by the Maquisards, the Resistance fighters. This report implied that their morale had been raised by the joy of killing innocent villagers who had never done them any harm.

The Official Publication points out that the

… unleashing of such monstrous instincts and the obsession with atrocities such as these has no name in any language – except however in the German language, where the term ‘Schadenfreude’ has been created and which may be translated as ‘pleasure in doing evil.’ How edifying it is when we find that in Germany such a brutal state of mind, heart and spirit should be so natural, normal and usual that it should be necessary to create a special word to designate this!

The German word Schadenfreude is frequently used in America to mean “taking malicious pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.” It is not used to mean “pleasure in doing evil.”

In the Forward at the front of the book, the authors of the Official Publication leave no doubt about their opinion of the SS soldiers whom they refer to as “The Huns.” This is a pejorative term that was first used during World War I when German soldiers were accused of cutting off the hands of babies in Belgium.

The following paragraph is a quote from the Forward of the Official Publication:

A traveler in June 1944 leaving Limoges for Angouleme would have been captivated by the charming balance of the surrounding countryside. How easily he would have stepped aside from the main road to take some more intimate by-way to discover to his delight, above the meandering river Glane, between two rows of willows and poplars, the church of the town going by the melodic name of Oradour.

A few days later, nothing was left of this village apart from ruins and embers, the blackened sections of walls grasping the sky like stumps, and the charred remains of its inhabitants. The Huns had been that way, killing, pillaging, destroying, burning and annihilating animate beings and inanimate alike with method and refinement, for in the art of killing they are masters par excellence.

The “fateful day” of the massacre was on a Saturday, the 10th of June, 1944. The villagers were looking forward to the Sunday Mass the next day, which was to be the First Communion day for some of the Catholic children. Ironically, the 10th of June was also the date of the German destruction of the town of Lidice, two years earlier, in what is now the Czech Republic. At the trial of the perpetrators in 1953, the survivors of Lidice were invited to witness the proceedings, along with the survivors of Oradour-sur-Glane.

Oradour-sur-Glane was crowded with people that June day, including children who had been evacuated from other areas, especially Nice, Avignon, Montpelier and Bordeaux. Although it was a Saturday, the schools were filled with children because a medical visit had been scheduled. In addition to a boys school and three separate classroom buildings for girls, there was a special school for refugee children from Alsace-Lorraine which had 21 students. There were 64 pupils in the boys school and 109 girls in three classrooms, making a total of 191 children registered in the Oradour schools.

Many of the parents of these children lived outside the town itself and were not killed in the massacre. They continued to live in the area, mourning the loss of their children for the rest of their lives. Only one of the school children escaped that day. In addition, younger children and babies died in the church, the youngest one only a week old.

On the day of the massacre, there was to be a distribution of tobacco rations in Oradour-sur-Glane. The village was located in a rich agricultural region and many people were there to stock up on food provisions. Others had come for week-end recreation, as the Glane river was noted as a great place to fish. The Hotel Avril was full of guests, some of whom had come to the town to escape the “danger of bombardments in Paris,” or from other places like Reims and Bordeaux.

There were “one or two Jewish families hiding under assumed names” who were long-term guests at the Hotel. At the Milord Hotel, the tables were also full for lunch. Amongst the regulars who were eating lunch at the Milord were “Parisians with their families.” It was a beautiful summer day and the residents had no reason to believe that the hostilities between the German occupiers and the French Resistance fighters would ever reach their peaceful community.

The inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane had just finished a leisurely lunch when “the Krauts” arrived around 2 p.m. according to Madame Lang, one of the survivors, who lived near the church.

The Official Publication also quotes Hubert Desourteaux, who was one of the first to observe the SS soldiers at around 2:15 p.m. According to his recollection, there was a “heavy lorry convoy” consisting of “ten or so vehicles, five of which (three lorries and two half-tracks) moved through the main street, rue Emile-Desourteaux, making for the upper town, where they stopped.” They had entered the lower town at the south end of the main street, coming from the direction of Limoges. He estimated that there were around 200 soldiers, all wearing camouflage jackets in shades of green and yellow.

The town crier, Monsieur Depierrefiche, was ordered to walk through the streets, beating a drum, and reading out an order that all the inhabitants, without exception, men, women and children, were to assemble immediately in the Market Square with their papers for an identity check. The fact that Oradour-sur-Glane had a town crier gives one an idea of how much life has changed in the 60 years since the massacre. For years, the survivors mourned the loss of their former way of life, and the loss of the scene of their childhood, neither of which could ever be replaced. The ruins of the village serve as a constant reminder of what was lost when the German barbarians overran Europe.

According to Monsieur Marcel Darthout, who was one of the survivors, the SS men “went into the houses in Oradour, had every door opened and under threat of arms, brutally forced everybody, even the ill, to the assembly point.” The troops “proceeded without hesitation, methodically and with order, just as if on manoeuvres.”

Survivor Clement Broussaudier described how a sick school teacher, named Madame Binet, was forced to leave her bed and go to the Market Square in her pajamas. The crippled uncle of Armand Senon, another survivor, was beaten and forced to leave his house. Everyone had to assemble under the pretext of checking their identity papers.

There were unverified stories that one of the SS soldiers said that a skirmish was expected to take place in the village and he would himself escort the children to the church to “assure their safety.” There was only one school child who was not killed in the massacre. Roger Godfrin, a schoolboy from the French province of Lorraine, which had been annexed into the Greater German Reich in 1940, escaped through the garden behind the school and disappeared into the woods. According to the official story, Godfrin told a friend: “They’re Germans, I know what they’re like. They’ll try to hurt us. I’m going to try and escape.”

Madame Lang observed the scene from her hiding place in one of the houses. “What an anguishing sight,” she said, “of mothers enfolding their babies in their arms and others pushing them in prams. Young girls were crying. Then the school children arrived, boys and girls, making their way to their place of execution. I can still hear the sound of those poor kids’ shoes, tapping the road, overshadowed by the heavy thud of the torturers’ boots.”

The book lists the names of all the victims, along with their occupation. One of them was Jean Ramnoux, a clog maker. The sound of the shoes “tapping the road” came from the wooden clogs, probably made by Ramnoux. The majority of the victims were unemployed, according to the list in the Official Publication.

The SS soldiers also rounded up the inhabitants who lived in the surrounding hamlets south of the village of Oradour and drove them in trucks to the Market Square. The family of survivor Marguerite Rouffanche was among them. By 2:45 p.m. everyone had been assembled. Mothers carried babies in their arms; old people had been dragged from their beds, and the town baker, who had been interrupted in his work, was standing there bare-chested and covered with flour. The assembled villagers were surrounded by SS soldiers who had six sub-machine guns trained on them.

Dr. Jacques Desourteaux, who had been out on a house call, drove into the village in his car just as the people were being assembled. His father, Dr. Paul Desourteaux, who was the mayor of the town, was ordered by one of the soldiers to select 30 hostages. When he refused, he was taken to the Town Hall for a short time and then returned to the assembly point. He had offered himself and his family as the hostages, but his offer was declined.

At 3 p.m. the assembled inhabitants were divided into two groups with women and children in one group and the men in the other. The women and children were marched off to the church while the men were ordered to sit down in three rows, facing a wall.

Monsieur Darthout is quoted in the book as saying the following:

“They had to find a pretext for the terrible massacre they were preparing. An interpreter stood forward and announced “There are secret arms and munitions deposits here made by ‘terrorists’. We shall make searches. During this time, to facilitate our operations we shall put you in the barns. If you know of any such deposits,” he added, “we request you to reveal them to us now.”

[….]

No one admitted to any deposit and for the good reason that there were none. It was a totally peaceful village where each went about his own small business or farming his land. I must mention that never was any assassination committed against any German soldier and there was no reason that might justify the least reprisal from them.”

According to the Official Publication, while the women were awaiting their fate in the church and the men were sitting in rows of three on the Market Square, the SS began carrying out a systematic pillage of the town, searching each house and emptying it of its contents.

The Official Publication claims that this was not a search for weapons, but rather a search for valuables that the SS wanted to steal. “The village was rich and theft was bound to be lucrative: silver, linen, provisions, precious objects, everything was there.”

The next day a locked safe was found in the burned out home of Monsieur Dupic, where the SS soldiers had stayed the night after the destruction of the village. When the safe was forced open, it was found to be empty, proof that the SS had stolen the money from it, according to the Official Publication.

At 3:30 p.m. “an officer, tall and thin looking, came from the side of the church to speak to Monsieur Desourteaux,” according to 29-year-old Armand Senon who witnessed the action from his house which was on the Market Square. He was not at the assembly point because he was incapacitated by a broken leg, which he had sustained playing football. After a brief discussion, the men of the town were ordered into six locations: the Laudy, Milord, and Bouchoule barns, the Desourteaux garage, the Denis Wine and Spirits storehouse and the Beaulieu smithy.

According to Monsieur Roby, one of the five survivors who escaped from the Laudy barn, the SS soldiers leveled machine guns at them as they sat in the barn. And then “Suddenly, five minutes after our entrance into the barns, as if in obedience to a signal like a powerful explosion, that I judged to come from the Market Square, they gave a loud cry and cowardly opened fire on us.” Several of the survivors mentioned hearing a loud explosion, which they thought was a signal, just before the men of the village were murdered.

The first men to fall, during the shooting in the barns, were protected by the bodies that fell on top of them. After all the men had apparently been shot, the “torturers walked on top of our bodies to finish off at point blank range with their revolvers any injured person they saw still moving,” according to Roby. The SS men then piled “straw, hay, faggots, cart slats, ladders and so on” on top of the bodies and set fire to them. Then they left the barn. The men in the Laudy barn, who had not been hit, or who were only slightly injured, managed to crawl out from under the bodies and escaped through a hole in the wall into an adjoining storeroom. An SS soldier returned and set fire to some straw in the storeroom. When he left, the five survivors managed to escape through an exit in the storeroom to another building where they hid for the next three hours. The fire eventually reached this building, and the five men escaped through a narrow passageway between two walls. They made their way to the Market Square. It was now around 7 p.m. The SS men had apparently left, so the survivors ran towards the cemetery, where they finally found safety in the surrounding fields.

All of the survivors reported that the men in the barn were initially shot in the legs. The five survivors who escaped from the Laudy barn all said that there were wounded men who were burned alive. Madame Lang, a survivor who was hiding in a house only six yards from the Milord barn, said that she “heard the most heartrending screams and cries for help with intermittent strafes of gun fire.” There is no explanation offered in the official version for why the prisoners were shot in the legs and then burned alive.

In the barn belonging to Monsieur Bouchoule, the bodies of women and children were found, along with the charred remains of the men. This barn is located across the road from the Church. In the wine storehouse of Monsieur Denis, the remains of both men and women were found. The official version of the massacre explains that “No doubt, these were poor victims apprehended at the last moment and added at random to the men’s group.” There were no women or children found in the other four buildings where the men were massacred.

The village of Oradour-sur-Glane was connected to the city of Limoges by a tram line. In the midst of the destruction of the village, two trams arrived. The first tram had only tramway employees in it. The SS soldiers shot one of the employees, Monsieur Chalard, after he stepped off the tram and tried to cross the bridge over the Glane river. His corpse was thrown into the river and the tram was sent back to Limoges with the rest of the employees still in it.

The second train arrived around 7 p.m. by which time, most of the villagers had been murdered and the town had been burning for at least two hours. One of the passengers was Mademoiselle Marie Gauthier, a resident of Limoges, who gave the following account, which is quoted in the small booklet entitled “Oradour-sur-Glane, A Vision of Horror,” the official version of the story:

“This tram was stopped at the changeover point of the Saint-Victurnien road by the Germans, who made us stay in the carriages. A soldier left by bicycle apparently to get orders and when he came back, he made all the passengers who were heading for Oradour get out. There were about 22 or 23 of us and we were heavily escorted to a point not far from the village of Les Bordes. We were made to cross the Glane on a narrow footbridge with the help of a tree trunk and then were directed to the Thomas house where the command post was situated.

Our group was then stopped in the open country. The officer commanding the detachment held a discussion with the officer of the command post. The men and women were then separated and an identity check was made before we were brought back together again. After some hesitation and debate, suddenly the S.S. came forward, cocked their guns and made a circle around us. There was no doubt in our minds that they were preparing to execute us. Those were interminable moments of anguish and terror. Finally after a somewhat heated discussion between the officer and the commander, they announced that we were free. We immediately hurried to reach the country.”

The tram was then sent back to Limoges where it arrived at around midnight.

A group of SS soldiers spent the night in the home of Monsieur Dupic, a fabric merchant who managed to escape when he saw the Germans enter the town. His house was located at the north end of the main street. The SS soldiers did not leave Oradour-Sur-Glane until the following day at about 11 a.m. They set fire to the Dupic house just before they left. The next day, the remains of 20 to 25 Champagne bottles were found in the ruins.

According to the Official Publication:

Without doubt, during the night, the most atrocious orgies occurred in this house. […] They drank and binged in the Teutonic fashion, whilst other discoveries indicate clearly enough the monstrous nature of the scenes that these sadistic brutes gave themselves over to in the light of the fading glow of the fires.

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