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June 11, 2012

Who burned whom alive in France during World War II? Oradour-sur-Glane and the hamlet of Rouffilac

Filed under: World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 1:04 pm

Yesterday was the anniversary of the destruction of the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane by German SS soldiers.  I didn’t blog about it because I thought that no one would be interested in this story anymore.  Today, I did a search to find out if any other blogger had mentioned Oradour-sur-Glane. I found this quote here:

On June 8, 1944, Major Adolf Diekmann, at the time summering in the Périgord with his Nazi battalion, stopped just beneath the cave in the hamlet called Rouffilac. He demanded that the proprietress make him and his men some crepes. She refused—so Diekmann burned her and 15 others to death in the bakery. The same group of soldiers killed 99 people the next day in Tulle, and the day after that burned alive 642 more in Oradour-sur-Glane, including 205 children. Diekmann was killed in battle before he could be tried for war crimes.

Note that Diekmann’s Nazi battalion was “summering” in the south of France, two days after the Normany invasion, with not a care in the world. Diekmann was not concerned with the war that was going on around him.  He wanted crepes for breakfast and when he didn’t get what he wanted, Diekmann burned 16 people alive in the bakery.

I was not familiar with the tragedy which involved the burning of 16 people in a bakery in Rouffilac, so I googled it but I could not find any source which confirms this atrocity.  Could this blogger have confused the burning of women and children in a bakery in Rouffilac with the story of the burning of people in a bakery in Oradour-sur-Glane?

The ruins of the bakery in Oradour-sur-Glane

It is known that members of the Maquis (a French Resistance group) came back to the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane and stayed for two days immediately following the massacre. Could it be that some of the bodies found in the ruins were moved to the bakery by members of the Marquis?

The ovens are on the left, inside the ruins of the Oradour-sur-Glane bakery

The Official Publication of the Oradour-sur-Glane Remembrance Committee and the National Association of the Families of the Martyrs of Oradour-sur-Glane includes the following information:

“A special envoy of the French Interior Force (the Resistance) who visited Oradour in the first few days specified that the charred remains of a father, mother and three children were gathered from inside a baker’s oven. We ourselves found, not far from this baker’s oven, a fire damper, still half full of coal, in which was discovered human bones (lumbar vertebrae) in an advanced state of charring. Faced with such a finding, it is clear that one is allowed to surmise a great deal.”

Apparently the SS surmised something quite different, based on the discovery of charred bodies at the bakery. According to a book by H. W. Koch, entitled Aspects of the Third Reich, the still smoldering body of Major Helmut Kämpfe was seen at an Oradour bakery by Diekmann’s men and the body was identified by the Knight’s Cross found on the body. Members of the Milice, the French secret police, had told the SS the day before that the Maquisards in Oradour were planning to burn Kämpfe alive. Other sources claim that Kämpfe was killed in the village of Breuilaufa, where his first grave was found in 1945.

Only 52 of the 642 victims of the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre were ever identified; the others were missing and presumed to have been killed there on 10 June 1944, although no death certificate was ever issued for them.

There are two sides to every story, but you don’t often hear the German side of what happened in World War II.  In his autobiography, entitled SS Panzergrenadier, former Waffen-SS soldier Hans Schmidt, who became an American citizen after World War II, wrote about the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre from the SS point of view.

According to Schmidt’s book, the Waffen-SS soldiers of Das Reich Division, the perpetrators of the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, had been stationed from April to June 1944 in the Toulouse area for “rest, recuperation and replenishment,” after fighting the Russians on the Eastern front.

Schmidt wrote that, during the occupation of France, “German soldiers usually got along very well with the locals.” But, according to Schmidt, this changed soon after the start of 1944 when the French underground became more active. Schmidt blamed the British government for encouraging the French Resistance activity.

Schmidt wrote that

about one hundred soldiers of Das Reich had been murdered or kidnapped by the ‘heroes’ of the Maquis (terrorists!) before the division embarked, by road and train, on the difficult trip to Normandy. In doing so, Das Reich had to traverse the mountainous area in the surroundings of the city of Limoges where partisans were especially active.

In his book, Schmidt tells about the kidnapping of Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, the battalion commander of the 3rd Battalion of Das Reich Division, on the night of 9 June 1944. Representatives of the French resistance had sent a ransom note to “Der Führer” battalion command post on the morning of the 10th of June. Acting on this information, Sturmbannführer Otto Diekmann, a close personal friend of Kämpfe, took two platoons from 3rd Company/1st Battalion/Regiment “Der Führer” to Oradour-sur-Glane to search for him.

On the search for this “beloved officer,” Diekmann’s men had discovered a burned-out German ambulance that had been set on fire, apparently by the partisans, near the southern entrance to the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. The driver of the ambulance had been tied to the steering wheel with wire. He had been burned alive, along with the man sitting next to him in the passenger seat, and four wounded soldiers inside the ambulance, according to Schmidt’s book.

Before entering Oradour-sur-Glane, the SS rounded up the residents of the hamlets on the south side of the village, because this was the vicinity where the burned out ambulance was found. By coincidence, the one woman who survived the massacre, Madame Marguerite Rouffanche, lived in a hamlet on the south side of the village.

Madame Rouffanche leaped out of a church window, that was 10 feet from the ground.  She survived, although she was allegedly shot five times by the SS soldiers.  How fortunate that there was one survivor who could testify about what happened in the church!  And she just happened to live in the hamlet, near where SS soldiers had been burned to death in an ambulance!

Madame Rouffanche jumped out of the middle window

The Bishop’s Report of the Oradour-sur-Glane tragedy says that the bodies of 15 to 20 children were found behind the alter where Madame Rouffanche jumped.  Why didn’t the children jump out of the window?

Madame Rouffanche testified in court that she did not climb up to the window until after the church was set on fire by the SS soldiers. By this time, most of the women and children in the church were already dead. According to her story, 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 inside the church. Hiding behind a cloud of smoke, she went behind the altar and found a stool that was used to light the candles on the altar. She used the stool to climb up to the window where she then jumped out.

If you don’t believe the official story of Oradour-sur-Glane, including the lies told about the bodies found in the bakery, you could go to prison in France, where it is against the law to deny the official story.  I’m not sure if the law applies to the story of the bakery in Rouffilac where 16 people were burned to death because Adolf Diekmann did not get crepes for breakfast while he was “summering” in France.