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June 22, 2015

Madame Rouffanche, the “lone survivor” of the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre

Filed under: Germany, World War II — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 10:27 am
Altar in the ruins of the Oradour-sur-Glane church

Altar in the ruins of the Oradour-sur-Glane church with 3 windows behind it

This year, I let the June 10th anniversary of the Oradour-sur-Glane tragedy go by without blogging about it. Now I am going to answer a comment made on one of my previous blog posts.

The following comment was made by Anthony Godly:

Was Mme Roufanche ever in the church? After escaping through that church window She hid in a garden (in daylight?). Miraculously, the younger woman with a child was shot and killed whilst trying to escape from the church through that same window, only seconds before Mme Roufanche – a much older Woman – manage to climb up to that window. Did Mme Roufanche have any burn marks, cuts or bruises?

Here is my answer to Mr. Godly’s question:

We don’t  know if Madame Roufanche had any “markes,  cuts or bruises” because she checked into a hospital under an assumed name, and no one was ever allowed to see any of her “burn marks, cuts or bruises.” She stayed in hiding in the hospital for more than a year.

Madame Marguerite Rouffanche, the lone survivor of the massacre in the church, had allegedly managed to escape from the burning church in Oradour-sur-Glane by using a ladder to climb up to a broken window behind the main altar in the church, then allegedly leaping out of a window, which was 9 feet from the ground.

Madame Rouffanche allegedly leaped through this window behind the altar in a church

Madame Rouffanche allegedly leaped through this window behind the altar in a church

Although allegedly hit by machine gun fire from German soldiers, and wounded 4 times in the legs and once in the shoulder, this 50-something, overweight woman was able to crawl to the garden behind the presbytery where she hid among the rows of peas until she was rescued, 24 hours later, at 5 p.m. the next day, and taken to the hospital in Limoges where she was admitted under an assumed name. It took a full year for her to recover from her wounds.

In 1953, she testified before a French military tribunal in Bordeaux about the massacre of the women and children in the church.

The window on the left is the middle window in the church

The window on the left is the middle window in the Oradour-sur-Glane church

Madame Rouffchance had to first climb up this ramp to get to the window

Madame Rouffchance had to first climb up this ramp to get to the window in the Oradour-sur-Glane church

Madame Rouffanche jumped out of the middle window, rolled down the embankment and then stuck the landing

Madame Rouffanche jumped out of the middle window, rolled down the embankment and then stuck the landing

The German attack on the village of Oradour-sur-Glane was prompted by 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 the “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 French 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.

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 allegedly survived the massacre, Madame Marguerite Rouffanche, lived in a hamlet on the south side of the village.

I believe that Madame Rouffanche was a partisan, who was fighting in World War II as a resistance fighter, aka an illegal combatant.

The destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane had the desired effect because, immediately after the massacre, the Communist partisans, who had been wreaking havoc in the Limosin area, gave the order to stop fighting.

The order was intercepted by the Germans and this immediately lifted their morale. The reprisal had worked; this was basically the reason why reprisals were allowed at that time, although such bestial cruelty as the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane is, understandably, no longer legal under international law.

In a rambling autobiography entitled “SS Panzergrenadier,” former Waffen-SS soldier Hans Schmidt, with whom I have personally spoken, wrote about the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre from the SS point of view. In a footnote on page 377 of his book, Schmidt debunks the official story that the villagers were innocent.

They were illegal combatants who were stopped by a legal reprisal.

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?

April 3, 2010

Oradour-sur-Glane shown in the TV series “The World at War”

Filed under: Germany, movies, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 4:54 pm

Here is the narration by Sir Lawrence Olivier in the first Episode of the British documentary The Word at War which was first shown on TV in 1973:

“Down this road, on a summer day in 1944. . . The soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, the community which had lived for a thousand years. . . was dead. This is Oradour-sur-Glane, in France. The day the soldiers came, the people were gathered together. The men were taken to garages and barns, the women and children were led down this road . . . and they were driven. . . into this church. Here, they heard the firing as their men were shot. Then. . . they were killed too. A few weeks later, many of those who had done the killing were themselves dead, in battle. They never rebuilt Oradour. Its ruins are a memorial. Its martyrdom stands for thousands upon thousands of other martyrdoms in Poland, in Russia, in Burma, in China, in a World at War…”

The ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane, 1944

The Official Publication about the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre states that “the Nazis had no valid reason to attack this peaceful town.”

Women and children were allegedly burned alive in Oradour-sur-Glane church

The massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane happened on June 10, 1944, four days after the Allied invasion at Normandy on June 6, 1944.  WHOA! Wait a minute!  Did  German soldiers actually take time out from fighting the Allied invaders, so that they could go to a remote French village and burn 245 women and 207 innocent children alive inside a Catholic church for no reason at all?

I also blogged about the people who were allegedly burned alive on this blog post:

By beginning the documentary The World at War with this story, the British proved right up front that the Germans were indeed heartless barbarians who were solely responsible for a world-wide war. The German soldiers cared more about burning innocent babies alive in a church than they cared about defending their country.  Why else would they have taken time out to commit such an atrocity at Oradour-sur-Glane, a peaceful village where the people had nothing whatsoever to do with the war?  Or is there something that the British are not telling us?

Oradour-sur-Glane as it looked in 1932

Here is a quote from the Forward of the Official Publication about the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane:

“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 Huns” is the pejorative name for Germans soldiers that was used by the British in World War I. The British told fantastic lies about alleged atrocities committed by German soldiers during World War I. The most famous British lie was about German soldiers “cutting the hands off babies in Belgium.”  Of course, the British government apologized later and admitted that it was all lies, but the damage had been done.

Old car in the ruins of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane

Another quote from the Official Publication:

“… 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!”

Wow!  I’ll never use the word Shadenfreude again.  I had no idea that Shadenfreude means German “pleasure in doing evil.”  I thought it meant taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.

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 fairgrounds where the men waited while the women were taken to the church

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.”

So that’s why the German soldiers took time out from getting to Normandy to fight the Allied invaders?  They wanted to steal everything from the rich people in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane.  How were they going to carry all this stuff with them into battle?

Maybe they were going to bury it and come and get it later, after Germany had won the war. In fact, there is a book, written by a guy named Robert Mackness, entitled Massacre at Oradour in which he tells about two SS officers stealing gold for years, and then transporting it to  Oradour-sur-Glane, along with military records. On June 10th, the SS officers went to Oradour-sur-Glane to retrieve their gold, and when they didn’t find it, they took revenge on the innocent people in the village.  Don’t laugh; some people actually believe this story.

The Dupic house where the SS soldiers had a drunken orgy

The 200 German SS soldiers spent the night of June 10th 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.”

Well that’s one side of the story.  The German SS men have a different version of what happened.  You can read it here on my web site The story of Oradour-sur-Glane, as told by SS officer Otto Weidinger can be read here. You can also read more about the Official version of the story here.

Oradour-sur-Glane is a really big deal in France.  The ruins have been preserved just as they were left on June 11, 1944 when the German SS soldiers left the town.  To see the ruins, visitors have to go inside the Center of Memory and then go through a tunnel which leads to the ruined town.

The Center of Memory with the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane in the background

The town cemetery has a sickening display of bones found in the ruins of the town.

Bones of unidentified victims of Oradour-sur-Glane massacre

The French were defeated by the Germans in World War II after only six weeks of fighting.  They have nothing to be proud of except the French Resistance, so they glorify the French people who fought as illegal combatants after France signed an Armistice and promised to stop fighting.  At the same time, they deny that the people in the town of Oradour-sur-Glane had anything to do with the French Resistance.

Madame Rouffanche allegedly survived the massacre

Madame Rouffanche allegedly jumped out of a window in the church and survived, even though she was allegedly shot five times by the SS soldiers. She was found at 5 p.m. the next day, hiding between the rows of peas in a garden behind the church. As the only witness to allegedly survive the atrocity in the church, Madame Rouffanche testified at the trial of the SS men in 1953.

Madame Rouffanche allegedly jumped from the middle window of the Oradour-sur-Glane church

Madame Rouffanche’s final words to the court, at the trial of the SS men, were “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.” The term “crematory oven,” which was evocative of the Holocaust, was a reference to the burning of the women and children in the church.

I don’t believe that Madame Rouffanche was even in the church, much less that she jumped out of a window in the church.

The side altar on the left side of the church is in pristine condition

The side altar on the right side is a pile of rubble

Body parts of women and children with unburned clothing

The three photos above clearly show what really happened inside the church at Oradour-sur-Glane.  The old black and white photo shows body parts with unburned clothing, which indicates that there was an explosion inside the church. Could the French Resistance have stored weapons inside the church which exploded?  You can see more photos of the church here.

Curiously, the president of France, Charles de Gaulle, ordered the records of the trial to be sealed for 100 years, which means we will not know what really happened at Oradour-sur-Glane until 2053.  Is there something that the French don’t want us to know about the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre?

I can’t say any more because it is a crime in France to tell the truth about what happened at Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944.