In a Ruined State

Chapter 2

10th of June 1944, Oradour-sur-Glane
(and the days that followed)

 

Introduction

Saturday 10th June 1944

Sunday 11th June 1944

Monday 12th June to Thursday 29th June 1944


Introduction

    "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 above quote comes from both the opening and closing episodes of, The World at War and is included here as a reminder, that no matter how ghastly the events at Oradour were, they represented only a tiny part of the tragedy of the Second Word War.

    Some of the events described below happened in parallel, some in sequence. In some places a great deal happened simultaneously. It is impossible to tell this story in a simple linear, sequential fashion, because of the scale of what happened. Imagine trying to give the history of a great battle, say that of Stalingrad, there are just too many intertwined individual stories for them all to be told at the same time. It is necessary to recount each individual section and to keep returning to some common point in order to continue the story.

    In order to try and make the sequence clearer, the day has been broken up into time segments, as shown below. It must be appreciated that no one that day, either French or German, was keeping an accurate, chronological step by step record. Some of the surviving eyewitnesses differ by, a quarter, or half an hour, or even longer as to just when particular events took place. The timing and sequence of events as shown below is my attempt at fitting everything that took place into a single united framework. Some of the timings and sequences have been arrived at by estimation and interpolation of other more certain events.

    Oradour has been variously described as being either a town or a village, even by local people. Exactly what the criteria are for determining whether a location qualifies as being a village, town or city are not always very clear and do vary a bit through time and country. In the specific instance of Oradour-sur-Glane, in 1944, it had a Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) a Mayor, a church and a market, and for the sake of consistency, throughout this website it is referred to as being a village. The name is often spelled as, Oradour sur Glane (without the hyphens), although I believe it is correct to use them.

    Where there is a doubt over the spelling of French names, the version used in the official account of the massacre, Oradour-sur-Glane a vision of horror, has been used: see the Bibliography

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Saturday 10th June 1944

    Before any troops from the Der Führer regiment of the Das Reich Division arrived in Oradour on the 10th June, a group from the Deutschland regiment of Das Reich, had by about 08:00 (06:00 GMT), already entered the village of Marsoulas much further to the south of France and killed 27 people there. This was in reprisal for the SS being fired on from the village church steeple by two members of the resistance. Apart from the co-incidence of Division and date, I do not think that there is any other relationship between these two events, but it does go to show that Oradour was not an isolated case of Das Reich brutality: see also The 10th of June as a date in WWII history.

    At about 13:30 local time a detachment of soldiers, about 180 strong, mostly from the 3rd Company of the 1st Battalion of the 4th Regiment (Der Führer) of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division (Das Reich) began to enter and search the isolated farms and houses lying just to the south of the small village of Oradour-sur-Glane in the Haut-Vienne Department of France. They made all the occupants that they found accompany them as they journeyed north. They searched the farms, outbuildings and barns, probing straw with bayonets, so as to ensure that everyone was accounted for, no one was to be left behind. To the dismay of their enforced travelling companions, the soldiers set fire to many of the buildings as they left.

    From the eyewitness accounts of the few survivors, it seems that at this time the locals were unaware of the precise identity of the troops, who were described by some as being dressed in green / brown camouflage smocks. It was only in the weeks following the attack that French aid workers determined for certain that they were from Das Reich Division. Some considerable detective work, involving gathering discarded scraps of written material found within the village and nearby, such as envelopes, postcards and a map was necessary in order to identify the exact unit within the Division. It was not until much later that all the individual soldiers involved were identified, some as a result of statements that they made whilst being held prisoners of war following their capture or desertion in Normandy. Many of the Alsatians in the Division deserted in Normandy and then made voluntary statements implicating themselves and others. Fourteen men from the province were later to stand trial in Bordeaux for their part in 10th June 1944.

    As the Sig runes (the 'Lightning Flashes' in the form of an, 'SS') were probably not present on the soldiers helmets, the villagers may have been unaware that they were from the Waffen-SS. But their youth would have set them apart from the usual, somewhat middle-aged garrison troops and the French people must have realised that they were something special. Other clues would have been the uniform rank markings (if visible) and the manner in which they addressed each other, no use of "Sir" for example and the long SS rank titles. Had they understood their significance, the vehicle markings would have indicated that the troops came from Das Reich: see images. However it must be remembered that due to the need for wartime security, soldiers gave as little information about themselves as possible. All German personnel were fully aware of the activities of the Resistance and of their gathering and passing information on to the Allies.

14:00 Saturday 10th June 1944

    Just before 14:00, the detachment drove into the village of Oradour-sur-Glane itself. Oradour is situated in the Haute-Vienne Department, about 15 miles north-west from the city of Limoges. This city, famous for its porcelain industry is one of the more isolated population centres of France, lying as it does close to the geographical middle of the country and far from any sea port. Significantly, Limoges was located within, what was at the time, the semi-autonomous Vichy part of France, a notional ally of Nazi Germany.

    After the defeat of June 1940, when France sued for peace, Germany had divided the country up into various zones: see zone map. The geographically largest zone was ruled from the spa town of Vichy under a government headed by the First World War hero, Marshal Pétain. It was allowed some measure of independence in domestic affairs and although Hitler had imposed direct rule in November 1942, it was, on 10 June 1944, still nominally an ally of Germany under the terms of the cease-fire agreement. Therefore the citizens of the village of Oradour, were part of the Third Reich and whilst not all could be expected to be its enthusiastic supporters, they could reasonably expect to be treated with nothing worse than indifference by the Germans.

    When the SS arrived in their convoy of lorries, half-tracks and cars from the south, by way of the Limoges road, their first action was to seal the village in order to prevent both exit and entry. To this end some of them drove straight up the main road towards Javerdat, others fanned out to cover the roads to Peyrilhac and Saint Junien. The leaders set up their command post at the Masset (from the Provencal word for a small farmhouse) farm, which lay a little outside the village to the north-east: (see village plan). It is significant that the troops approached only from the south and did not carry out a pincer style movement, closing in on the village from several directions simultaneously in order to prevent escape.

    The citizens of Oradour were enjoying their midday meal (a serious affair in France) and were puzzled by the arrival of the troops, but for the most part not seriously alarmed. Very few Germans had ever been seen in Oradour, there had never been any call for them to visit in large numbers. The village had a record of being a non-involved and somewhat sleepy community, where nothing of any significance had occurred throughout the war years.

    The commander of the detachment, Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann stopped at the Champ de Foire (Fairground, or Market Place) and called for the Mayor. Diekmann, speaking through an interpreter, told him that there was to be an identity check and that all inhabitants were to assemble immediately on the fairground itself.

    The Mayor, a retired doctor, called for the village crier and gave him the news to broadcast. This Mayor was called Jean Desourteaux and he was the grandson of Emile Desourteaux, who had also been a doctor before him and after whom the main street of Oradour was named. The Desourteaux family was very well known and respected in the local community as pillars of the establishment. This theme of service to the community was continuing today on the 10th June, as the Mayor's son Jacques, also a Doctor like his father and great-grandfather before him was out on a visit to a patient when the SS arrived.

    The population of the village for the most part were to co-operate quietly with the soldiers, a few were to flee, others to hide, but no one that day was to attack the German forces or offer them any armed resistance.

    The smith, Jean Depierrefiche, who doubled as the village crier, set off round the streets, beating his drum accompanied by an SS trooper and relaying the call to assemble on the fairground with papers for an identity check. Everyone was to attend, from the youngest baby to the oldest citizen; no one was to be excused not even the sick. Madame Andrée Binet, the head teacher of the girls school, who was at home ill with a high temperature was not given time to dress and made her way to the assembly with a dressing gown over her night-clothes.

    Robert Hébras was on the street outside his house on the Rue Emil Desourteaux, talking to his friend Martial Brissaud and noted the time on his wrist watch as being, "2PM German Time" (this was because the Germans had recently added an additional hour to the clocks, so as to maximise daylight saving throughout the Reich).

     When the Germans first arrived and before they had a chance to state their purpose, Brissaud, decided to make a run for it and leave the village. He took a circuitous route, so as to avoid being seen and passed the Mayor near the Town Hall. M. Desourteaux asked him why he was in such a hurry. "I am going to hide," said Brissaud, "You can come and tell me tomorrow where your hideout is" said the Mayor, laughing. A few other young men also managed to escape at this time from the rear of their homes and make their way over the surrounding fields to places of safety

    Clément Broussaudier, who had come into village for a haircut that day, was seated in the barber's chair with a white blouse over his shoulders, when he was ordered to go to the fairground as he was. Much later (in 1953) he was to recall that the time was exactly 2 minutes past 2 in the afternoon (14:02). When he tried to get his bicycle, a soldier took it from him saying in French, "you won't be needing it anymore".

    When the SS first arrived however, some people took immediate alarm and made efforts to either hide or escape. There were several Jewish families living in Oradour as refugees from other parts of France. One such was the Pinède family consisting of parents Robert his wife Carmen with their children Jacqueline, Francine and their much younger brother, 9 year old André. They immediately recognised that the equation of Germans plus Jews was not a good one. The parents decided to comply with the order to attend the identity check, but instructed their three children to hide in the Hotel were they were staying and not to follow them. The children then hid under the stairs and waited to see what would happen. Although they have been described as children in both this and in other accounts, it is worth noting that they were not all very young children, the eldest girl being 22. This maturity of years means that their memory and recounting of events in later years can perhaps be relied on more than if they had been much younger.

    It is noteworthy that at no time at all did the Germans ask, or enquire as to whether any of the villagers were, or knew of the presence of any Jews in Oradour. Whatever the motives were that day for what was to follow, anti-Semitism was not one of them.

    Other people who hid were mostly young men and they were concerned lest they be forcibly co-opted into the hated STO (Service de Travail Obligatoire), see: Notes on Language and terms used and deported to Germany. One such was the 21 year old Paul Doutre, who stayed at home and hid in his room, catching a last glimpse of his parents in the street outside as they walked to the fairground to answer the summons for the identity check.

       In all, about 20 people managed to either avoid the roundup by leaving village, or hiding in their homes and later, when they became untenable, in their gardens before eventually making their escape in the night..

    The SS set up machine guns on tripod mounts in the fairground, so as to cover the assembling crowd and to suppress any thoughts of a mass attack upon themselves. They were carrying out, what amounted to the normal process for the safe (from the SS point of view) handling of large numbers of people in an open area. The inhabitants were alarmed, when from time to time they heard shots coming from different parts of the village. This gunfire was the result of various people trying to flee and being shot at and killed in the attempt.

    For the most part the SS offered the crowd no violence, provided that they complied with the order to proceed quickly to the meeting place. It was only would-be evaders and those thought to be dragging their feet who found themselves in trouble at this time. Robert Hébras, who survived the massacre at Madame Laudy's barn, specifically states that he saw no evidence of brutality during the gathering at the fairground. The effects of the reasonable explanation of an identity check, coupled with the calm and rational behaviour of most of the senior citizens, such as the Mayor, ensured that there was virtually no panic, or any attempt at mass disobedience. After all France, even the Vichy part of France was now under German rule and everyone carried identity papers, so an occasional check was to be expected, if not welcomed.

    The village was fuller than usual that particular Saturday, because it was the day of the distribution of the tobacco ration and additionally there was to be a school health inspection. It seems almost Dickensian today that infant and primary school children had to attend school on a Saturday, but that was the way it was in France in 1944. At this time there were a total of four schools in the village, the Boys school, to the rear of the Town Hall, the Girls school just opposite the entrance to the fairground and on the road to Peyrilhac, the Infants school. Also on this road and set back a little from it, was the Lorraine refugees school: see Village Plan.

    One of the pupils at the Lorraine school was the young Roger Godfrin. He and his family had been evicted from their home in Charly (3 miles to the north-east of Metz) in the newly 'Germanised' province of Lorraine. Towards the end of 1940 they had been given an hour to pack just a suitcase with a maximum of 30 kilograms of belongings and leave. The family moved to Oradour and into a small house next to Robert Hébras. In the village the family made a new life for themselves, Roger's father, Arthur working at the Thomas bakery and the 3 older children attending their special school.

    There were a total of 44 Lorrainers living in Oradour in June, known, slightly mockingly as, "Les Ya Ya's", from their custom of saying, "Ja Ja" (German for "yes yes") as an affirmative answer to any question.

    On the 10th June Roger was just under 8 years old and small for his age. He was a mischievous, red hared, 'enfant terrible' who was well known in the village as a daredevil. He described the events of the day as beginning with bullets flying through the walls of the school and their teacher getting all the pupils to lie on the floor. As their situation was becoming worse, Roger, his sisters Jeanne, 13 and Pierrette, 11 ran hand in hand to the Infants school, a short distance further into the village. When they arrived, they found all the children there in tears.

    A German soldier entered brandishing a gun and shouting "Raus!" (Out!). Roger's parents had made a plan, that if ever they were to be threatened by Germans again, they would run and hide in the woods behind the cemetery. When the order came for all the children to go to the fairground, Roger tried to persuade his sisters to go with him, but they would not, "they cried, they wanted Mum". Roger decided to escape alone and did so whilst the teacher was talking to the soldier. He ducked into an empty play room, through an open window and out of the rear of the school.

    In running out of the school and climbing over the fence at the rear he lost a shoe, but started towards the woods behind the cemetery. At the corner of the road leading to the cemetery itself, he was spotted by one of the SS troopers, who shot at him. The boy fell as though dead and did not move even when the soldier kicked him in the kidneys. Later after the man left, Roger started out again for the woods, but was seen by another soldier, who did not attempt to shoot, but told him to run away. It was shortly after this that Roger saw Pierre Poutaraud shot and killed as he was making his separate escape from the Laudy barn. Poutaraud fell against a wire fence near to the cemetery and by way of a macabre joke, a trooper tethered a stray horse to his outstretched arm, where it remained for the rest of the day: see Village Plan.

    As soon as he dared Roger was up and running through the long grass, which helped hide him from view. A black and white dog, called Bobby, ran with him but as they approached the river Glane they were spotted by six soldiers in a half-track and fired upon. Roger managed to cross the river, which was only about 15 feet wide at that point and was able to hide behind a large oak tree, but Bobby was shot and killed. Over 40 years later, Roger was to say that at the time, it was seeing the death of the dog that made the biggest impact on him that day, even more than the loss of his entire family. In the evening he was discovered by a road mender who took him to Laplaud and safety. After the war Roger was brought up by his uncle Emile Maillard (who was his mother's brother) and he eventually died of natural causes on 11th February 2001 aged 65.

    One of the uncertainties about timing on the 10th, was just when did Roger reach the far bank of the Glane and safety? Bearing in mind that he was only seven and three quarters years old and did not have a watch; the estimation of the passage of time was not one of his priorities. My best estimate is a little after 16:00, based on him mentioning the shooting of Pierre Poutaraud. This means that he lay still for over an hour after being kicked, a long time for a little boy to remain motionless and a good indication of how serious he viewed the situation to be at the time.

14:30 Saturday 10th June 1944

    The assembly of the population on the fairground continued apace, with people from outlying communities being dropped of by troops from their vehicles, which then sped off to collect more. In total, about 650 people, made their way by various means to the fairground and assembled there in family groups. The soldiers repeatedly mentioned an identity check and this undoubtedly allayed fears. Soldiers moved through the village, knocking on doors and hurrying the villagers along. Where they thought necessary, the troops would enter houses and check to see if anyone was hiding.

    It must be remembered that one can walk from one end of Oradour to the other in under 10 minuets, it is not a large village. The rounding up and assembling of the population was not a very time consuming exercise, more effort went into ensuring that no one either escaped or entered the village than in checking that everyone was actually at the fairground.

    It is worth mentioning that in spite of the pretext of an identity check, that with only two exceptions (see both the first paragraph below and that for, 19:00 Saturday 10th June 1944 below), no one was ever actually asked to produce his or her papers. This is an important piece of data, as later on it was to be claimed that the SS went to Oradour for, amongst other things, to search for weapons. Arms would imply the presence of the Resistance and surely a first step for any investigating power, would be to examine identity papers? This is supported not only by the survivors from Oradour, but also the surviving soldiers from Das Reich, none of whom mentioned being ordered to ask for, or actually check papers at this time.

    One person, who was asked to show his identity papers, was Doctor Jacques Desourteaux on his return to the village. When he drew up in his car near the fairground, Antoine Lohner, one of the Alsatian SS troopers (who acted as interpreter for Hauptsturmführer Kahn), examined his papers and said, "He was from Oradour, so he had to be placed with the others". The most probable reason for the Doctor being singled out to have his papers checked was simply that he arrived by car, a very unusual occurrence at this time of the war, when petrol was so severely rationed. It was thus obvious that he was not just an ordinary citizen and so a check on his identity was necessary. He might have been someone important to the Germans, such as a plain-clothes Gestapo officer, or perhaps a civilian official of the Vichy government. Lohner's comment implied that if the doctor had not been from Oradour, he would have been sent on his way.

    The villagers in the square began naturally enough to talk amongst themselves and it became quite a lively scene, for although some of the children had been a bit tearful, now that they were with their mothers, things seemed better. M. and Mme. Lang and their friend Mme. Raynaud who hid in their house close to the church (and eventually escaped out of the back), heard much of what was to follow at the fairground.

    Maurice Compain, the baker, was becoming anxious as he was in the midst of baking and needed to attend to his ovens before the bread spoiled. He asked a nearby soldier if he could go and attend to his bakery and was given the assurance, "Don't worry about it, we will see to it" in good, but accented French. Compain was not reassured, but was unable to do anything more, so he joined the others in conversation and waited to see what was going to happen.

    Also waiting in the fairground were Jean Roumy and his 23 year old Milicecen son Albert, who had come to Oradour that weekend to get engaged to Ginette Couturier. Albert must have felt quite safe, as he was an active member of the forces that both supported and aided the Germans in their rule of Vichy France. Why Albert did not declare himself to the SS is not known, but perhaps he was keeping a low profile so as to not antagonise other residents by claiming special privilege. Had he been asked to produce his identity papers, it seems certain that he would not have been killed. However, both he and his father were to die that afternoon along with all the others.

    Speaking in 1988 Paul Doire said that it was as well that they had died, as the survivors could not have forgiven Albert for being in the Milice. Doire himself was not in Oradour that day, as he was a baker in the north of the Haute-Vienne and active in the Armée Secrète (Secret Army, as the FFI was sometimes known: see notes). Personally he was to lose his entire family on the 10th, from 17 year old daughter to parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, in-laws and cousins.

    It was about now that the Mayor was asked by an officer (believed to be Diekmann) to designate 30 people as hostages and that he, with considerable dignity refused, saying that the Germans would have to do that for themselves. The same officer now ordered the Mayor to accompany him to the Town Hall. It is not known what the purpose of this visit was, but given that the Germans were out of radio contact with their headquarters in Limoges, it seems most likely that they went to use the telephone. If that was indeed the case then they were probably unable to get through to anyone. This would be because in the 1940's, local telephone exchanges in rural France were manually operated and by now the village telephone operator (Odette Bouillere) would have been at the fairground with everyone else. They were away for only a short period, according to Robert Hébras not much longer than the time to walk to the Town Hall and back. On their return to the fairground the Mayor was heard to say that if hostages were really required then he would offer himself and his family. This offer was not pursued.

    The point about hostages is crucial to an understanding of Oradour. According to Otto Weidinger in all his accounts of what happened that day, Diekmann had been ordered by Sylvester Stadler the commanding officer of Der Führer, to take hostages against the release of Kämpfe. It was obviously a trivial matter for the SS to designate whoever they wished to hold as a hostage and separate them from the rest of the villagers. The obvious question is, if Diekmann had been so ordered, why did he not do it?

15:00 Saturday 10th June 1944

    By now the assembly of the village's population was more or less complete. At this point the soldiers began to separate the men from the women and children. During this process the decision as to who was a boy and who was an adult male was a bit arbitrary. Pierre, the handicapped, but well-built16 year old son of Madame Jeanne Rousseau (deputy head teacher of the boys school) was initially put with the men. Mme. Rousseau argued for him to stay with her and this was eventually allowed. Generally however, any male, who looked to be over the age of about 15, was deemed to be a man.

    The story that the Germans were giving to the villagers now changed somewhat. They had heard, they said, that there was a store of arms, ammunition and other prohibited merchandise in the village and that a search was going to be made to look for it. During this process it would be better if the women and children were to leave the fairground and wait in the church. This was done and to Madame Lang hidden in her house nearby, the sound of the children's wooden shoes mingled with the heavy tramp of the soldiers boots on the cobbles sounded like the beat of a mournful drum. As they walked to the church the children were encouraged to sing; which seemed to be yet another tactic to allay fears and lessen the chances of panic.

    As far as I know, the three representatives of the Catholic Church present in Oradour that day, stayed with the men and did not accompany the women and children to the church. They were, Jean-Baptiste Chapelle, Priest, born in 1873, Jacques Lorich, Curate, born 1897 and Émile-François-Xavier Neumeyer, born 1923 (he was a seminary student from Alsace). They are amongst the unidentified dead and so it is not even possible to say in which of the execution sites they were killed.

15:30 Saturday 10th June 1944

    The men were now ordered to sit in three rows facing the north wall of the fairground. After a while an officer speaking through an interpreter (probably an Alsatian trooper), said that they had heard that there were, 'arms, ammunition and other prohibited merchandise hidden in the village', there was to be a search and the innocent would be released at once. This announcement caused a general feeling of relief, for as Robert Hébras said later, they had by then begun to worry. The interpreter asked if anyone wanted to declare any arms and save the SS the trouble of searching the village. Jean Lamaud, a 47 year old farmer, said that he had a 6mm rifle, for which he had a valid permit. "That is of no interest to us", was the reply.

    It is noteworthy that the declared possession of a rifle aroused no interest from the SS. Remember that the Second Front had begun on 6th June (D-Day), the Third Reich was fighting for its existence and yet private citizens within such a totalitarian state were still allowed to keep their own (licensed) arms. As no one else had anything to declare, the Germans divided the men up into 6 unequal groups and moved them off to different locations in the village. This was ostensibly so they could be held there whilst the village was being searched.

    At this time there was little apprehension amongst the men, as the story that they were being given was still plausible, even if it had changed from that of an identity check to a search for arms. The division into the groups was accompanied without any difficulty and the men with their guards soon reached the various barns, garages and sheds that were to be used to house them. At some of the locations there was a hold-up, because the buildings were full of farm equipment and this needed to be cleared before the men could fit inside. As they waited at the Laudy barn, Joseph Bergmann (who had been born in Kokern, Germany and moved to Oradour from Alsace) said to his friend Marcel Darthout, "Look out, they are going to kill us!" Darthout did not believe him and asked what made him think such a thing, "well I heard …" was all he said. Being a fluent German speaker, Bergmann must have overheard something that was said between the soldiers.

    The 6 buildings used to hold the men were well scattered about the village, without a direct line of sight linking them all: see Village Plan. This obviously meant that any signal for co-ordinated action by the soldiers would have to be either by radio or a loud enough sound to be heard by everyone, no matter where they were. In 1944, radio communication within the SS down to platoon level was not that widespread, so the signal that day was to be an audible one.

16:00 Saturday 10th June 1944

    The survivors from the Laudy barn all mention hearing an explosion of some kind as the signal for the shooting to begin. Other sources, mainly the survivors of Das Reich, mention Hauptsturmführer Kahn firing either a pistol, or a sub-machine gun into the air. It seems unlikely that the signal was solely gunfire, given that sporadic shots had been ringing out since the assembly began on the fairground. It would not have been possible for the troops at the various killing sites to distinguish between the signal to commence firing and other shootings. What if they themselves came under fire from the Resistance? Some accounts have suggested the ringing of the church bells and it is quite true that they could have been heard all over the village and would have provided an unambiguous signal. The problem with this idea is that none of the survivors have ever mentioned hearing the bells and Mme Rouffanche who was in the church did not say that she either saw or heard it done.

    In the church at this time were most, but not all of the women and children of Oradour, (some late comers were placed in the Bouchoule barn with the men).

    The following testament comes from Madame Marguerite Rouffanche, the only survivor from the church. Over the years following the massacre she gave her statement many times to different people, including the court in Bordeaux in 1953. Her evidence was, with minor variations, highly consistent. She died in 1988 aged 91 and is buried in the cemetery at Oradour: see Mme Rouffanche grave.

    "At about 2pm on the 10th of June 1944, German soldiers burst into my home and ordered me to go to the fairground together with my husband, son, two daughters and granddaughter. 

    A number from the village were already assembled and men and women were flocking in from all directions. They were followed by the schoolchildren, who arrived separately. The Germans divided us into two groups, women and children on one side and men on the other. The first group that I was in was taken under armed guard to the church. It consisted of all the women from the village, especially mothers, who entered the House of God carrying their babies in their arms, or pushing them in their prams. All the schoolchildren were there as well. We must have numbered several hundred.

    Crammed inside the church, we waited in growing anxiety to see what would happen next. Around 4.00 p.m. a few soldiers, about 20 years of age brought into the nave, close to the choir, a large box, from which hung strings, which trailed to the ground. When the trailing strings were lit, the device suddenly exploded with a loud bang and gave off a thick black suffocating smoke. Women and children, half-choking and screaming in terror, rushed to those parts of the church where the air was still breathable. It was thus that the door to the sacristy was broken down under the irresistible pressure of a terrified crowd. I followed them and sat down on a step. My daughter joined me. The Germans saw that people had escaped into the room and cold-bloodedly shot down everyone who was hiding there. My daughter was killed where she stood by a shot fired from outside. I owe my life to my closing my eyes and feigning death.

    Firing burst out in the church (from the entrance door), and then straw, firewood, and chairs were thrown in a heap onto the bodies lying on the flagstones. I had escaped the slaughter unwounded and took advantage of a cloud of smoke to hide behind the altar. In that part of the church there were three windows. I went to the middle one, the biggest and with the aid of the stool used to light the candles, tried to reach it. 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 by the already shattered window. I fell about 10 feet.

    When I looked up I saw that I had been followed by a woman, who was holding out her baby to me from the window. She fell down next to me, but the Germans alerted by the child's cries fired at us. The woman and the child were killed. I myself was wounded as I made my way to a nearby garden. I hid amongst some rows of peas and waited in terror for help to arrive. That was not until the following day at about 5:00 PM".

    Four points need clarifying in the above statement. Firstly, although Mme. Rouffanche does not say which of her two daughters she saw killed in the church, in other statements she has used the phrase, "my young girl", which would make her Andrée (18) and not her elder married sister Amélie Peyroux (21).

    Secondly, at the trial of the surviving SS men in Bordeaux, she mentioned that the woman who followed her was "Madame Hyvernaud". The only person who fits this description with a young baby was Madame Henriette Joyeux (née Hyvernaud) and her 7-month-old son René. Both these bodies were found close to the church and both had death certificates issued, making them 2 out of the 52 who could be formally identified. The remaining 590 bodies found in the village being too badly burned for formal identification by the standards of 1944.

    Thirdly, although Mme. Rouffanche said that the Germans were, "alerted by the child's cries", it seems unlikely that this was the case. Given the scale of the operation taking place at this time, it is more likely that they were seen, rather than heard.

    Fourthly, although Mme.Rouffanche only mentions "Madame Hyvernaud" and her son as following her through the window to escape from the church, the SS imply that another person followed them ("a 12 year old girl jumped from a window, broke an ankle and was shot"). This unidentified fourth victim was most probably Sarah Jakobowicz (who was actually 15 at the time). It is not absolutely certain that Sarah did escape this way but she is the closest in age and her body was later identified, so she was not burned in the church with the others.

    I think that it was probably the blast of the chest in the church that was taken as the signal for the shooting of the men to commence, possibly re-enforced by Kahn firing a burst from a sub-machine gun immediately afterwards. Robert Hébras in Madame Laudy's barn mentions hearing an explosion, "probably a grenade" and then, "the men behind the machine guns settled into position and fired". The position of the guns was very close to the entrance to the barn and the inevitable consequence of this was that most of the men inside were felled by shots to the lower body and legs, as evidenced by their skeletal remains: see The Means of Execution.

    When the guns fell silent, soldiers entered the Laudy barn and began shooting those men who were obviously alive and moving about. Marcel Darthout, who had been hit four times was lying on the ground with a wounded friend partially covering him, this man was groaning and so attracted attention and was shot, "I felt it when he died". The troops now began to cover the bodies with straw and firewood, when this was done they left the barn leaving the doors ajar. There were probably about 10 men still alive at this time out of the 60 or so who had entered the barn.

    Francois Brissaud, a cobbler who had lost a leg in the First World War called out, "The bastards! They have cut my other leg off!" Félix Aliotti, lying close to Darthout said softly, "My legs are shattered". Pierre Duqueroix, (who is normally quoted as being, 'the town guard', but is described as being a day labourer in the official record) said, "Both my legs are ruined. My poor children". Some of the survivors could see the Germans through the partly open door, walking around outside the barn, but dared not move lest they be spotted. Just then came a blare of music and the sounds of German speech from a radio. Marcel Darthout recalled in 1988, "How strange, murder to a musical accompaniment!" The next event was the return of the soldiers, who then set the straw alight.

    There were six men who were able to move to some extent at this point, Robert Hébras, Marcel Darthout, Yvon Roby, Clément Broussaudier, Mathieu Borie and Pierre-Henri Poutaraud. The later made his own escape ahead of the others, but was spotted and shot dead, (Roger Godfrin saw this happen, as described above) the other five left together supporting the badly wounded Darthout. They went first into a small courtyard at the rear of the barn and then through a hole that Borie (a mason by trade) made in a wall into another small yard. There they hid in some rabbit hutches until about 19:00 before finally escaping from the village. Broussaudier and Roby left together by way of crossing the fairground, watched anxiously by Borie from their hiding place. Then Borie left, after giving detailed instructions to Hébras as to which route to use and promising to wait for him in the paddock. Hébras did not want to leave Marcel Darthout, who was wounded in the leg, but the fire was getting closer and Darthout insisted that he be left alone. Hébras ran and joined up with Borie, who was waiting for him as promised. Eventually and painfully Darthout made his own escape and was sheltered nearby at La Métairie.

    At around 16:00, or a little later, a test tram from Limoges arrived at the stop outside village. The only persons on board were the driver and his engineer assistant, Marcelin Chalard. Chalard, the engineer got off to talk to the Germans, who shot him dead and threw his body into the river. The tram was then ordered back to Limoges and this does raise the question as to what the driver did on his return? Did he not tell people what had happened and if he did, why did the 19:00 tram from Limoges to Oradour run as normal?

    Recently the Germans had introduced a 2 hour advance on GMT throughout France, so there was daylight up to about 23:00 in June and in addition the moon was over 80% full. No one fleeing the village late that night had any trouble with visibility and equally the guarding troops would have had little difficulty in spotting any careless escapees. Nevertheless there are no reports of anyone being killed much after about 19:00, so the conclusion is that after the major orgy of killing between 16:00 and 18:00 the concentration of the troops had become dulled and catharsis had set in, or possibly by then their orders had been changed.

17:00 Saturday 10th June 1944

    By now the bulk of the killing was over, but the search for any fugitives was intensified with all properties being entered and searched for any who had avoided the summons to the Fairground. The aid workers who entered the village over the next few days reported finding bodies in many locations. For example in the Rue Emile Desourteaux there was the case of an elderly bedridden man (Pierre Giroux) who seemed to have been burned to death in his bed. It was not possible to recognise M. Giroux from his remains in the gutted house, but the supposition is that it was he from the location alone. A group of cyclists on a day out from Limoges were apprehended when they arrived in village after the population had been split up and sent to the church and various barns. They were all shot in front of the Beaulieu forge (this may have been before the church was set on fire.) A group of bodies were found down the well on the road to St. Junien (the present entrance to the ruins from the Centre de la Mémoire passes by this well).

    People who lived outside the village, but within earshot, came to look at what was going on, or to search for their children. If seen by the troops and judged to be approaching too closely they too were killed.

    At this time the picture is of the SS roaming all over the village in small groups, or working as individuals as they hunted down the remaining inhabitants. All the roads were guarded; nevertheless a few people did manage to sneak in for a quick look. Mostly they were parents, frantic with worry for their children and reckless as to their own safety. Madame Deméry managed to reach the Boys school and found it deserted, but with the children's satchels still in place on their pegs. She was able to leave again without being detected.

    Later at the trial in Bordeaux, some of the accused soldiers were to claim that they had attempted to let villagers escape during the search, but had been prevented from doing so by more zealous superiors. Joseph Busch (from Alsace) said in 1953, that he was on guard duty at the church when two women came looking for their children, "We told them to leave or they would be shot. Just then Boos (an Alsatian SS volunteer) came along with a German, they dragged the women into a barn and shot them". Albert Ochs (also from Alsace) said that he, "saw Steger (a German SS Sergeant) and another German pushing along the road, a sick old woman. I said to them, 'Oh let her go', and Steger said, 'Shut up Alsatian'". Ochs then said that the two Germans had shot the woman in the doorway of a house and that he had been wounded in the legs by ricocheting bullets. He spent the remainder of the day lying down in a lorry with his legs bandaged.

    It is worth remembering that of the 52 people who had death certificates issued, most were not burned. By the standards of 1944 a person had to be recognisable for a certificate to be granted. There was no such thing as DNA 'fingerprinting' and dental records were not used for formal identification. The implication of the above is that most of the 52 did not die in either the church or the barns, they were killed elsewhere and not burned to the point of being unrecognisable. These 52 identifiable victims range from 7 months to 78 years in age, 12 of them being female.

    The biggest problem area for the Germans at this time was the church. The exploding chest mentioned by Mme. Rouffanche seems to have been an attempt to asphyxiate the women and children, but it failed. The troops then had to resort to machine gun fire and hand grenades in order to subdue the 400 or so people in the body of the church. Heaps of fired cartridge cases were found later by the entrance door and one can see to this day bullet marks in the walls and in the memorial to the dead of W.W.I: see Memorial (see also Otto Kahn's statement regarding the supply of explosives for use in the church).

    During the trial in 1953 various soldiers described the construction and use of, concentrated charges. These were made by tying grenades together and pulling the pin of the one in the centre, these charges were used in the church as a means of swiftly killing the occupants and causing considerable internal damage to various parts. Between about 17:00 and 18:00 the majority of the soldiers were at the church, guarding it, gathering firewood, straw, shooting and throwing grenades. During the trial, the presiding judge accused the defendants of using flame throwers and spare fuel cylinders to spread the blaze. There is no real evidence for this action, nor is it necessary in order to explain the state of the bodies, or the partial melting of the bells: (see fire model) & (church bells).

    At one point, just before the fire in the church had really got going, an Alsatian woman came to the door and shouted in German that she was not French and should be let out, but according to Jean-Pierre Elsässer (an Alsatian), "Hauptsturmführer Kahn shoved her back into the flames. He said he was not going to have any witnesses turning up later". This person was most probably either Mme. Maria Kanzler or Mme. Odile Neumeyer, both from Schiltigheim, a suburb of Strasbourg and the only adult Alsatian women in the church. It is only a guess on my part, but Mme. Neumeyer seems the most likely of the two because Mme Kanzler had her 14 year old daughter Dora with her in the church and I think it unlikely that she would have attempted to escape in this manner without her daughter. At this time (under the terms of the armistice) all three of they were German citizens. Identifying these women is something of a guess, there is no hard evidence for this, but they fit the known facts better than other candidates. See Kahn's statement for his own version of what he did that day.

    Sometime around now Sturmbannführer Diekmann left Oradour and drove back to Limoges in order to report back to Der Führer Regiment headquarters on his actions. When he arrived and spoke to Sylvester Stadler (the commanding officer), Stadler "was extremely shocked by this report and shaken to the core". Stadler went on to say, "Diekmann this may cost you dearly. I am going to ask the Division (Das Reich) court at once for a court martial investigation against you. I cannot allow the regiment to be charged with something like this!" In fact an in-house investigation was later held when the Division had reached Normandy and before they were committed to battle. It is said that as news of the event spread, no less a person than Field Marshal Rommel himself offered to preside over the court martial.

    Stadler, who was shortly to leave the regiment to command the 9th SS Panzer Division 'Hohenstaufen', seems to have been genuinely concerned by what he clearly realised was an overreaction. It is perhaps significant that from somewhat after 19:00, few if any further people where killed in or around Oradour, possibly as a result of orders from Stadler in Limoges. Given that radio communication was impossible and that by now the telephone system in Oradour was unusable, any orders would have had to be by word of mouth. It is known that two cars containing Germans were seen travelling through Veyrac (on the road from Oradour to Limoges) that evening and as they were unescorted, the occupants must have thought themselves reasonably secure from attack. In any case it does seem likely that Stadler would have wished for further clarification of the situation, hence the journey.

18:00 Saturday 10th June 1944

    From about 18:00 the combustible material was set alight and the church began to burn. It was then that the main destruction of the village began as the troops entered, looted and burned every building, bar the house of M. Dupic the village draper. This was used as a centre for those soldiers who were to remain in Oradour overnight and it was not set alight until the following morning. Hauptsturmführer Kahn distributed drink looted from this house to the men in the evening. In the days following, the French aid workers counted between 20 and 25 empty champagne bottles lying in the grounds. Given that there were about 150 to 180 soldiers present in Oradour at this time, this only represents about one glass (150ml) per man, not a large amount. In any event the SS were highly disciplined troops and the idea of them having a drunken orgy in the midst of such an action, with officers like Kahn present is simply unbelievable.

    It was during this phase that the Pinède children decided to make their escape from the Avril family hotel. They had little choice by now, as the building was on fire and their position was becoming desperate. Running out of the rear of the Hotel they nearly collided with an SS trooper. The eldest girl, Jacqueline, asked simply, "what should we do?", the soldier did not answer, but waved his arm towards the open fields and they ran for their lives, eventually sheltering in the hamlet of La Martinerie, to the north of Oradour. Later on that night, by chance, Robert Hébras and Mathieu Borie after their escape from the Laudy barn, sought shelter at the same house.

    Also around this time, all those other people who had hidden in their houses and gardens began to make their way out of the village.  These folk ended up in the surrounding hamlets and villages where they told the story of what had happened in Oradour. This led to many fearful people gathering on the outskirts of the village, desperate for news of family and friends, but for the most part they did not enter because of the sentries stationed at the outskirts. Some spoke to the guards and received various replies from the reassuring to the blunt. Only one person, Professor Forest managed to talk his way past the soldiers (one of whom was Albert Daul, another Alsatian) and into the village where he spoke to an (unknown) officer so as to enquire where his children were. This officer angrily told him to leave, which he did. It is highly significant that Professor Forest was not killed, due I think to the SS by now having had enough of bloodshed, or possibly as a result of new orders from regimental headquarters.

19:00 Saturday 10th June 1944

    The next event was the arrival of the normal, scheduled Limoges to St. Junien tram, which routinely stopped at Oradour. When the tram arrived, soldiers boarded it and examined identity papers (only the second instance of this happening). The twenty passengers whose papers showed that they were from Oradour or the immediate district were made to get off. Although the line ran on through Oradour the tram could obviously not continue to St. Junien at this time, although it is noteworthy, that the power must have still been connected to the overhead wires. Then the tram was sent back to Limoges with the rest of the passengers still on board. What is strange about this incident is that this tram arrived at all in view of the reception that the earlier test tram received at about 16:00.

    The terrified passengers, who were now in the company of the SS, were made to walk with them on a path skirting the village, where they could see soldiers moving about, setting fire to buildings and throwing grenades. Eventually they arrived at a field command post located in a farmhouse. After some discussion between themselves and after checking with higher command, the soldiers let the 20 frightened French people go. One of the passengers, a young woman, was given a (looted) bicycle by one of the soldiers. This was because she lived some way away from Oradour and it would help her on her journey. Such is the nature of extreme events like Oradour, that one minute people are being killed in the most horrific manner and the next, a young woman is thoughtfully being helped on her way. There was an atmosphere of almost surreal, knife-edged balance about this event, only a tiny push and all those people would surely have been killed. See Otto Kahn's statement regarding his actions at this time.

    It is probable that Adolf Diekmann arrived back in Oradour about now after his bruising interview with Sylvester Stadler and this can explain the change in attitude.

20:00 Saturday 10th June to early morning Sunday 11th June 1944

    During the night, several more villagers who had managed to evade the soldiers during the day, made their escape. Aimé and his wife Jeanine Rénaud who had been hiding in the Desourteaux garage yard (Aimé worked for Hubert Desourteaux) met Hubert and a Madame Robert and together at about 02:00 on Sunday morning they managed to leave the village, arriving at Rénaud's parents house at about 04:00 the same morning.

    Around 21:30 over 100 of the troops departed from Oradour and travelled to Nieul about 5 miles to the east. The rear guard left behind was thus no more than 20 to 30 strong. In Nieul they requisitioned the school and some houses for billets and set to eating and drinking. There are reports of them spending a considerable amount of time washing in the school toilets. The officers slept together in the school and not as at first arranged, in private houses. The soldiers kept a guard on their vehicles throughout their stay in Nieul and to the locals seemed excited and nervous.

    By any standards, what took place in Oradour-sur-Glane on Saturday 10th June 1944 was a war crime and over the following years many attempts have been made to bring justice to all the victims of this ghastly crime. Sadly as you will read in following chapters, the concept of justice has proven to be elusive and I do not think that any real conclusion has been reached, or is ever likely to be concluded.

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Sunday 11th June 1944

    Throughout the night, anxious and increasingly desperate people had begun to gather on the outskirts of the village, many of them parents whose children had not returned from school. Others were villagers who, for one reason or another had been absent on the Saturday, but now wished to return home. As a result of wishful thinking, misinterpretation and rumour, the story had grown overnight that the children at least were safe in the woods.

    At about 06:00 in the morning, after it had been looted the Dupic house was set alight. The troops now prepared to leave Oradour with all their booty and headed in the direction of Nieul and not back to St. Junien from whence they had come the day before. At approximately 11:00 the last of the SS drove out of Oradour, taking with them a stolen car, which they towed behind a lorry. When they reached the small hamlet of La Plaine on the D9, about 1½ miles east of Oradour, the towrope broke. The car then crashed into a telegraph pole, seriously injuring the driver. He was carried to the lorry and the damaged car set on fire where it was. The source for this story was Hubert Desourteaux who after he parted from the Rénaud's made his own way to a place of safety and witnessed the crash himself.

    During the day many French people made their way into the village and finally discovered the true nature of the disaster. The first shock was of course seeing the destruction of the village, then the discovery of the remains in the church, followed by the realisation of the full scale of the killings.

    One of the first into the church was a farmer called Hyvernaud from Mazenty, Oradour-sur-Glane, looking for his two sons, Marcel (8) and René (10). He found the younger boy almost immediately: "He lay on his side and was half-burned … but I did not find my older boy. Behind the altar, crowded together, lay at least twenty small children who had sought to find protection there. This cover did not help them much. They were all smothered by smoke or burned to death. But there is one thing that I must say and that is; all honour to the mothers of Oradour. Not a single adult hid behind the altar. They left this last place of refuge to the children". (Quoted from Jens Kruuse). It is from behind the altar that Mme. Rouffanche climbed out of the church through the centre window and it is one of the unexplained mysteries of Oradour that no one after her and Mme. Hyvernaud attempted to escape in that way (possibly also Sarah Jakobowicz did, see above).

    One of the few people to enter Oradour that morning and find any relative still alive was Robert Hébras's father who had been working away from home at the hamlet of Veyrac, about 3 miles to the south-east. Whilst his son Robert had survived (one of 5 from the Laudy barn), he found that his had lost his wife and both daughters in the attack.

    Alphonse Lévignac was looking for his two sons, Jean (16) and Charles (12). Whilst he was standing outside the church he heard a woman's voice calling, "I am suffering too much. Carry me to the river, I want to die !". Lévignac, catching sight of her said to Hubert Desourteaux, "I did not know there was a Negress living in Oradour !" : It was Mme. Rouffanche.

    They found a wheelbarrow and used it as a makeshift stretcher to carry her to Laplaud; there she was washed and examined by Dr. Gaudois. He found that she had four bullet wounds to the legs and one in the shoulder. The following day they moved her to hospital in Limoges, explaining to a curious German sentry, "She fell out of the hay loft". Mme. Rouffanche was to stay in hospital for almost a year recovering both physically and mentally from her ordeal. She was eventually to move to the new Oradour and live there for the rest of her life.

    André Desourteaux had been at work as usual in the postal sorting office in Limoges that Saturday. On the Sunday he took the train as far as St.Victurnien and then cycled back to Oradour to see his parents and found the place in ruins. On entering the village he met Martial Brissaud (the man who had run to hide when the Germans first arrived) who told him that everyone was dead. He stopped at what had been his home and rested his foot on a fallen stone, the first thing that he remembered thinking (as he recalled in 1988) was, "they will pay for this".

    After a couple of weeks, he and Robert Hébras joined the Resistance in order to try and get some revenge and "so as not to feel alone". They had very little training and scarcely knew how to operate their machine gun (Hébras had the gun Desourteaux the ammunition). When they were betrayed and ambushed in a barn along with 30 others, Hébras later claimed that he had, "seen death closer that day than on 10th June". In the ensuing fight, 10 of the Resistance were killed, but both Hébras and Desourteaux managed to escape uninjured.

    All the people who entered Oradour that day commented on the terrible stench of burned flesh pervading the whole village, especially at the church. What was also notable was the state of the surviving domestic animals, particularly the dogs who had their tails between their legs and who whined as they sniffed around the ruins trying to find their owners.

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Monday 12th June to Thursday 29th June 1944

    On Monday morning the SS returned to Oradour in a futile attempt to tidy up some of the mess. It is difficult to imagine what the thinking was of whoever gave them order to go and do it. The size of any clear-up was huge and the Das Reich Division was under orders to march to the Normandy battle front with all speed. Nevertheless a party did arrive and began to bury the dead. One of those sent was Antoine Lohner (an Alsatian) who spent some time on both the Monday and the Tuesday digging graves. The soldiers dug two main burial pits, the larger being about 10 feet long in the garden of the presbytery and the other near to the Denis wine store on the road to St. Junien: see Village Plan. In addition there were several half-hearted attempts at burying the dead at other locations. There is the often quoted example of a man's body buried so carelessly that his hand was seen sticking up in the air.

    Troops returned again on Tuesday, but soon gave the job up and left. As mentioned above, theirs was an impossible task and a pointless one as by now the news of the massacre had spread far and wide. That any attempt was made to tidy up the event at all, gives perhaps a clue as to the sense of shock that existed at this time in the Das Reich command. Just why did the SS come back to Oradour and attempt to tidy the mess up? What did they hope to achieve?

    In the days that followed French aid workers operating under the most difficult conditions moved into Oradour and the surrounding hamlets and began the grim task of recovering and attempting to identify the victims. The smell of decay, in the hot June sun was overwhelming and the men and women doing the work wore masks soaked in eucalyptus essence as some form of protection. They exhumed all the bodies that the soldiers had attempted to bury and gathered the remains from the church and other locations, as well as all those personal effects that they could find. Eventually the French authorities were able to publish a full list of the dead, which came to a total of 642 persons. Only 52 of these were formally identified with death certificates being issued, the rest being so badly burned as to be unrecognisable by the standards of 1944 and so were listed as, "officially declared missing".

    In the days following, Das Reich moved northwards towards its fate as a part of the German defence against the Normandy landings. What rapidly became apparent to the German command was that the previously intensely irritating attacks by the Resistance had ceased and that they enjoyed a relatively trouble free run up north until the Loire was crossed. Once over the river, the armour and other heavy equipment could only move safely at night, due to the presence of overwhelming allied air power. The Division reached the front in a somewhat piecemeal fashion, the first units getting there by 15th June, but the last not arriving until early July. This diminished the impact that such a powerful force could have had on the outcome of the battle.

    On 29th June, Adolf Diekmann was hit in the head by a shell splinter and killed outright. He is said to have left his command post shelter just to the north of Noyers during a bombardment in the afternoon, without his helmet. "The death of the commander, who had been the soul of the resistance, resulted in a crisis" (from Otto Weidinger 'Comrades to the End').

    With the death of Diekmann the whole Oradour affair could be allowed to drop from the attention of the German Army. It is ironic that Rommel, who had offered to conduct Diekmann's court martial, was himself compelled to commit suicide as a result of being implicated in the 20th July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler. It is interesting, if futile to wonder what would have come out of this trial had it had ever taken place?

    No one was ever tried or punished within the German armed forces for the massacre of the citizens of Oradour. What is significant about this remark of course is that it included Diekmann. In spite of Stadler's claimed outrage, Diekmann kept his command of the First Battalion of the Der Führer Regiment of the Das Reich Second Waffen SS-Armoured Division, right up to his death, he was not even suspended from duty pending the enquiry.

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