Firstly, this chapter describes all the alternative explanations offered by various authors as to why the SS carried out the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane on the 10th June 1944.
Secondly, this chapter gives my own explanation, which is based on the data published on this website. I may be wrong and more evidence will emerge to show that I am wrong. If it proves to be the case that I am wrong I will gladly change my writings to reflect the new truth. What appears below is based on today's evidence, tomorrow is another story.
I hope to describe fairly the explanations offered by all sides, French, German and other authors of all nationalities. Please remember when reading this particular section, that what I am recounting here is what other people have written and that it is basically a review of their work; I am not claiming that they are right.
If you have no previous knowledge of the Oradour story and the events surrounding it, it will be helpful for you to know that there are many different explanations for the event and many unresolved questions concerning the behaviour of the SS on that day. The different explanations for why the attack occurred have come about due to the separate interested parties, either trying to shift the blame away from themselves, or to excuse themselves from blame. After the war, all parts of the French Resistance distanced themselves from any responsibility for Oradour and laid the blame solely onto the SS. The SS and their supporters have spent many hours trying to show that Oradour itself was not so innocent and that if the attack could not be fully justified, it could at least to some extent be excused. To these ends, all sorts of red-herrings have been dragged across the case by both sides and many and various rumours, hypothesis and downright guesses quoted authoritatively as being facts.
I want to make it totally clear in what follows that I am not saying, or wish to imply that, the French Resistance, was a criminal organisation, or that it was an ineffective force, or that France would have been better off without it, or that it did not contribute to the allied victory, or that its leaders were stupid, or that it was in any way to blame for the shame that was the Vichy state. The members of the French Resistance were undoubtedly brave and patriotic. They risked everything, when others hung back. They often paid for their courage with their lives and the lives of their families. They did the best that they could at the time to secure France's liberation and to restore national honour.
The tragedy of the Resistance was that they were not a single united force under a common leadership, but were a series of disunited groups, often with their own agendas and often led by people without military training or experience of high command. This inevitably led to rather more mistakes and errors of judgement being made than was good for everyone concerned. Especially in the early days of the occupation, resistance groups caused problems for each other simply due to their mutual ignorance of each others activities.
After studying the events surrounding Oradour for some years now, I have come to the conclusion that all the main players, on both the German and the French sides are for the most part telling the truth, not necessarily the whole truth, but no real lies either. The challenge is to show how the seemingly irreconcilable differences in the accounts given by the Resistance, the survivors of the massacre and the SS can be woven into a coherent whole.
This chapter is in two main parts, the first is a review of all the previously presented explanations for the attack, the second is my own attempt at explaining the massacre and clearing up the outstanding points that have surrounded the case since 1944.
The principle points about the case that need explaining in order to dispel the air of mystery surrounding the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane on 10th June 1944 are:
1) Why was Oradour-sur-Glane attacked in such a dramatic and deadly manner?
2) Why was Oradour-sur-Glane chosen specifically for the attack?
3) Why was the whole population, including the women and children killed?
4) Why was the whole village destroyed after the attack on the population?
5) Why did the SS not publicise what they were doing before, during and after the event in order to maximise the deterrent effect on the Resistance?
6) Why did soldiers of the Der Führer Regiment return to the village the next day in order to try and bury some of the dead?
8) Given that the SS never denied their responsibility for events at Tulle the day before, why were they so defensive about Oradour and so keen to try and justify their actions after the war?
9) Why did the SS drive away from Oradour after the event without offering any explanation, or apology to anyone?
10) Given that it would have been normal to send his deputy (Hauptsturmführer Kahn) to do the job, why was Sturmbannführer Diekmann present and in command at Oradour in person?
11) Why did the French Resistance say that they thought a mistake had been made over the identity of the village and that it should have been Oradour-sur-Vayres that was attacked, not Oradour-sur-Glane?
12) Why did Georges Guingouin (the Limousin FTP leader) not attend the trial at Bordeaux in 1953 in order to explain his actions after the kidnapping of Sturmbannführer Kämpfe?
13) Why have the French Resistance never fully and completely explained how, why, when and where Kämpfe was killed?
14) Why did the SS approach Oradour only from the south and not attempt to surround the village if it was the Resistance stronghold that they later claimed it to be?
15) Why did the SS, round-up the people from the outlying farms to the south of Oradour-sur-Glane and transport them to the village in order to kill them?
16) Why was Diekmann not relived of his command after the attack, especially given how angry his superior, Sylvester Stadler was stated as being?
From the above list it can be seen why the fate of Oradour-sur-Glane has been such an enigma from 1944 to the present day. There is so much unexplained mystery and confusion about nearly all aspects of the case as to make a very good Sherlock Holmes detective story. My attempt at providing answers to all the above questions is given at the end of this chapter.
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This section describes those actions for which there is good evidence (mostly from the German side) of their taking place and which form a part of the various explanations for the events of the 10th June 1944.
It is worth restating that Oradour lay in that part of the country known as Vichy France and was between June1940 and November 1942 nominally a self-governing and non-belligerent vassal of Germany. It had its own government (based in the spa town of Vichy) and control over the French colonies by way of having access to the Mediterranean. Even after Hitler imposed direct rule in November 1942 the civilian population of Vichy France should have been perfectly safe from any German armed forces in the country. These forces were not there as conquerors, but as guests who were expected to pay for their keep. There were in fact strict rules within the German armed forces detailing how they were to behave towards the civilian population and emphasising that goods and accommodation had to be paid for, not appropriated as of a right. The French security forces within the Vichy zone were armed and were expected by the Germans to maintain law and order without any involvement by them. Maintenance of good order included taking action against the Resistance, so right from the start, Frenchman was pitted against Frenchman in the Vichy State
The big question about Oradour-sur-Glane has always been: why? Why was Oradour visited by the SS and why was such a devastating attack launched upon it? Prior to the events of 10th June 1944, Oradour was as quiet and sleepy a backwater of any of the 9 Zones of France as one could ever hope to find. German soldiers had rarely been seen in the village and even when they did visit, it was only for peaceful pursuits, such as dining out. There was no known record of any overt Resistance activity, either against the German forces, or the collaborationist Vichy regime of Marshal Pétain.
Peaceful however does not always mean apathetic and as we now know, there was a Resistance presence in the village, but it was low-key and kept well hidden. It took the form of being a part of the network set-up to assist downed allied airmen escape from France, via Spain and Gibraltar back to Britain. Of necessity the number of people who had detailed knowledge of this activity was relatively small and there is no evidence that the Germans had any detailed knowledge about its operation within Oradour-sur-Glane before the 10th of June (they certainly had never taken any anti-resistance measures in the village before the 10th).
This Resistance presence had to be kept low-key in order to preserve the safety of its members from betrayal by collaborationists within the village, such as Jean Roumy and his Milice son Albert (both of whom died on 10th June), see: Chapter 2. In fact the network was so well hidden, that when all those in Oradour who were involved in it were killed on 10th June, the knowledge of it died out and its very existence has been denied to me personally by staff at the present day Centre de la Mémoire, as recently as September 2003. This really is an astonishing fact, that the Centre de la Mémoire specifically built to preserve the memory of Oradour, had no knowledge of the presence of a resistance unit within the village. As can be read in the article in The Canberra Times, Robert Chataignier said, "we all knew what was going on". This implies that the presence of the escape route, if not the full details and identities of those involved was widely known within the local FTP.
Assuming that Chataignier was stating the simple truth and given that in 1944 he was just 16 years old, it does point to poor security on the part of the FTP units operating around Oradour. This questionable security supports the assertion by Otto Weidinger that the Limoges Gestapo had, via their French agents, reported the presence of a Resistance base in the village on the morning of the 10th of June.
To understand the sequence of events leading to Oradour, we must go back to the morning of 10th June when Diekmann was approached by two members of the Milice in St. Junien with the news that a high ranking German officer was being held there. No name was mentioned at this time and indeed Weidinger claims that it was Diekmann, talking to Stadler later on that morning in Limoges who said that he thought the captive must be Kämpfe. This was as a result of Stadler informing Diekmann about Kämpfe's kidnap of the night before. An important point to remember is that all the data as to what happened in Limoges on the morning of 10th June, comes from Otto Weidinger, who at this time did not hold any official position within the Der Führer Regiment and has thus claimed to be an impartial witness to events. This notwithstanding the fact that within four days he was to become the commander of the regiment, a post he was then to hold until the war's end.
A problem area is the precise number and identity of the informants who came to see Diekmann and told him about the German officer being held in Oradour-sur-Glane. Some accounts give the number of Milice as being four, others as two and some claim that one of them (Patry) was an interpreter, not a member of the Milice itself. Naturally enough these people have maintained a low profile after the war ended (assuming that they survived). For the purposes of this narrative we will just have to take it at face value that Diekmann was informed in St. Junien, early on Saturday 10th June by Frenchmen, that an unnamed German officer was in the hands of the Resistance and that Oradour-sur-Glane was implicated.
In previous editions of this chapter I have queried Diekmann's actions in going directly to Limoges to see Stadler after talking to the informants and not proceeding immediately to Oradour in an attempt to rescue the unnamed German officer. I now realise that the answer to this problem is simply that he had received orders to report directly to Stadler in Limoges for a meeting regarding the deteriorating security situation. He thus could not afford the time to personally visit the village before this meeting took place and also at this time he did not know the identity of the captive, or even that Kämpfe had been abducted (or even if the "German officer" was from the SS).
It seems now that Lammerding had called a Divisional meeting in Limoges early that morning (the 10th) with his senior commanders in order to discuss security. Following this meeting the senior commanders in their turn summoned their juniors for the same purpose. It was only when Diekmann reached Limoges and spoke to Stadler that he learned that Kämpfe (and Gerlach) had been abducted and made the connection with what he had been told by the Milice about a German officer being held in Oradour.
The above explains why Diekmann is quoted by Otto Weidinger (in Comrades to the End and other publications) as, coming "to the regiment in an agitated state and reporting the following .... two French civilians had come to him and informed him that a high-ranking German officer was being held prisoner by the maquisards in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane .... Stubaf. Diekmann therefore immediately asked the regimental commander (Sylvester Stadler) for permission to take a company there in order to free the captive. In his opinion it could only be Stubaf. Kämpfe, a close personal friend". Remember that until Diekmann had spoken to Stadler, he did not know that Kämpfe had been abducted, he only knew "that a high-ranking German officer" had been taken prisoner and this could have been anyone, from any branch of the armed forces.
After Stadler is said to have given his approval for the rescue attempt (and his order to take hostages if Kämpfe was not found), Diekmann returned to St. Junien to plan the next step. An important point is that it probably took him a minimum of three-quarters of an hour to travel the 20 or so miles door-to-door, between his headquarters in St. Junien and Stadler's in Limoges, so the travel time for the round trip would be at least an hour and a half. This was obviously not a journey that he would wish to repeat unnecessarily. Given that he was a Battalion commander in the SS, he could and indeed would be expected to make on-the-spot decisions should any variations in circumstances arise not covered by his original orders.
Orders were the stuff of life to an SS-man, Diekmann would no more have thought of flagrantly disobeying an order that he would of spitting at Hitler, it was something that an officer simply did not do. Given that Stadler had ordered him to take hostages if Kämpfe were not to be found, then hostages he would have taken. So what went wrong, what happened after Diekmann left Stadler and before he returned to Limoges to report the destruction of Oradour later that afternoon?
There is no written evidence as such, but there are some eyewitness statements and other clues as to what happened next. When Diekmann returned to St. Junien he had a conference in the Hotel de la Gare with Kahn, the Gestapo man Kleist and the French Milice informants. The time for this meeting is not certain, but based on other known data it must have started around 11:00 in the morning at the earliest and seems to have lasted at least an hour. When the meeting broke up Kleist and the Milice did not accompany the troops to Oradour.
From what followed it is obvious to me that the decision to attack and destroy Oradour-sur-Glane was either taken or confirmed during this meeting. There was not enough time between then and the arrival of the SS in Oradour for a dramatic change of plan to be conveyed to all concerned. In fact Kahn specifically states that Diekmann came to him at his hotel where he was billeted and told him of the order to destroy Oradour.
For Diekmann to decide that Oradour was to be destroyed could have only meant one thing and that was by then he believed Kämpfe to be already dead. This intelligence could only have come from the same source that gave him the original news, namely the Milice informants. The rescue mission was now a punitive expedition to teach the Resistance the folly of their ways and to avenge Kämpfe. There was now no longer any need or indeed any point in taking hostages against Kämpfe's safe return; so Diekmann did not disobey his orders at all. This means that Stadler's quoted anger on Diekmann's return, at the lack of hostages is possibly something of an exaggeration.
What I am claiming is that by midday Diekmann believed Kämpfe to be dead and remember, he had only to believe this to be true; proof was not an issue. I am convinced that there was no way that he would have attacked Oradour in the way that he did if he had thought Kämpfe still alive, instead he would have taken hostages against his release as per his original orders from Stadler. It is important to remember that due to the lack of effective communications, Diekmann could not speak to Stadler and exchange the latest news. If they had been able to talk easily, possibly events would have turned out differently, see: Chapter 6.
About 120 men of Kahn's 3rd Company, plus another 30 or so that came with Diekmann, were ordered to get ready for the mission to Oradour and piled into their vehicles for the ride from St. Junien. They took their normal weapons with them and something to make the asphyxiating device used in the church (believed to be smoke-screen projectiles). They set off at around 13:30 on the D675, heading south, until they crossed the river Vienne, when they swung east towards the hamlet of St. Victurnein on the D32. They then headed north crossing the main N141 until they reached the outlying farms to the south of Oradour-sur-Glane, see: map. This precise journey is not possible today, due to modifications to the N141 during 1998, making it impossible to cross over it, as did the SS in 1944.
This somewhat circuitous route seems to have been used so as to disguise their true objective to any potential Resistance observers watching them leave. But and it is a fascinating but; the road that they left St. Junien on, eventually arrives at Oradour-sur-Vayres. It was later to be claimed by members of the Resistance that a mistake was made and that Oradour-sur-Vayres should have been the target rather than Oradour-sur-Glane.
Whilst they were on the minor roads after crossing the N141, the column halted and briefing papers were distributed to the officers and NCO's. It was during this halt that Untersturmführer Heinz Barth was remembered as saying, "today you will see blood flow" and "we will see what the Alsatians are made of". The implication was clear; Barth was in no doubt as to what was to happen, nor had there been any mention of a rescue mission, or a search for the missing Kämpfe. A somewhat sober point being that Barth did not seem upset, or in anyway depressed at what was to follow. Judging by his remarks in fact, he seemed almost jubilant. For what happened after the halt see: Chapter 2, 10th of June 1944 and also the transcript of Barth's 1983 trial in East Berlin.
Diekmann was travelling in his car with a driver. It was observed that he had a radio transmitter / receiver and seemed to be using it throughout the journey. Given that radio communication with Limoges was not possible either from St. Junien or from Oradour and that this would have been a relatively low-powered set, I can only think that he was talking to his Battalion headquarters in St. Junien. The subject of these conversations must remain speculative, but I should be surprised if they did not concern Kämpfe.
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Many different people have written about Oradour and their explanations have fallen into one of three broad groups. Firstly, those attempts to justify or mitigate the action of the Germans. Secondly, those trying to deflect any blame away from the activities of the French Resistance. Thirdly, those independent and hopefully impartial historians who have put forward their own explanations of what happened and why (note that impartial does not necessarily mean accurate). Thankfully this case is no small echo of the Holocaust deniers who have in the past sought to evade the horror of responsibility by saying that the event either did not occur at all, or that all the Jews had died of typhus.
First Group: This section contains the explanations offered by the SS excusers; those people who wish to show that although the SS did indeed carry out the attack they were either justified, or at least could be excused for what happened. This excusal, or mitigation is always said to be due to the activities of the French Resistance.
All of the explanations from this first group take as a basic premise the story that Diekmann did go to see Stadler before he went to Oradour and that he was ordered to take hostages if Kämpfe was not to be found. On his arrival in the village he is supposed to have found the bodies (number unstated) of "executed German soldiers" (no names, numbers of bodies, or units mentioned) and / or a burnt-out ambulance on the outskirts, containing the bodies of the crew (again no unit details, or details of where they were travelling from, or to).
However read Kahn's statement, especially the part where he mentions passing, "a toppled truck lying in the ditch that was considerably damaged by gunfire. About the vehicle, lay corpses, approximately 8 - 10 persons, who had been partly burned".
This 'evidence' of Resistance activity was said to be sufficient to convince Diekmann of the guilt of all the men-folk of the village, who were in consequence shot. There were hidden arms and explosives in nearly every house. The deaths of the women and children were a regrettable accident caused by flames from the burning houses (set alight by the troops after the death of the men, or as a result of an accident) spreading to the church where hidden ammunition and explosives detonated, or were set off by members of the Resistance for reasons unclear.
In order to give credence to the above, then one must provide answers to all the following points:
1) There were in total about 80 survivors from Oradour on 10th June, none of who mention any bodies of "executed German soldiers", or the presence of an ambulance. (The figure of 80 includes all persons, some of whom were working away from the village that day, not just those who escaped from the Laudy barn and other places). Otto Kahn in his statement of 1962 specifically states that he did not see "executed German soldiers" or a burned out ambulance at any time near Oradour. In fact he does quite specifically state that if he had seen such sights, then he would not have raised any objections to the attack.
2) None of the 21 men on trial for their lives in Bordeaux in 1953 or subsequently Barth in 1983 mention actually finding "executed German soldiers". Or even of having been told about such an incident by their officers before they got to Oradour. If true, I would have thought that this story would have been given to the men in advance, so as to steady their nerve and provide some motivation through feelings of anger.
3) There are no records that I am aware of from German army units showing such causalities as mentioned above.
4) Diekmann himself never mentioned either finding the bodies of "executed German soldiers" or a burnt out ambulance when he first reported to Stadler in the afternoon of 10th June. According to Otto Weidinger these 'facts' only came to light later before the Divisional Court in Normandy shortly before Diekmann's death and later still from the papers and tapes of Lammerding's estate.
5) If the men of Oradour were indeed all judged equally guilty and worthy of death and the deaths of the women and children in the church were an unfortunate accident, why were some women and children killed with the men in the barns?
6) If the church had indeed accidentally caught fire and burned down, killing the women and children, why was Madam Rouffanche shot (5 times) when she managed to escape from it through a window? Why were Madame Henriette Joyeux (nee Hyvernaud) and her 7-month-old son René killed? Both these bodies were found close to the church and being identifiable had death certificates issued, making them 2 out of only 52 who could be formally identified.
7) Otto Weidinger says that he met the "Maquis chief in the Dordogne Jugie (called, Gao) in Paris in1969, the latter freely admitted that weapons and ammunition had of course been stashed in all houses in Oradour at that time" (from: Tulle and Oradour a Franco German Tragedy). This assertion is absolutely denied by all the survivors, but even if it were true and even if this justified killing all the men and setting fire to all the houses and even if the church did burn down accidentally, how do you explain killing 7 month old René Joyeux? René was killed by smashing his head against a wall and his body thrown down the privy by the side of the church. Was this another accident?
8) How have all the escapees from Oradour (about 80 remember) all managed to tell the same story for over 60 years without any cracks appearing in their narrative.
9) Why would all the survivors tell such consistent lies? Surely there would be more honour and prestige in being the survivors from an heroic centre of resistance which died in defending the cause of France's freedom, than in being the somewhat pathetic representatives of the innocent dead?
10) If the village was as full of arms, ammunition and explosives, as some have claimed, why was not some use made of them in the defence of Oradour? After all according to Gerlach's statement, the village was a Resistance stronghold full of uniformed fighters.
11) I have seen the ruins of Oradour and they show clear evidence of fire damage, but none of blast damage (for example, no walls blown out). If arms ammunition and explosives were hidden in nearly every house as Weidinger claims, this is not what one would expect to see.
12) How could fire spread to the stone built church from the stone built houses? How could fire spread throughout the village, unless each building was individually set alight? The construction of the village means that it was impossible for a fire to spread to every building from a single source of ignition, no matter what the wind speed or direction. (Some people have claimed that the troops did not set the buildings on fire deliberately, rather that it was an accident).
13) The church bells partly melted and this it is claimed proves that there must have been something more than wood burning in order to generate the necessary high temperature. Probably explosives were stored in the bells and these formed the heat source. If explosives were stored in the bells instead of the much more convenient (and vastly larger) bell tower, they would have been visible to anyone who stood in the church and looked up. Not a very secure or sensible place to hide such material. For further discussion of this point, see: the Fire model.
14) Why did the Germans not widely publicise what they had done? If Oradour was a good and proper response to a desperate Resistance situation, why was it not held up as an example of the kind of thing that any rebellious and dissident centre of population could expect in the future?
15) According to retired Bundeswehr Oberstleutnant Eberhard Matthes in his statement of November 16, 1980, the story of Oradour had become distorted over the years and the truth was somewhat different. Amongst other points, he mentions two women that he met in Oradour in December 1963 telling him that SS-soldiers had risked their own lives to pull them out of the church when it was on fire. The SS had not set the church on fire etc, etc. It is odd that Matthes is the only person that ever seems to have had such a conversation with local people.
The validity of what Matthes claims he was told is denied absolutely by the present day representatives of the National Association of the Families of the Martyrs of Oradour. All that I will add here is that perhaps he was unable to recognise sarcasm when talking to the two women concerned.
16) The inside of the church has bullet holes and marks in its fabric, see: picture. This does not fit well with the story about an 'accident' or indeed with the Matthes story mentioned above.
17) Why were the inhabitants of the outlying farms and hamlets to the south of Oradour rounded-up before the soldiers got to the village? Why were many of the outlying buildings set on fire before the SS had a chance to search Oradour for the supposedly hidden arms and explosives?
18) Why were the travellers on the evening tram from Limoges treated the way they were? Why was the conductor of the earlier tram shot? Why was the 7 year old Roger Godfrin pursued and shot at? Why was his dog shot? Why were many of the men shot in the legs and then burned to death in the barns? Why did the SS not take casualties from the exploding munitions that detonated as the houses burned? Why did the soldiers not immediately retire to a safe distance outside the village whilst these explosions were taking place?
In fact there are so many potential why? questions that I am going to stop at this point. If you want any more, then please re-read the earlier chapters of this narrative and some other books on the subject in order to form your own list.
My conclusion: These explanations that seek to explain away the deaths and destruction as accidents, or as a consequence of the storage of arms and ammunition in the village by the Resistance, are neither logical nor consistent. They cannot be believed.
Second Group: The characteristic voice from some sections of France is that the abduction and killing of Kämpfe did not lead to the destruction of Oradour and that some other (unstated) explanation must be sought, or that it was a case of confusion with Oradour-sur-Vayres.
1) If Kämpfe was not the trigger for the attack, then what was? The SS, both the Waffen-SS and the Allgemeine-SS did behave at times in a brutal manner, but they were never random or capricious. For example, the Gestapo did not pick up people off the street just for the fun of torturing them and the concentration camps did not have innocent citizens shipped in to be killed. Everyone abused or killed by the SS was guilty, or held to be guilty of something, even if it was simply of being Jewish. The Waffen-SS would never drive up to a village and raise it to the ground without a reason. To claim that Kämpfe was not a factor, suggests a bad conscience on the part of those seeking to preserve, or enhance the memory of the Resistance. Maybe even of trying to deflect suspicion from their own past, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks". (Hamlet, in the play of that name by Shakespeare).
The closest that I have seen to an admission that the Resistance had something to do with the events at Oradour is the inscription on the memorial to the kidnap of Helmut Kämpfe on the N141 at the point where he was abducted.
2) One of the displays in the Centre de la Mémoire at Oradour-sur-Glane quite specifically states that Brigadeführer Lammerding ordered the attack as does the plaque in the cemetery. No reason is given and no source is quoted for this allegation. It may be significant that in the original visitor centre (which closed in April 1999 when the new one opened), that no mention of responsibility was made. The original visitor kiosks (one at each end of the main road through the village) were quite small and were run in a very low-key manner by what seemed to be part time local staff. The new Centre is much more professional, commercial and like a modern tourist trap with a big car park and a large range of souvenir material to buy. It has in my opinion done much to reduce the impact of the ruins and what they stand for. It has made them more of a visitor attraction for a day out, less a place of remembrance. Again I must ask what are the grounds for accusing Lammerding? and why did he order the attack in the first place if Kämpfe was not involved? It is true that Lammerding did issue orders concerning the taking of hostages in reprisal for attacks by the Resistance, but these were general, not Oradour specific orders.
3) My distinct impression is that the French authorities at the Centre de la Mémoire do not want to know why Oradour was attacked. At the very least they do not want any discussion on the subject of why? They in fact discourage, or ignore, any attempt to question, even slightly, their version of events. As an example of this attitude, the Centre de la Mémoire, claims that the man who led the attack was, "Commandant SS Dickmann" ("Commandant" is the French equivalent of Major, or in the SS, a Sturmbannführer), see: picture. I wrote to them in 1999 enclosing a copy of Diekmann's photograph taken from his resume, they never replied. This attitude does the Centre de la Mémoire no favours and does not help the cause of the truth, as anyone who has any useful information is not encouraged to come forward with it, or even thanked for freely offering it.
4) In the film "Oradour retour sur un massacre" the blame is laid on French collaborators acting as agent provocateurs and in effect persuading the SS to attack Oradour. These is a brief, almost-in-passing reference to the kidnapping of Kämpfe, who is not even mentioned by name and the assertion made that this was not the real reason for the attack (what was then?).
5) Jean Canou, who was a Sergeant in the FTP and was the man who actually captured Kämpfe on the evening of 9th June said, "I am convinced that the Gestapo confused Oradour-sur-Glane with Oradour-sur-Vayres, a well known centre of resistance twenty miles away. Oradour-sur-Glane was one of the most passive villages in France". He said, that shortly before the massacre, a Resistance member had broken under Gestapo questioning and told the Germans about Resistance activity in Oradour-sur-Vayres. "There was no Resistance activity at Oradour-sur-Glane and there is no other reason why the Germans should have decided to wipe out the village". As can be seen, there was indeed some evidence of resistance activity in Oradour-sur-Vayres, but I now think that this was being used as a smokescreen to deflect attention away from the Resistance activity in Oradour-sur-Glane. Canou must have known about the escape network in Oradour-sur-Glane, either at the time, or learned about it after the liberation, he also must have known what happened to Kämpfe (but he never admitted what he knew).
My conclusion: That the French authorities do not want to know the true reasons for the attack. There is a movement within France to show that the Resistance was France's saving grace during the war years (which in many ways it was) and that nothing at all can be allowed to tarnish its image by suggesting that it was due to their activities that Oradour was destroyed.
Third Group: These explanations vary a good deal in what they offer, many of them form a small part of a book covering the war years and are not specifically about Oradour.
1) Most of the English language books call Adolf Diekmann, "Otto Dickmann", which makes me wonder a little about the accuracy of their sources. I have seen his name spelt as, "Diekmann", "Dickmann" and "Dieckmann", however the correct spelling from his SS records was, "Diekmann" and his first name was, "Adolf", not, "Otto", as appears in many publications. The original confusion in my opinion came about at the time of the trial in Bordeaux in 1953. This trial was widely reported in the world's press, many of whose reporters did not speak German. The name Diekmann to an unfamiliar ear sounds like Dickmann, which to English speakers is a more natural spelling. From the newspaper reports that I have read, this is when the confusion first began and subsequent authors have perpetuated the error. As an example of this, Max Hastings in his book, "Das Reich, the march of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division through France" published in 1982 quotes the name as Otto Dickmann and Sarah Farmer in her book, "Oradour Martyred Village" published in 1999, took her spelling from Hastings's book (she confirmed this to me by e-mail). The confusion with his first name is I think simply due to reporters at the trial in 1953 muddling Otto Kahn (Diekmann's second in command) with Diekmann. The trial was known in France at the time as, "L'affair Kahn et Autres", due to Kahn who was known to be still alive at the time, (but in hiding) being the senior of those who were tried in their absence.
2) Undoubtedly the most original explanation that I have read is, "Oradour Massacre and Aftermath", by Robin Mackness. If you have not read it, then I recommend it to you as a highly readable book and also to you I will leave the task of picking holes in its explanation for the massacre. Basically the book claims that 'Otto Dickmann' went to Oradour to recover about a half a ton of gold which he thought had been hidden there, following its theft from the SS by a group of Resistance fighters. Mr. Mackness has achieved the rare distinction of upsetting representatives of the French Resistance, members of the National Association of the Families of the Martyrs of Oradour and SS veterans alike with this explanation. Please note that I am not accusing Mr. Mackness of any falsehood at all, it is just that the story of the gold being hidden in Oradour and the SS response to it do not make sense.
3) An obvious explanation for the attack is that Diekmann was ordered to go and do what he did. No mystery, no excess of zeal at all, he was just following orders. This is basically what the French are claiming in the Centre de la Mémoire and it does warrant a closer look.
For him to be following orders, they would have to be given him by his immediate superior Standartenführer Sylvester Stadler, the commander of Der Führer Regiment. In this scenario the originator of the order to destroy Oradour could have been either Stadler himself, or much more likely Brigadeführer Heinrich Bernhard Lammerding the Division commander. Both these men survived the war, Stadler as Brigadeführer for the 9th SS-Panzer Division Hohenstaufen and Lammerding as Brigadeführer for the newly formed 38th SS-Genadier Division Nibelungen.
It has been suggested that there was a feeling within the senior commanders of Das Reich Division that the Resistance needed to be taught a lesson and that some dramatic gesture was called for. The first part of this observation is undoubtedly true, re-read Chapter 6 if in doubt. At every step of the way from Montauban, the Resistance had sniped, sabotaged and made life difficult for the officers and men of the Division. A dramatic show of strength to suppress the opposition would indeed be a 'good thing' and was a logical conclusion to draw. Diekmann would have been aware of this feeling and would no doubt have wholeheartedly agreed with it as a result of his own experiences during the march.
The problem with the idea that Diekmann was acting under binding orders is that no one within the SS seems to have heard of them. Weidinger absolutely denies the suggestion that orders were ever issued for the destruction of the village. Remember that he does not attempt to evade any responsibility for the SS action at Tulle the day before. None of Diekmann's colleagues have ever mentioned him as acting under orders. This would imply a conspiracy of silence on their part, from then up to the present day. A very similar conspiracy in fact to the supposed collusion of the French survivors of the massacre to cover up the presence of arms and explosives within the village.
Otto Kahn did give a statement in 1962 in which he claimed that Diekmann said to him that he had received the command "from the Regiment" for the destruction of Oradour and this claim could:
a) be literally true.
b) be an invention by Kahn.
c) be true in the sense that Diekmann was quoting his authority for the action as coming from his interpretation of Regimental Standing Orders / the Sperrle Orders / Divisional policy and the orders given to him by Stadler.
In his statement Kahn does say that nothing was known within the Regiment about any order to attack Oradour, but of course he only found this out after the event. It is my belief that c) above is the most likely explanation. If Kahn queried the order to any extent (and this is in my opinion, doubtful) then all Diekmann needed to say was that he was following normal Standing Orders. Given that Diekmann had been ordered to Oradour by Stadler to secure the release of Kämpfe, or to take hostages against his release, then what orders would he have been given to cover the situation where he found Kämpfe already dead? My claim is that Diekmann believed Kämpfe dead by the time he saw Kahn and so Stadler's original instructions to him to take hostages would be redundant.
Diekmann must have discussed the operation afterwards with his brother officers before his own death, remember that he had 19 days to talk about what had happened with his friends, yet no SS veteran has come forward to say that he was acting under binding orders.
The SS had its own strict code of honour for responsibility within the organisation and the thought of senior officers passing the blame onto a conveniently deceased junior, in order to get themselves out of trouble is scarcely believable. If this had indeed been the case, then it could be expected that the other people to whom Diekmann had spoken, would have been so disgusted at this betrayal of his honour that they would have come forward with the truth.
Why would the SS veterans of Der Führer lie, or keep silent to protect the reputations of Lammerding and Stadler, especially that of Lammerding, who does not seem to have been particularly well liked by his men? Remember also that Lammerding died in 1971, yet no one within the ranks of the SS that survived him, such as Weidinger has attempted to put the blame on to him. Weidinger did not publish his major works until the early 80's, so had he wished, it would have been easy to put all the responsibility for both Tulle and Oradour onto Lammerding and claim that however regrettable, it was simply a case of following orders.
If Oradour was destroyed to order, why were the members of the Milice killed? Someone such as Lammerding was in a sufficiently remote position to be able to take a detached and clinical view of events. He would have thought through the likely problems and consequences of such a drastic step. One very obvious point to consider beforehand was to ensure that none of Germany's allies, like members of the Vichy government were affected by the operation. The last thing the Germans wanted at this time was to antagonise all sides of French opinion. Diekmann however was too close to events, too upset and too tired, so he never really considered the problem in an objective enough manner before acting as he did.
Lammerding and Stadler were both pragmatic people, and they would have realised full well the likely consequences that must follow the wiping out a village the size of Oradour. Yes it would have a dramatic effect on the Resistance, but this was France, not Russia. In Russia atrocities by both sides were easily hidden from the world's view, but not in France.
If the destruction was ordered, why were ineffectual burial parties sent to Oradour over the 11th and 12th June in order to try and cover up the mess? In his statement Kahn says that the order for the burials came from "the commander" and this was Diekmann. Perhaps he was trying to make some amends for his drastic action of the day before and possibly smarting from Stadler's rebuke. It was a futile exercise, given the size of the task and seems to indicate a tired and confused mind on the part of Diekmann.
If the attack was a deliberate order in pursuit of official Divisional policy, why was the event not publicised to the maximum so as to gain the greatest benefit? It was normal practice to give the maximum notice before, during and after reprisals, so as to maximise their effect. At Tulle, the day before, notices had been printed and posted up around the town for all to see, to both announce and explain the actions of the SS in hanging the men. However in the case of Oradour, both in the village itself and in the surrounding district there was no attempt to either publicise or explain the action.
The single event which most convincingly disproves the theory that the attack was carried out to order is the court hearing at which Diekmann had to justify his actions. This, as has been stated above, took place in Normandy before the Division went into battle. I have often heard of courts martial for soldiers disobeying orders, but I have never heard of one for a soldier doing as he was told. Had Diekmann been ordered to destroy Oradour, why did the Divisional Court have him explain his actions?
I am quite prepared to believe that an action of some sort, perhaps another Tulle type of hanging was discussed within the Division that Saturday morning at the meetings in Limoges. Probably this discussion centred around the intention to make an example following the next Resistance attack, by severely punishing the town from which it came. Diekmann then anticipated his superior's wishes and in so doing he displayed such an excess of zeal, that he overstepped the mark considerably. What I find hard to believe is that he was specifically ordered to destroy Oradour and then his memory subsequently betrayed by his seniors claiming that he had acted in excess of different, much less harsh orders.
4) There have been a plethora of 'explanations' contained as sections in other books dealing with the war in France, most attributing the cause to the kidnap of Kämpfe. What marks them out is the variety of supporting evidence that is offered to explain why the village was destroyed.
a) Some say that it was a reprisal for the attacks on German troops in the vicinity to Oradour-sur-Glane, others that it was for attacks near to Oradour-sur-Vayres. Until recently I did not think that the SS went anywhere near Oradour-sur-Vayres, but I have recently seen a march map which does show some troops as passing through on the 9th June. At this time I do not have any further details.
b) Dead and mutilated German soldiers had been found on the outskirts of village and / or a burned out ambulance filled with German corpses. Read Kahn's statement concerning this matter, he specifically says that he saw nothing of it.
c) A Resistance sniper shot dead an SS officer near to Oradour-sur-Glane.
My conclusion: All the above attacks are I think untrue. If the citizens of Oradour had any involvement with murdered German soldiers, or burned out ambulances they would have had guilty consciences when the SS arrived. They would have either rushed to arms, or tried a mass escape. Neither happened.
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The following is my own interpretation of the facts of the case and makes use of the Law of Parsimony, in that usually the simplest explanation of events is the one most likely to be correct. It takes the form of question and answer as follows:
Question 1: Why was Oradour-sur-Glane chosen for destruction?
Answer 1: According to Otto Weidinger the name of Oradour-sur-Glane had come up from three separate sources on 10th June, firstly, Diekmann's informants, secondly, Gerlach's report of his experiences of the day before and thirdly, intelligence from the Gestapo in Limoges. According to Weidinger these three independent sources confirmed the location in such a way as to remove any possibility of an error. However it is worthwhile looking at them all a little more closely.
Firstly: we have only Otto Weidinger's account of the informers statement to Diekmann, there is no first-hand record of their meeting, Otto Kahn does not mention the informers in his statement. As recounted above, "two French civilians had come to him and informed him that a high-ranking German officer was being held prisoner by the maquisards in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane" (from Comrades to the End). Supposing that this claim was correct, why had not Diekmann ordered Otto Kahn (who was with him in St. Junien) to take his company to Oradour and investigate? Diekmann himself could have continued to Limoges for his ordered meeting with Stadler. It does seem curious that nothing happened until after Diekmann had spoken to Stadler.
Secondly: Karl Gerlach made a statement of compelling detail which at first sight points directly to Oradour-sur-Glane, but on reading it closely there are some odd aspects to the story, see: statement by Gerlach. Some of the points of detail that seem strange are as follows:
Gerlach mentions being held in Oradour-sur-Glane, "we halted in the main street. We had to get out (of the lorry) and were surrounded by maquis (Resistance fighters) and a lot of curious onlookers. I noticed a lot of people in uniform, even women with yellow jackets and steel helmets. The atmosphere became more threatening from minute to minute and one of the uniformed men therefore had us brought back to the lorry. I saw ropes being brought out of a barn next to a bakery in the main street (there was no barn next to the bakery in Oradour-sur-Glane. On the left was the Hairdresser, M. Paslaud and on the right the Garage business of M. Bouchoule). My driver and I were made to get down from the lorry again and were bound with the ropes, with both arms behind our backs; the knots were additionally secured with wire. We stood like this for about three-quarters of an hour". All this remember, on the main street, surrounded by, "a lot of curious onlookers".
At the time of this incident Adolf Diekmann's men were either occupying St. Junien, just 7 miles further down the N141 from Oradour-sur-Glane, or actually in transit along the road. The next point concerns the presence of so many witnesses to his capture. None of the survivors of the massacre has ever mentioned seeing Gerlach or his driver, or even of hearing of the incident second-hand. Gerlach himself is both vague and precise in his report, he never mentions an actual time at all, yet on several occasions quotes exact signpost distances, but only when they relate to the location of Oradour-sur-Glane.
The supposed confusion between Oradour-sur-Glane and Oradour-sur-Vayres, which according to some, accounts for the attack on Oradour-sur-Glane warrants a close examination. However, remember that much of this similarity also applies to Peyrilhac (see below).
Oradour-sur-Vayres has some quite striking similarities to Oradour-sur-Glane. There are differences it is true, but I can easily understand how a captive and frightened Gerlach could confuse the two, particularly if he had only ever visited the one. If later on after his escape when he was in Limoges, he had been asked to describe where he had been taken, the description could have fitted both. Consider the following list of physical similarities between the two villages, see: the Oradours of France
- Both are situated on rising ground.
- Both are on the western side of Limoges, Oradour-sur-Glane about 12 miles to the north-west and Oradour-sur-Vayres about 20 miles to the south-west.
- Both have a church of similar size, shape and construction on the left of the main road at the entrance to the village.
- Both villages are of very similar size and construction.
- Both villages were on a tram line from Limoges in 1944, so both would have had similar tracks and overhead wires: Gerlach did not mention the tram line in his report.
- Both have road junctions after the church as you head towards the centre of village.
- In both villages the main road bends to the left after the church and then continues in a straight line up the rising ground.
- Both villages names are named Oradour-sur-xxxxx(x). i.e. both villages stand on a (small) river and are only one letter different in length, in both villages you cross the river before coming to the church as you head towards the centre.
- These similarities are noticeable today; in 1944 I think that many of them would have been even more striking. To see for yourself examine the pictures of Oradour-sur-Glane and Oradour-sur-Vayres. Remember that Gerlach only claimed to have visited one, not both, so he could not personally compare the two.
I have recently been informed of the memoir's of two FTP Resistance fighters (Louis Calay, known as Fernand, who operated under the name of Commandant Fredo and Roger Chastaing who operated as Captain René), both now deceased. These men were the leaders of the FTP group, under the overall leadership of Georges Guingouin, who kidnapped Gerlach and killed his driver. They say that they did indeed drive the two men around for some time, but that they never visited Oradour-sur-Glane. This explanation needs to be treated with some caution as it is obviously very much in the self-interest of the Resistance to deny that Oradour-sur-Glane had been in any way involved by them. Nevertheless I can easily believe that they are telling the truth, given that no one in Oradour-sur-Glane remembered seeing Gerlach and his driver. What is not explained by the two men is exactly where they did take the Germans and did they pass through Oradour-sur-Vayres?
Just to confuse matters further, it now seems quite likely that Gerlach was not held at any Oradour at all, but rather at the small village of Peyrilhac, about 8 kilometres north-east of Oradour. In their book, "The slaughter of our Village" Robert Hébras and André Desourteaux claim to have interviewed several people from Peyrilhac shortly after the massacre who stated that Gerlach was held in front of the Town Hall and that all the details in his statement (being tied with rope and further with wire, etc) actually happened as described. Furthermore it must be admitted that Gerlach's description of the journey in the lorry that he did with the resistance, fits the location of Peyrilhac much better than either of the Oradours. A further factor is that Peyrilhac lies on rising ground, with a church on the left of the main road, which bends to the left after passing the church; just like in both Oradour-sur-Glane and Oradour-sur-Vayres. Peyrilhac was not on the tram line in 1944 and remember that Gerlach did not make any mention of the tram in his statement.
André Desourteaux also adds a plausible explanation for Gerlach's claim to have seen a village sign quoting "Oradour-sur-Glane" as the location where he was held. In 1944, the road signs in use, could quite easily be confused with place names and so if Gerlach saw a road sign for "Oradour-sur-Glane", it is possible that he could have mistaken it for the place name itself.
Thus confusion caused by a road sign could have been responsible for all the deaths at Oradour.
Given the above statement made by André Desourteaux, I am now inclined to the view that Gerlach was indeed held at Peyrilhac and the similarity between Oradour-sur-Vayres and Oradour-sur-Glane is just that; a coincidence of similarity.
Thirdly: It is entirely possible that the unnamed Resistance man being interrogated in Limoges could have mentioned Oradour-sur-Glane in the context of its being a part of the escape network (read the account of his escape by Len Cotton). This knowledge, that Oradour did indeed have some Resistance activity is not welcome news in the France of today. In 1953 it was totally against the image being portrayed of a wholly innocent village wiped out by a brutal regime. It was definitely against the self-interest of the Resistance, especially that of the FTP, to show that they had any measure of involvement or responsibility whatsoever for provoking the SS into carrying out the massacre.
Looking back from the present day, of the three sources quoted by Weidinger, the first and second are quite implausible, there is far too much surviving eyewitness evidence against them for them to have ever been true. Note that I am not saying that Weidinger was lying, not at all, just that the intelligence he was relying on was itself unreliable. The third source, that from the Gestapo in Limoges could easily have been correct. However, at the time, the sum total of the evidence before the SS would have looked sufficiently compelling to warrant an investigation of Oradour-sur-Glane. An investigation, not a massacre.
So the answer to the question as to why Oradour-sur-Glane was chosen for destruction seems to be that it was a case of confused identity; or was it?
Question 2: Was it then a case of confused identity on the part of Diekmann?
Answer 2: No. There are two obvious reasons why Oradour-sur-Glane could have been chosen for destruction; one was that it was believed by Diekmann to be a Resistance stronghold such as Oradour-sur-Vayres. The other for exactly the opposite reason, namely, it was known to be a small defenceless village, easily contained and thus a good subject for a reprisal action at little or no risk to the SS.
Had Diekmann believed that the village was as full of Resistance fighters as described by Gerlach, then he would have taken many more men and approached from several directions simultaneously, so as to prevent escape. He was a Battalion commander with about 750 to troops at his disposal, yet on this expedition he took only a part of Khan's 3rd Company as well as a few other men to Oradour, around 150 in total. If he had thought that Oradour represented a serious military threat, then he had all the necessary resources under his direct command to adequately deal with it. That Diekmann did not use much of his readily available firepower says that he did not do so simply because he knew it was not necessary. Which is another way of saying that he knew beforehand that Oradour-sur-Glane was not a Resistance stronghold and that Kämpfe was not being held captive there.
None of the surviving members of the SS who were put on trial for their lives in 1953 ever claimed in mitigation that they believed that they were entering a hornet's nest, or stated that they were actually fired upon. The only thing that they claimed to have been ordered to do was destroy the village. They did not go either to search for, or to rescue Kämpfe, or to fight the Resistance; they went to destroy. It is true that there were a few comments made by some of the defendants, such as Boos to the effect that they claimed to have been told to expect fighting in the village, but none of them ever mentioned searching for, or going to rescue Kämpfe. In the case of Boos, the manner of his giving this statement was in the past tense i.e. he was claiming that he had been told about Kämpfe after the event, not before they went to Oradour. As these comments about the supposed risk of fighting were not universal amongst the defendants, I feel that they were just an attempt to engage sympathy from the court. If the judges could be persuaded to believe that the defendants had thought themselves at risk, then just maybe their actions might seem to be a little more excusable.
If rescue of Kämpfe had ever been the intention, the actions of the troops in Oradour made this a very odd process indeed. Had they gone to rescue him alive, then a search of the village and interrogation of at least some of the inhabitants would have been a good starting point, not killing everyone and then setting fire to the buildings. If they believed Kämpfe to be already dead and concealed within the village and thus went to recover his body for military burial, then the same process would surely have been used as if they thought him alive. In addition they would have wished to identify his killers and make a public example of them by way of a deterrent to any future Resistance activity.
As everyone at the trial at Bordeaux in 1953 and later Barth's in 1983 said, there was no evidence of either arms or ammunition (or Kämpfe) in the village. Remember that the claim was that Diekmann had been ordered to Oradour to rescue Kämpfe, or take hostages if he were not found, it does seem strange to me that this fact was not conveyed to his men. Suppose Kämpfe was indeed being held in the village as a prisoner and not in his uniform? Given that it was probable that not all of Diekmann's men would have been able to recognise him face to face, it would have been essential that they were adequately briefed. After all there would have been absolutely no point in killing their own man in a case of mistaken identity. Or even worse, burning him alive in the village when it was set on fire if he were imprisoned in one of the buildings and unable to escape or make his presence known.
The answer to the above Question 2 is that Diekmann personally did not confuse Oradour-sur-Glane with Oradour-sur-Vayres (or Peyrilhac or anywhere else), which is not of course to say that others did not do so.
Question 3: So why did Diekmann attack Oradour-sur-Glane?
Answer 3: We need to go back a short time to the morning of 10th June, when according to Otto Weidinger and as outlined in Answer 1 above, Diekmann called to see Sylvester Stadler. Having found out from Stadler the supposed identity of the, "high-ranking German officer (who) was being held prisoner by the maquisards in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane" he then asked permission to mount a rescue mission.
Consider the unambiguous fact, agreed by all parties, both French and German, that on the 10th June 1944, Adolf Diekmann was billeted with most of his Battalion in and around St. Junien. This town is about 19 miles west of Limoges on the main N141 (see map). One has to ask what Adolf Diekmann, an SS-Sturmbannführer was doing spending vital time driving past the place where the "high-ranking German officer" was supposedly being held and on to Limoges, to ask his superior's permission to rescue him? Then he is said to have driven back to St. Junien, past Oradour-sur-Glane yet again, in order to waste even more time holding a meeting, before finally taking an indirect (and lengthy) route to the village in order to rescue this officer, whom we are told was now believed to be Kämpfe.
Speed was of the essence, Kämpfe, or whoever the "high-ranking German officer" was, might be moved or harmed at any moment; this was no time for procrastination.
Diekmann had in fact just been promoted (on 20th April) to Sturmbannführer and Battalion commander of the Der Führer Regiment of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division Das Reich, in other words he was not an indecisive, vacillating coward. Adolf Diekmann was a professional soldier who had been recommended by Stadler, his commanding officer for further advancement. He would not be expected to ask like a little schoolboy, 'please sir, can I go and rescue this, "high-ranking German officer"'? On the contrary he would be expected to make his own operational decisions within the framework of any standing orders, particularly in view of the communication difficulties between St. Junien and Limoges. If he had acted in such a manner as Weidinger describes, showing such a profound lack of self-confidence, he would not have retained his command for very long. In fact he would never have been promoted to Sturmbannführer in the first place.
It is my contention that the Milice came to see Diekmann in St. Junien on Saturday morning with the news of the "high-ranking German officer" and that Oradour was in some way involved. Quite possibly the Milice got the name wrong from their own sources and so condemned Oradour-sur-Glane instead of Oradour-sur-Vayres. I do not know for certain who made the error, but Diekmann was unambiguously directed towards Oradour-sur-Glane. Implicit in this contention is my belief that Gerlach had passed through Peyrilhac and that the, "high-ranking German officer (that) was being held prisoner by the maquisards ....... (who) was to be publicly executed and burned the same day" (Otto Weidinger in Comrades to the End), was none other than Gerlach's driver, not Kämpfe and the grisly demonstration referred to, was to take place in Peyrilhac and not either Oradour-sur-Vayres or Oradour-sur-Glane.
Gerlach's driver was apparently shot as Gerlach made his escape (see Gerlach's statement), but we do not know for certain with what result. Was he killed, or wounded, or even not injured at all at this time? Gerlach said in his statement that he saw his "driver slump to the ground", which could imply anything from death to simple fright. The confusion of the driver with the "high-ranking German officer" is easy to understand given the circumstances. After all on that day two German officers had indeed been kidnapped and given the less than perfect communications enjoyed by the Resistance, some element of uncertainty was only to be expected. I also think that it is likely that the Resistance had a Milice informer within its ranks and this is how the news reached Diekmann in the first place.
It is necessary to understand that although Peyrilhac and Oradour-sur-Glane were confused as to location by Diekmann's informants, they were not confused as to armed resistance threat. To attack Peyrilhac with its large number of uniformed freedom fighters, as described by Gerlach, would have been a major operation, but Diekmann's Milice knew perfectly well that the much larger Oradour-sur-Glane was harmless. If Diekmann had operated on Gerlach's information alone before he went to Oradour-sur-Glane, then he would have taken many more men than he did in order to counter the large armed force supposedly located there. He would also have approached the village from several directions simultaneously in order to prevent escape.
I am sure that the Milice confused Kämpfe with Gerlach and Peyrilhac with Oradour-sur-Glane. Gerlach's was a high profile and very visible kidnapping witnessed by many people, whereas Kämpfe's movements and fate are to this day shrouded in mystery. News of both Kämpfe and Gerlach's abductions must have travelled far and wide within both the Resistance and the Milice. Given that two SS-officers were kidnapped on the same day from the same Regiment, then in the claustrophobic secrecy of whispers that prevailed within the Resistance / Milice networks at that time, confusion was inevitable.
It was this confusion of identities in the "fog of war" that condemned Oradour-sur-Glane to destruction. I have no written proof of this, but as mentioned before, the simplest explanation to answer all the outstanding points is the one most likely to be correct.
After the destruction of Oradour, Diekmann went to see Stadler in Limoges to tell him what had happened. It is important to realise that everything else that Weidinger recounts, took place just as described. The attempt to negotiate Kämpfe's release, Stadler's disapproval of Diekmann's report, Gerlach's account of his experiences, his meeting with Diekmann and the Gestapo report, all happened. Later on, after the war, these details would be used by Weidinger to construct, if not an excuse of guilt for Diekmann, at least some justification for his actions and therefore help to preserve the honour of the Regiment.
Question 4: Why were the people killed and the village destroyed?
Answer 4: It was a reprisal for the reported killing of Kämpfe. It does seem barbaric in the extreme, but, this is I think, the simple answer. Diekmann went to Oradour to destroy. At no time did he or his troops mention to anyone the name of Kämpfe, indeed Diekmann never even mentioned the name to his own men (some, like Boos mentioned hearing the name after the event). There was no search for anything in the village, men, arms, ammunition, prohibited merchandise or any other substances. All that happened after the SS rode into the village on a storm of wheels that afternoon, was death and destruction.
The people from the outlying farms to the south of Oradour were not immediately killed, they were instead transported to the village and died with the rest of the population. The simple reason for this was of course to avoid raising the alarm; gunfire would have alerted everyone in the immediate vicinity. The women and children were killed to make the point still further, as also were the utterly innocent touring cyclists who just happened to be there at the time (see Chapter 2 ... 10th June 1944). If you were in Oradour that afternoon, you were to die, no exceptions, no excuses; your presence was ample justification for your death. This was a reprisal, not a warning, not a tap on the wrist, it was intended to be a brutal lesson in the folly of opposition to the Reich.
Diekmann was on the 10th June, a thoroughly exasperated man, he had experienced a wretched march from Montauban to St. Junien and had heard reports from all quarters about the depredations of the Resistance, in fact had experienced them himself. The news of the drastic action taken by his colleagues at Tulle (in accordance with the Sperrle orders and Brigadeführer Lammerding's own orders for dealing with terrorists) would be fresh in his mind. When the Milice came to him on the morning of the 10th at St. Junien with their news concerning the abduction of the "high-ranking German officer" which turned out to be his friend and comrade Helmut Kämpfe, that was simply the last straw. On his return to St. Junien after meeting Stadler, I believe that he was given the further news that Kämpfe was now dead. Bearing in mind that he was scarcely going to drive back to Limoges to report this intelligence before going to Oradour itself; it becomes easy to see why he did not take any hostages if Kämpfe was not found.
When Diekmann finally did report to Stadler in Limoges that afternoon, Stadler was quoted as being "extremely shocked" at what had happened, recognising that Diekmann had over-reacted and that unlike in Russia, the affair could not remain hidden. Nevertheless some (ineffectual) steps were taken to try and reduce the impact of the damage as evidenced by the burial parties sent to Oradour on 11th and 12th June.
Question 5: When and where was Kämpfe killed?
Answer 5: Probably in the small hours or early morning of 10th June, at or near to Breuilaufa (see map). After his abduction Kämpfe was taken first to Canou's local base at Cheissoux, before being moved that night via Limoges (where his papers were discovered in the street), on to Breuilaufa, where his first grave was found in 1945. The discovery of Kämpfe's papers is mentioned by Otto Weidinger as evidence that he was alive at least during the night of 9th / 10th June. It should not be assumed that the Resistance was taking a great risk in driving through Limoges at a time when motorised transport was relatively scarce due to petrol shortages. There are any number of simple explanations for their being mobile that night, for example driving a food distribution truck, or a postal wagon, or an ambulance, or even a Milice vehicle. It must be understood, that just as the Milice penetrated the Resistance, so the Resistance had agents within the Milice. The Resistance also had access to Milice equipment, either stolen or operated by their double agents. A Milice truck would have been a good cover for moving Kämpfe through German held Limoges.
It is possible that Kämpfe passed through Oradour-sur-Glane on the way to Breuilaufa and this is possibly how the Milice got their misleading information implicating the village. Exactly how Kämpfe died is unknown, whether he was simply shot, or died attempting to escape.
Georges Guingouin in his book, Quatre ane de lutte sur le sol Limousin (Four years of struggle on the Limousin soil) says that he did have Kämpfe killed as a reprisal for the destruction of Oradour. The first part of his statement can easily be believed, the second could also be true. However whether Kämpfe was killed before, or after Oradour was destroyed is almost irrelevant, as Diekmann had only to believe him dead, to launch the attack on the village. What is significant is that Guingouin does not specifically say, where, or how, or exactly when Kämpfe died.
What seems certain is that the Resistance knew full well that it was as a result of their reported killing of Kämpfe that Oradour was destroyed and yet they have kept up a wall of self-protective silence ever since. They never even sent any explanation to the trial of the SS-men in 1953 at Bordeaux. Canou (who was the only Resistance man to give evidence) simply said that he handed Kämpfe over to his "chief". No real attempt was made to summon this, "chief" to Bordeaux to give evidence. It was obvious even in 1953, that the leaders of the local Resistance, especially Georges Guingouin, must either have ordered Kämpfe killed, or known of his fate. At the very least they must have been able to say how, where and when he died, for Guingouin was indeed Canou's chief as can be read on the modern monument to the kidnap of Kämpfe on the N141.
This may sound harsh, but to my mind, the silence of the Resistance leaders proves their bad consciences. The heroes of the armed struggle do not want to be held in any way responsible for the destruction of Oradour, yet I am afraid that is indeed the case. It was their injudicious action concerning the fate of Kämpfe that sent Diekmann on his rampage.
I make the point again, and that is, if Diekmann had thought Kämpfe still alive, he would not have acted as he did.
Nothing can excuse Diekmann for killing so many and burning Oradour. However the Waffen-SS never went around wantonly destroying villages and murdering their inhabitants; when they took drastic action, it was always in retaliation for some perceived hostile action by the locals. Had the Resistance made contact with the Germans straight away and offered to exchange Kämpfe for some of their own men, then I do not think that Oradour would be the subject of this website today. This is I think fundamentally true, even if you believe any of the stories about arms and ammunition being stored in the village.
Question 6: Why have Otto Weidinger and others stated that Diekmann received orders to search Oradour-sur-Glane for Kämpfe and take hostages if he were not found?
Answer 6: This can be answered very simply by saying that it was quite true. In addition they were trying to protect the reputations of the Der Führer Regiment, Das Reich Division and the Waffen-SS in general, as well as their own personal reputations. This only became an issue after the war when Oradour became such a potent symbol of the evils of Nazism.
One has only to read books such as Comrades to the End, or Loyalty is my Honour, see: bibliography to realise the tremendous sense of esprit de corps and comradeship that the officers and men of the Waffen-SS felt both to their units and to each other. The pages of Comrades to the End glow with pride at the Der Führer Regiment's military achievements, their feeling of being special and their camaraderie towards each other, especially in adversity. The Waffen-SS were always shown to their best advantage when the going was tough, for it was then that their willingness to become mutually dependent upon and supportive of each other was their strength. As has been mentioned before, the SS never turned its collective back upon its own, indeed the title of Weidinger's book, Comrades to the End, perfectly illustrates this trait. So when Diekmann went off the rails, the best possible interpretation was to be put upon the story.
If Diekmann were to be shown as acting entirely upon his own initiative, then this could put an image of an out-of-control and undisciplined behaviour upon the Regiment. Such an impression would have been anathema to its senior commanders, who wished at all costs to preserve their reputation for disciplined excellence. However if he was shown to be following orders, then his actions could be more easily explained and justified, especially if evidence to support his subsequent behaviour could be produced. Undoubtedly, he had in Lammerding's later words, "grossly exceeded his orders", (as stated in his notarised disposition to the trial judges at Bordeaux in 1953) but there was some, albeit small justification for what he did. This justification has taken several forms and is discussed above in Other Authors Explanations.
Neither Stadler, or later Weidinger is ever recorded as having a one-to-one conversation with Diekmann in order to ascertain his personal side of the story. Why did Weidinger not have an informal friendly talk about the matter with Diekmann himself, especially when he became the Regiment's commander on 14th June? I think that he probably did have such a talk, such concern for so obviously an overwrought comrade would have been entirely normal and in keeping with the traditions of the SS, but no details are available.
Question 7: Why was not Diekmann relieved of his command following the massacre?
Answer 7: Because at the time it was not judged a serious enough matter to justify suspending an experienced officer from duty whose only fault had been to display such an excess of zeal in carrying out his orders. This does rather call into question Stadler's supposed rebuke of Diekmann, after all, when an officer does something seriously wrong to displease his superior, he would normally expect to be suspended from duty. After the war with the world's condemnation ringing in their ears the officers of the Division sought to provide what defence they could, both for Diekmann and themselves. In Diekmann's eyes he was only following the guidelines laid down by his superiors. In his superiors eyes he had probably overdone things somewhat, but, and this is crucial, he had done nothing against those guidelines. He was in large measure simply following precedent.
As has been mentioned several times before, the SS looked after their own and even in death Diekmann could rely upon his brother officers not to traduce his reputation. The simplest way out for the SS to reduce the impact of Oradour on their reputations would have been to claim that Diekmann was either acting criminally or that he was insane, but they did neither, they stood by his memory.
There is another rather more pragmatic explanation as to why he was allowed to retain his command and that was because of the very definite effect his action had upon the local Resistance. From all accounts, both German as well as French, the Resistance was in a state of shock following the events at Tulle and especially Oradour. So much so in fact that they were unable to mount any effective action against the occupiers in the south of the country during the weeks following. This dramatic fall-off in Resistance activity was a blessed relief to the men of the Division on the march north, all the irritation of the nasty stinging flies had ceased. Far from causing the Division a problem, Diekmann's work had provided a much-needed respite. If he was to be relieved of command and sent for court martial at this time, it is probable that the Resistance would have got to hear of it and thus realise that Oradour was the work of one lone man and not Divisional policy. Naturally having given all shades of the Resistance movement such a horrible fright, the SS were not going to do anything to disabuse them.
Question 8: Did Diekmann seek death in Normandy, did he in effect commit suicide?
Answer 8: There is no firm evidence to answer this one, but there are a few clues. One comment in Stadler's last assessment of Diekmann may be quite revealing, see: assessment.
He wrote, "somewhat receptive during rebukes, because he always gives himself the biggest one". Weidinger records that Stadler was "extremely shocked" by what Diekmann told him on the afternoon of the 10th and said, "Diekmann this may end up costing you dearly! I am going to ask the Division Court at once for a court martial investigation against you. I cannot allow the Regiment to be charged with something like this!". Weidinger records that, "Diekmann did not defend himself".
The implication of the above is that Adolf Diekmann could well have experienced feelings of remorse for his actions and the evident trouble he might have caused his uniform. I am not claiming that he was in any way upset over killing the inhabitants of Oradour. Just that he may have regretted causing his Regiment any unpleasantness and possibly this may have subsequently weighed upon his mind to some degree or other.
In one of those confusions of dates with which history is riddled, Weidinger records Diekmann as being killed on 30th June, whereas his SS-death certificate says it was the 29th, as does his headstone, see: grave. Taking the 29th as being correct, 19 days elapsed after the attack on Oradour before Diekmann met his own death.
In Comrades to the End, Weidinger says of the battle around Noyers in Normandy, "The death of the commander (of I Battalion of Der Führer Regiment), who had been the soul of the resistance, resulted in a crisis". At his falling, Diekmann was paid a tribute, he was, "the soul of the resistance" to the attacks by the American forces. He was killed by shrapnel in the head from an artillery shell and according to some reports was not wearing his steel helmet at the time.
Another possibility: There is another quite different explanation which gives a complete answer to all the problems of why? and that is to say that Diekmann was homosexual, or bi-sexual and that he was infatuated with Kämpfe. In this scenario Kämpfe could either have been homosexual himself, or just the object of Diekmann's unrequited love, it would make no difference to the outcome whichever was the case.
Homosexuality was forbidden within the SS and it was punished very severely, but that could not stop human nature. If Diekmann was infatuated with Kämpfe, then all his actions become very easy to understand. In this explanation the attack on the implicated Oradour becomes one of personal rage and anguish; the murderous destruction easy to understand. The subsequent attempts by Weidinger to provide some degree of justification for the attack become a smoke-screen to hide the shame of having a 'queer' as an officer within the ranks of Der Führer; that glorious regiment which he had the honour to command. Diekmann's death becomes one of suicide, as pining for his lost love and under investigation for his actions on the 10th, he chooses a soldiers death to end the despair.
Diekmann has been described as being, "demented with fury" whilst he was at Oradour, which would be a strange reaction if he were simply following orders to destroy the village. Kämpfe was described as being, "a close personal friend" of Diekmann (they had only known each other for a few months).
Kämpfe's driving ahead of his men on the return from Guéret could be interpreted as an attempt to get back to meet with Diekmann and this could explain his seemingly reckless action on that occasion.
There is no hard evidence at all for this hypothesis, but it does provide a full explanation for everything that happened on the German side, both at the time and subsequently. For years I have wondered about its possibility. As far as I am aware this suggestion has not formed a part of any other published work and I am interested as to how plausible others find it as an explanation for what happened.
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a) When, where and why was Kämpfe killed? These questions have never been satisfactorily answered. The best that I have heard of was a quoted statement by Georges Guingouin to the effect that he had Kämpfe killed after the massacre as a reprisal. This statement need to be treated with caution. Firstly it sounds spiteful, secondly, if the SS wiped out Oradour because they thought Kämpfe was dead, what would they do if they then found out he had been killed deliberately in reprisal? This reported action sounds very foolish; it would have been far better to produce Kämpfe alive and thus have taken the moral high-ground.
b) The attack on Marsoulas, the same day, as a result of the SS being fired upon by the Resistance, led to the surviving Resistance man being excluded from the remembrance ceremony each year afterwards. The reason was simple; the villagers realised that it was the injudicious action of the Resistance in firing on the SS that precipitated the following attack and brought disaster onto them. It must be obvious that with this example in mind, the Resistance wish to distance themselves from any responsibility for the disaster at Oradour-sur-Glane.
c) The continued and understandable interest in the case of Oradour-sur-Glane has led to one unfortunate consequence and that is to drive the truth underground. Following on from the trial at Bordeaux in 1953 all the persons with personal knowledge of the reason why the attack was carried out, have kept a low profile. No one is willing to come forward, the truth is out there, but in the shadow of war-crimes trials, the people that know are not speaking.
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The simple explanation to the supposed mystery of why Oradour-sur-Glane was destroyed is that Adolf Diekmann, as a result of information from the French Milice, believed Helmut Kämpfe dead at the hands of the French Resistance. He then, on his own initiative and without any specific orders to do so, took punitive reprisal action against Oradour. The village itself was identified by the French Milice because it was believed to have some (tenuous) connection with Kämpfe and the Resistance and was an easy target for such an action.
Diekmann had no idea where Kämpfe's body was located and hence never initiated a search for it.
Diekmann was never punished for Oradour because in 1944 his superiors did not regard it as a particularly serious matter. He was a good officer and a good comrade, perhaps he had overreacted and shown an excess of zeal in teaching the Resistance a much-needed lesson, but his motives were for the best. Repelling the Normandy invasion was what mattered in June 1944. After the war reputations became important for posterity and so attempts were made to provide some justification for the attack and if this were not possible, at least to protect the reputations of the SS-units and their officers. Weidinger repeatedly attempts to provide explanation and justification (in books such as Das Reich, Comrades to the End, Tulle and Oradour etc) for Diekmann. Thus he also seeks to excuse Das Reich Division, the Der Führer Regiment, their senior officers and his own position as Diekmann's commander. It must be remembered that the SS, as a matter of course never abandoned their own kind and so Diekmann's superiors never publicly condemned him after his death; instead they stood by his memory.
The explanation above is my own interpretation of the facts and I am aware that it may not be absolutely correct in all parts. It is however my best interpretation of what is known at this time. As the years roll by, previously hidden data often comes to light, either accidentally, or due to advances in science. It may well turn out over the next decade or so that I am wrong, but I should be very surprised indeed to find that I am wholly wrong.
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Do not think that another Oradour cannot happen, it can and it can happen at any time. To help a dictator is to help evil, for no matter how well they begin, they always go to the bad (for a good description of this process read, "Hitler 1889-1936 Hubris" and "Hitler 1936-1945 Nemesis" by Ian Kershaw). To forget this is a betrayal of the innocent dead, both of the past and potentially those of the future also.
It is sometimes said that massacres also happen under democracies, for example the one carried out by American troops at My Lai in Vietnam in 1968 and that totalitarian states do not have a monopoly on terror. This is of course quite true, but there is one crucial difference between a dictatorship and a democracy and that is under the dictatorship it is a matter of state policy to do the killing, whilst under the democracy it is a ghastly aberration, which inevitably comes to light, with retribution of some sort or another, inevitably to follow.
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© Michael Williams: revised 31 October 2015.