In a Ruined State

Chapter 8

Conclusions & salient points

    This short chapter draws together what I believe are the main conclusions and salient points that can be drawn from the story of Oradour-sur-Glane; the views expressed are mine alone.

    The points below are not laid out in any particular order and I have made no attempt to rank them into degrees of importance.

  • Conclusions:

  • Should a large, brave, fierce, short tempered, fire breathing, armoured dragon come to live in your neighbourhood, you would be remarkably ill advised to go and poke it in the eye with a pointed stick. You might try and distract its attention, or confuse it as to what it should do next. Possibly you might take action so as to make the surroundings less attractive than before in which to live, but any direct attack upon the body personal, would only be liable to provoke the most drastic reaction. Failure to recognise this amounts to a reckless disregard for the safety and well being of both yourself and others living in the vicinity.

  • A nation defeated in war has to accept the rule of the victor, if the victor is well disposed and democratic, then things may turn out quite well for the vanquished in the long term, for example Germany and Japan after 1945. If the victor is not well disposed, then the defeated will just have to accept what they are given anyway, no matter how bad, for example Poland in the years1939-45.

  • When fighting an absolute dictatorship it will always be easier for the long-term conscience of the vanquished if they fight until defeated, rather than negotiate a shabby peace deal for some short-term relief no matter how well intentioned. France being the archetypal example during the W.W.II years.
  • The restoration of the original government after the eventual defeat of a conquering dictatorship will always be followed by a period of vindictive score settling and retribution. For example France and the previously German occupied areas of Russia in the period 1945-53.
  • Highly trained and politically indoctrinated troops will follow the lead set by their political masters on the basis that they are right and that the message is good and correct in all respects. For example, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot, the Red Guards under Mao Tse Tung, the NKVD under Stalin and the SS under Hitler. All these groups committed ghastly atrocities against their own people in the firm belief that they were doing the right thing. If people are deceived into carrying out some action no matter how horrible, whom is the guiltier, the deceiver, or the people who were being duped? Or are they both equally culpable? There are no answers to that question here, you must decide for yourself. My personal view is that dictatorships of either the left or the right, always turn bad in the end.
  • The question of guilt, in cases of atrocity is a difficult one to answer. It is easy from a safe distance to say that the soldiers should not have done what they did at Oradour, much harder if one was a private soldier actually faced with the circumstances at the time. Throughout history soldiers have obeyed the orders of their officers rather than questioning them, in fact they have been required to do so by all armies at all times, under all political systems.

If I say to you, 'put your hand in the fire' and you do so, who is to blame for the resulting injury? Most people would say that you have ultimate responsibility for your own safety and so you were a fool to have obeyed the order. But if it were a battle situation and I as your commander ordered you to attack a strongly held position, no matter how dangerous and you refused, then under military law the consequences for yourself would be severe. Otto Kahn said as much in his statement "a command-refusal appeared pointless to me at the moment and also risky, especially since we were in action".

The ordinary soldiers at Oradour had no choice when they were under direct supervision, they were in the SS and they had to obey or die themselves. The officers were carrying out Diekmann's orders and were basically in the same position as their men; Diekmann alone had the ultimate say as to what happened that day. He could have acted with less severity, for he was not under binding orders to destroy the village, but his political indoctrination coupled with the almost religious belief that Nazism inspired in its cause, made it a disaster waiting to happen.

  • Any political system that is non-democratic places an enormous burden of responsibility onto the leaders. If they say that they know best and that the rest should simply follow their lead, then theirs is the power and the glory, as is also the potential blame and odium. Man is an obedient animal; history shows us that. A leader can command his followers to do his will and normally they will do so. Under a democracy if the people do not like the way things turn out, they can change the leaders on a routine basis, under a dictatorship things can only get worse. A question, rather than a conclusion that I shall leave for you the reader to answer yourself is: Who is ultimately responsible, the people who elect a dictator to power, the dictator, or his minions who in believing the message to be right carry out his wishes?
  • In Northern Ireland on 30th January 1972, members of the Parachute Regiment of the British Army shot dead 13 civilians during a riot in an incident known to this day as, "Bloody Sunday". Britain has never had an extreme right-wing dictatorship and the Parachute Regiment have never been accused of being the reincarnation of the political soldiers of the Waffen-SS; so how did this tragedy come to pass? Without making any personal judgements on the case, which was the subject of a Public Enquiry, starting in 2001 and ending in 2010 and which established that the whole affair was a ghastly mistake. It can be said that to use very highly trained, aggressive combat soldiers in a civilian peace-keeping role, was a serious error of judgement on the part of the army high command. In the same way that Sperrle erred in using Das Reich in an anti-terrorist role in France, the British army erred in using the Parachute Regiment in Northern Ireland. There are horses for courses as the old saying has it and policemen make better law enforcement officers than do soldiers. The mistakes of 1972 were to a degree the same as those of 1944.
  • The reason that Oradour has become such a potent symbol in present day France has been wondered at by many writers. There have unfortunately been too many other massacres during the war in France and various people have speculated as to why this particular event has touched the national conscience so deeply. My opinion is that the fact that Frenchmen of the Milice betrayed Oradour to the SS, who then destroyed the village using many Frenchmen from Alsace in their ranks to kill their own countrymen has made this event uniquely horrible to the French psychology. In effect, Frenchmen using Germans to order Frenchmen to kill Frenchmen.
  • Those whose understanding of events come through the eyes of a written work rather than their own vision, should always be aware of the potential bias in the hand of the writer and be aware of the possibility of deceit for hidden motives.
  • There is a cryptic message preserved along with the ruins at Oradour and that message is particularly aimed at the French nation, but it is of universal application:

There is no cause so right that all men will follow unquestioningly and there is no cause so bad that no man will follow at all. When a dictatorship conquers a nation, some people will co-operate to an extreme degree with their vanquishers; others will oppose them regardless of the cost to anyone, friend, foe, or those just wanting to get on with their lives. In their own turn the conquerors will not respect any of the conquered at all.

Therefore the message in the ruins of Oradour to the French is, 'be strong, and be self-reliant'. To this end France did not have its troops under full NATO command between 1966 and 2009 and in addition, still has its own independent nuclear weapons capability (it was President Nicolas Sarkozy in March 2009 who announced that France was to return to Nato's military command, reversing the four decades of self-imposed exile, imposed by Charles de Gaulle in 1966). The French nation feels that it is better to avoid another test of national unity following a conquest, than to have to preserve another village in a ruined state at some time in the future.

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This is a very brief summary of what I think are the salient points concerning the events at Oradour:

  • The highly disciplined and politically motivated troops of the SS were provoked by the highly politically motivated and undisciplined members of the FTP (French communist resistance) into acts of reprisal.

  • As a direct result of their reckless attacks upon a far from beaten enemy, the resistance caused a build-up of anger and frustration within the ranks of Das Reich. This anger led to the two major incidents at Tulle and Oradour-sur-Glane.

  • Since the end of the war, members of the resistance have constantly played upon their glorious role in defying the enemy throughout the occupation and have consistently ignored any responsibility for their actions, no matter how reckless and inadvisable.

  • A crucial question for the resistance to answer, is to fully explain what happened to Kämpfe after his kidnap and that they have not done so points to a bad conscience. The almost hysterical demands for the death penalty, from the communists (ex-FTP members) in the Limousin during the 1953 trial at Bordeaux can be seen as an attempt to distance themselves from any responsibility. In fact to provide a smoke-screen for their own actions. This attitude persists to this day.

  • As for the SS, they would enjoy a better post-war reputation if they had, 'come clean' and admitted their full responsibility. Weidinger, up to his death in 1990, continued to try and justify events. This was either denial, pure and simple, or he genuinely, right up to his death continued to believe in the Nazi nonsense. I mention Weidinger by name, but he was (and still is) not alone.

  • It must be very hard for men to admit either publicly, or even to themselves, that they have been a part of a totally evil, pitiless regime. But nevertheless, surviving SS-men must realise that they have committed crimes against their fellow men. That they, their friends and colleagues have murdered people, all in the name of a blind and stupid cause.

  • The French nation itself must regret bitterly the events of 1939 - 40, when they went to war in such an unprepared condition. Really this is the main link in the chain that led to Oradour. No war : no Oradour.


When the extreme Right meets the extreme Left, those in the middle are going to get hurt.

    Wars are easy to start for any reason, difficult to end honourably without a huge amount of pain.

    Nothing can excuse the destruction of Oradour, but it is easy to see how it happened.


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© Michael Williams: 17th February 2001 ... revised Wednesday, 17 August 2016