June 1944, Oradour-sur-Glane
(and the days that followed)
Saturday 10th June 1944
Sunday 11th June 1944
12th June to Thursday 29th June 1944
this road, on a summer day in 1944 . . . The soldiers
came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When
they had gone, the community which had lived for a thousand
years . . . was dead.
This is Oradour-sur-Glane, in
France. The day the soldiers came, the people were gathered
together. The men were taken to garages and barns, the women and
children were led down this road . . . and they were driven . . .
into this church. Here, they heard the firing as their men were
shot. Then . . . they were killed too. A few weeks later, many of
those who had done the killing were themselves dead, in battle.
They never rebuilt Oradour. Its ruins are a memorial. Its
martyrdom stands for thousands upon thousands of other
martyrdoms in Poland, in Russia, in Burma, in China, in a World
at War ..."
The above quote
comes from both the opening and closing episodes of,
The World at War and is included here as a reminder,
that no matter how ghastly the events at Oradour were, they
represented only a tiny part of the tragedy of the Second Word
Some of the events described below happened in
parallel, some in sequence. In some places a great deal happened simultaneously. It is
impossible to tell this story in a simple linear, sequential fashion, because of the scale
of what happened. Imagine trying to give the history of a great battle, say that of
Stalingrad, there are just too many intertwined individual stories for them all to be told
at the same time. It is necessary to recount each individual section and to keep returning
to some common point in order to continue the story.
In order to try and make the sequence clearer,
the day has been broken up into time segments, as shown below. It must be appreciated that
no one that day, either French or German, was keeping an accurate, chronological step by
step record. Some of the surviving eyewitnesses differ by, a quarter, or half an hour, or
even longer as to just when particular events took place. The timing and sequence of
events as shown below is my attempt at fitting everything that took place into a single
united framework. Some of the timings and sequences have been arrived at by estimation and
interpolation of other more certain events.
Oradour has been variously described as
either a town or a village, even by local people. Exactly what the criteria are for
determining whether a location qualifies as being a village, town or city are not always
very clear and do vary a bit through time and country. In the specific instance of
Oradour-sur-Glane, in 1944, it had a Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) a Mayor,
a church and a market, and for
the sake of consistency, throughout this website it is referred to as being a
The name is often spelled as, Oradour sur Glane (without the hyphens),
although I believe it is correct to use them.
Where there is a doubt over the spelling of
French names, the version used in the official account of the massacre, Oradour-sur-Glane
a vision of horror, has been used: see the
Before any troops from the Der Führer regiment of the Das Reich
arrived in Oradour on the 10th June, a group from the Deutschland regiment of
Das Reich, had by about 08:00 (06:00 GMT), already entered the village of
much further to the south of France and killed 27 people there. This was in
reprisal for the SS being fired on from the village church steeple by two
members of the resistance. Apart from the co-incidence of Division and date, I
do not think that there is any other relationship between these two events, but
it does go to show that Oradour was not an isolated case of Das Reich brutality:
see also The 10th of June
as a date in WWII history.
At about 13:30 local time a
detachment of soldiers, about 180 strong, mostly from the 3rd Company of the 1st Battalion of the
4th Regiment (Der Führer) of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division (Das Reich) began to enter and
search the isolated farms and houses lying just to the south of the small
Oradour-sur-Glane in the Haut-Vienne Department of France. They made all the occupants that they found accompany them as they
journeyed north. They searched the farms, outbuildings and barns, probing straw with
bayonets, so as to ensure that everyone was accounted for, no one was to be left behind.
To the dismay of their enforced travelling companions, the soldiers set fire to many of
the buildings as they left.
From the eyewitness accounts of the few
survivors, it seems that at this time the locals were unaware of the precise identity of
the troops, who were described by some as being dressed in green / brown camouflage
smocks. It was only in the weeks following the attack that French aid workers determined
for certain that they were from Das Reich Division. Some considerable detective work,
involving gathering discarded scraps of written material found within the
village and nearby,
such as envelopes, postcards and a map was necessary in order to identify the exact unit
within the Division. It was not until much later that all the individual soldiers involved
were identified, some as a result of statements that they made whilst being held prisoners
of war following their capture or desertion in Normandy. Many of the Alsatians in the Division deserted in Normandy and then made voluntary
statements implicating themselves and others. Fourteen men from the province were later to
stand trial in Bordeaux for their part in 10th June 1944.
As the Sig runes (the 'Lightning Flashes' in the
form of an, 'SS') were probably not present on the soldiers
helmets, the villagers may have been unaware that they were from the Waffen-SS. But their
youth would have set them apart from the usual, somewhat middle-aged garrison troops and
the French people must have realised that they were something special. Other clues would
have been the uniform rank markings (if visible) and the manner in which they addressed
each other, no use of "Sir" for example and the long SS rank titles. Had they
understood their significance, the vehicle markings would have indicated that the troops
came from Das Reich: see images. However it
must be remembered that due to the need for wartime security, soldiers gave as little
information about themselves as possible. All German personnel were fully aware of the
activities of the Resistance and of their gathering and passing information on to the
14:00 Saturday 10th June 1944
Just before 14:00, the detachment drove into the
village of Oradour-sur-Glane itself. Oradour is situated in the Haute-Vienne Department,
about 15 miles north-west from the city of Limoges. This city, famous for its porcelain
industry is one of the more isolated population centres of France, lying as it does close
to the geographical middle of the country and far from any sea port. Significantly,
Limoges was located within, what was at the time, the semi-autonomous Vichy part of
France, a notional ally of Nazi Germany.
After the defeat of June 1940, when France sued
for peace, Germany had divided the country up into various zones: see
zone map. The geographically largest zone was ruled from the spa town of Vichy under a
government headed by the First World War hero, Marshal Pétain. It was allowed some
measure of independence in domestic affairs and although Hitler had imposed direct rule in
November 1942, it was, on 10 June 1944, still nominally an ally of Germany under the terms
of the cease-fire agreement. Therefore the citizens of the village of Oradour, were part of
the Third Reich and whilst not all could be expected to be its enthusiastic supporters,
they could reasonably expect to be treated with nothing worse than indifference by the
When the SS arrived in their convoy of
half-tracks and cars from the south, by way of the Limoges road, their first action was to
seal the village in order to prevent both exit and entry. To this end some of them drove
straight up the main road towards Javerdat, others fanned out to cover the roads to
Peyrilhac and Saint Junien. The leaders set up their command post at the Masset
(from the Provencal word for a small farmhouse) farm,
which lay a little outside the village to the north-east: (see village plan). It is significant that the troops approached only from the south and did not
carry out a pincer style movement, closing in on the village from several directions
simultaneously in order to prevent escape.
The citizens of Oradour were enjoying their
midday meal (a serious affair in France) and were puzzled by the arrival of the troops,
but for the most part not seriously alarmed. Very few Germans had ever been seen in
Oradour, there had never been any call for them to visit in large numbers. The
village had a
record of being a non-involved and somewhat sleepy community, where nothing of any
significance had occurred throughout the war years.
The commander of the detachment, Sturmbannführer
Adolf Diekmann stopped at the Champ de Foire (Fairground, or Market Place) and called for
the Mayor. Diekmann, speaking through an interpreter, told him that there was to be an
identity check and that all inhabitants were to assemble immediately on the fairground
The Mayor, a retired doctor, called for the
crier and gave him the news to broadcast. This Mayor was called Jean Desourteaux and he
was the grandson of Emile Desourteaux, who had also been a doctor before him and after
whom the main street of Oradour was named. The Desourteaux family was very well known and
respected in the local community as pillars of the establishment. This theme of service to
the community was continuing today on the 10th June, as the Mayor's son Jacques, also a
Doctor like his father and great-grandfather before him was out on a visit to a patient
when the SS arrived.
The population of the village for the most part were to
co-operate quietly with the soldiers, a few were to flee, others to hide, but no one that
day was to attack the German forces or offer them any armed resistance.
The smith, Jean Depierrefiche, who doubled as the
village crier, set off round the streets, beating his drum accompanied by an SS trooper and
relaying the call to assemble on the fairground with papers for an identity check.
Everyone was to attend, from the youngest baby to the oldest citizen; no one was to be
excused not even the sick. Madame Andrée Binet, the head teacher of the girls school, who
was at home ill with a high temperature was not given time to dress and made her way to
the assembly with a dressing gown over her night-clothes.
Robert Hébras was on the street outside
his house on the Rue Emil Desourteaux, talking to his friend Martial Brissaud
and noted the time on his wrist watch as being, "2PM German Time" (this
was because the Germans had recently added an additional hour to the clocks, so
as to maximise daylight saving throughout the Reich).
When the Germans first arrived
and before they had a chance to state their purpose, Brissaud, decided to make a
run for it and leave the village. He took a circuitous route, so as to avoid being
seen and passed the Mayor near the Town Hall. M. Desourteaux asked him why he
was in such a hurry. "I am going to hide,"
said Brissaud, "You can come and tell me tomorrow where your hideout is"
said the Mayor, laughing. A few other young men also managed to escape at this time from
the rear of their homes and make their way over the surrounding fields to places of
Clément Broussaudier, who had come into
a haircut that day, was seated in the barber's chair with a white blouse over his
shoulders, when he was ordered to go to the fairground as he was. Much later (in 1953) he
was to recall that the time was exactly 2 minutes past 2 in the afternoon
(14:02). When he tried
to get his bicycle, a soldier took it from him saying in French, "you won't be
needing it anymore".
When the SS first arrived however, some people
took immediate alarm and made efforts to either hide or escape. There were several Jewish
families living in Oradour as refugees from other parts of France. One such was the
Pinède family consisting of parents Robert his wife Carmen with their children Jacqueline, Francine and their much younger brother, 9 year old André.
They immediately recognised that the equation of Germans plus Jews was
not a good one. The parents decided to comply with the order to attend the identity
check, but instructed their three children to hide in the Hotel were they were staying and
not to follow them. The children then hid under the stairs and waited to
see what would happen. Although they have been described as children in both this and in
other accounts, it is worth noting that they were not all very young children, the eldest
girl being 22. This maturity of years means that their memory and recounting of events in
later years can perhaps be relied on more than if they had been much younger.
It is noteworthy that at no time at all did the
Germans ask, or enquire as to whether any of the villagers were, or knew of the presence
of any Jews in Oradour. Whatever the motives were that day for what was to follow,
anti-Semitism was not one of them.
Other people who hid were mostly young men and
they were concerned lest they be forcibly co-opted into the hated STO (Service de Travail
Obligatoire), see: Notes on Language and terms
used and deported to
Germany. One such was the 21 year old Paul Doutre, who stayed at home and hid in his room,
catching a last glimpse of his parents in the street outside as they walked to the
fairground to answer the summons for the identity check.
In all, about 20 people managed to either avoid
the roundup by leaving village, or hiding in their homes and later, when they became
untenable, in their gardens before eventually making their escape in the night.
The SS set up machine guns on tripod mounts in
the fairground, so as to cover the assembling crowd and to suppress any thoughts of a mass
attack upon themselves. They were carrying out, what amounted to the normal process for
the safe (from the SS point of view) handling of large numbers of people in an open area.
The inhabitants were alarmed, when from time to time they heard shots coming from
different parts of the village. This gunfire was the result of various people trying to flee
and being shot at and killed in the attempt.
For the most part the SS offered the crowd no
violence, provided that they complied with the order to proceed quickly to the meeting
place. It was only would-be evaders and those thought to be dragging their feet who found
themselves in trouble at this time. Robert Hébras, who survived the massacre at Madame
Laudy's barn, specifically states that he saw no evidence of brutality during the
gathering at the fairground. The effects of the reasonable explanation of an identity
check, coupled with the calm and rational behaviour of most of the senior citizens, such
as the Mayor, ensured that there was virtually no panic, or any attempt at mass
disobedience. After all France, even the Vichy part of France was now under German rule
and everyone carried identity papers, so an occasional check was to be expected, if not
The village was fuller than usual that
particular Saturday, because it was the day of the distribution of the tobacco
ration and additionally there was to be a school health inspection. It seems
almost Dickensian today that infant and primary school children had to attend
school on a Saturday, but that was the way it was in France in 1944. At this
time there were a total of four schools in the village, the Boys school, to the
rear of the Town Hall, the Girls school just opposite the entrance to the
fairground and on the road to Peyrilhac, the Infants school. Also on this road
and set back a little from it, was the Lorraine refugees school:
One of the pupils at the Lorraine school was the
young Roger Godfrin. He and his family had been evicted from their home in Charly (3 miles
to the north-east of Metz) in the newly 'Germanised' province of Lorraine. Towards the end
of 1940 they had been given an hour to pack just a suitcase with a maximum of 30 kilograms
of belongings and leave. The family moved to Oradour and into a small house next to Robert
Hébras. In the village the family made a new life for themselves, Roger's father, Arthur
working at the Thomas bakery and the 3 older children attending their special school.
There were a total of 44 Lorrainers living in
Oradour in June, known, slightly mockingly as, "Les Ya Ya's", from
their custom of saying, "Ja Ja" (German for "yes yes")
as an affirmative answer to any question.
On the 10th June Roger was just under 8 years old
and small for his age. He was a mischievous, red hared, 'enfant terrible' who was well
known in the village as a daredevil. He described the events of the day as beginning with
bullets flying through the walls of the school and their teacher getting all the pupils to
lie on the floor. As their situation was becoming worse, Roger, his sisters Jeanne, 13 and
Pierrette, 11 ran hand in hand to the Infants school, a short distance further into the
village. When they arrived, they found all the children there in tears.
A German soldier entered brandishing a gun and
shouting "Raus!" (Out!). Roger's parents had made a plan, that
if ever they were to be threatened by Germans again, they would run and hide in the woods
behind the cemetery. When the order came for all the children to go to the fairground,
Roger tried to persuade his sisters to go with him, but they would not, "they
cried, they wanted Mum". Roger decided to escape alone and did so whilst the
teacher was talking to the soldier. He ducked into an empty play room, through an open
window and out of the rear of the school.
In running out of the school and climbing over
the fence at the rear he lost a shoe, but started towards the woods behind the cemetery.
At the corner of the road leading to the cemetery itself, he was spotted by one of the SS
troopers, who shot at him. The boy fell as though dead and did not move even when the
soldier kicked him in the kidneys. Later after the man left, Roger started out again for
the woods, but was seen by another soldier, who did not attempt to shoot, but told him to
run away. It was shortly after this that Roger saw
Pierre Poutaraud shot and killed as
he was making his separate escape from the Laudy barn. Poutaraud fell against a
wire fence near to the cemetery and by way of a macabre joke, a trooper tethered
a stray horse to his outstretched arm, where it remained for the rest of the
As soon as he dared Roger was up and running
through the long grass, which helped hide him from view. A black and white dog, called
Bobby, ran with him but as they approached the river Glane they were spotted by six
soldiers in a half-track and fired upon. Roger managed to cross the river, which was only
about 15 feet wide at that point and was able to hide behind a large oak tree, but Bobby
was shot and killed. Over 40 years later, Roger was to say that at the time, it was seeing
the death of the dog that made the biggest impact on him that day, even more than the loss
of his entire family. In the evening he was discovered by a road mender who took him to
Laplaud and safety. After the war Roger was brought up by his uncle Emile Maillard (who
was his mother's brother) and he eventually died of natural causes on 11th February 2001
One of the uncertainties about timing on the
10th, was just when did Roger reach the far bank of the Glane and safety? Bearing in mind
that he was only seven and three quarters years old and did not have a watch; the
estimation of the passage of time was not one of his priorities. My best estimate is a
little after 16:00, based on him mentioning the shooting of Pierre Poutaraud. This means
that he lay still for over an hour after being kicked, a long time for a little boy to
remain motionless and a good indication of how serious he viewed the situation to be at
14:30 Saturday 10th June 1944
The assembly of the population on the fairground
continued apace, with people from outlying communities being dropped of by troops from
their vehicles, which then sped off to collect more. In total, about 650 people, made
their way by various means to the fairground and assembled there in family groups. The
soldiers repeatedly mentioned an identity check and this undoubtedly allayed fears.
Soldiers moved through the village, knocking on doors and hurrying the villagers along. Where
they thought necessary, the troops would enter houses and check to see if anyone was
It must be remembered that one can walk from one
end of Oradour to the other in under 10 minuets, it is not a large village. The rounding-up
and assembling of the population was not a very time consuming exercise, more effort went
into ensuring that no one either escaped or entered the village than in checking that everyone
was actually at the fairground.
It is worth mentioning that in spite of the
pretext of an identity check, that with only two exceptions (see both the first paragraph below
and that for, 19:00 Saturday 10th June 1944 below), no one was ever actually asked to produce
his or her papers. This is an important piece of data, as later on it was to be claimed
that the SS went to Oradour for, amongst other things, to search for weapons. Arms would
imply the presence of the Resistance and surely a first step for any investigating power,
would be to examine identity papers? This is supported not only by the survivors from
Oradour, but also the surviving soldiers from Das Reich, none of whom mentioned being
ordered to ask for, or actually check papers at this time.
One person, who was asked to show his identity
papers, was Doctor Jacques Desourteaux on his return to the village. When he drew up in his
car near the fairground, Antoine Lohner, one of the Alsatian SS troopers (who acted as
interpreter for Hauptsturmführer Kahn), examined his papers and said, "He was
from Oradour, so he had to be placed with the others". The most probable reason
for the Doctor being singled out to have his papers checked was simply that he arrived by
car, a very unusual occurrence at this time of the war, when petrol was so severely
rationed. It was thus obvious that he was not just an ordinary citizen and so a check on
his identity was necessary. He might have been someone important to the Germans, such as a
plain-clothes Gestapo officer, or perhaps a civilian official of the Vichy government.
Lohner's comment implied that if the doctor had not been from Oradour, he would have been
sent on his way.
The villagers in the square began naturally
enough to talk amongst themselves and it became quite a lively scene, for although some of
the children had been a bit tearful, now that they were with their mothers, things seemed
better. M. and Mme. Lang and their friend Mme. Raynaud who hid in their house close to the
church (and eventually escaped out of the back), heard much of what was to follow at the
Maurice Compain, the baker, was becoming anxious
as he was in the midst of baking and needed to attend to his ovens before the bread
spoiled. He asked a nearby soldier if he could go and attend to his bakery and was given the assurance, "Don't worry
about it, we will see to it" in good, but accented French. Compain was not
reassured, but was unable to do anything more, so he joined the others in conversation and
waited to see what was going to happen.
Also waiting in the fairground were Jean Roumy
and his 23 year old Milicecen son Albert, who had come to Oradour that weekend to get
Ginette Couturier. Albert must have felt quite safe, as
he was an active member of the forces that both supported and aided the Germans in their
rule of Vichy France. Why Albert did not declare himself to the SS is not known, but
perhaps he was keeping a low profile so as to not antagonise other residents by claiming
special privilege. Had he been asked to produce his identity papers, it seems certain that
he would not have been killed. However, both he and his father were to die that afternoon
along with all the others.
Speaking in 1988 Paul Doire said that it was as
well that they had died, as the survivors could not have forgiven Albert for being in the
Milice. Doire himself was not in Oradour that day, as he was a baker in the
north of the Haute-Vienne and active in the Armée Secrète (Secret Army, as the FFI was sometimes
known: see notes).
Personally he was to lose his entire family on the 10th, from 17 year old daughter to
parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, in-laws and cousins.
It was about now that the Mayor was asked by an
officer (believed to be Diekmann) to designate 30 people as hostages and that he, with
considerable dignity refused, saying that the Germans would have to do that for
themselves. The same officer now ordered the Mayor to accompany him to the Town
is not known what the purpose of this visit was, but given that the Germans were out of
radio contact with their headquarters in Limoges, it seems most likely that they went to
use the telephone. If that was indeed the case then they were probably unable to get
through to anyone. This would be because in the 1940's, local telephone exchanges in rural
France were manually operated and by now the village telephone operator (Odette Bouillere)
would have been at the fairground with everyone else. They were away for only a short
period, according to Robert Hébras not much longer than the time to walk to the Town
and back. On their return to the fairground the Mayor was heard to say that if hostages
were really required then he would offer himself and his family. This offer was not
The point about hostages is crucial to an
understanding of Oradour. According to Otto Weidinger in all his accounts of what happened
that day, Diekmann had been ordered by Sylvester Stadler the commanding officer of Der
Führer, to take hostages against the release of Kämpfe. It was obviously a trivial
matter for the SS to designate whoever they wished to hold as a hostage and separate them
from the rest of the villagers. The obvious question is, if Diekmann had been so ordered,
why did he not do it?
15:00 Saturday 10th June 1944
By now the assembly of the village's population was
more or less complete. At this point the soldiers began to separate the men from the women
and children. During this process the decision as to who was a boy and who was an adult
male was a bit arbitrary. Pierre, the handicapped, but well-built16 year old son of Madame
Jeanne Rousseau (deputy head teacher of the boys school) was initially put with the men.
Mme. Rousseau argued for him to stay with her and this was eventually allowed. Generally
however, any male, who looked to be over the age of about 15, was deemed to be a man.
The story that the Germans were giving to the
villagers now changed somewhat. They had heard, they said, that there was a store of arms,
ammunition and other prohibited merchandise in the village and that a search was going to be
made to look for it. During this process it would be better if the women and children were
to leave the fairground and wait in the church. This was done and to Madame Lang hidden in
her house nearby, the sound of the children's wooden shoes mingled with the heavy tramp of
the soldiers boots on the cobbles sounded like the beat of a mournful drum. As they walked
to the church the children were encouraged to sing; which seemed to be yet another tactic
to allay fears and lessen the chances of panic.
As far as I know, the three
representatives of the Catholic Church present in Oradour that day, stayed with
the men and did not accompany the women and children to the church. They were,
Jean-Baptiste Chapelle, Priest, born in 1873, Jacques Lorich, Curate, born 1897
and Émile-François-Xavier Neumeyer, born 1923 (he was a seminary student from
Alsace). They are amongst the unidentified dead and so it is not even possible
to say in which of the execution sites they were killed.
15:30 Saturday 10th June 1944
The men were now ordered to sit in three rows
facing the north wall of the fairground. After a while an officer speaking through an
interpreter (probably an Alsatian trooper), said that they had heard that there were,
'arms, ammunition and other prohibited merchandise hidden in the village', there was to be a
search and the innocent would be released at once. This announcement caused a general
feeling of relief, for as Robert Hébras said later, they had by then begun to worry. The
interpreter asked if anyone wanted to declare any arms and save the SS the trouble of
searching the village. Jean Lamaud, a 47 year old farmer, said that he had a 6mm rifle, for
which he had a valid permit. "That is of no interest to us", was the
It is noteworthy that the declared possession of
a rifle aroused no interest from the SS. Remember that the Second Front had begun on 6th
June (D-Day), the Third Reich was fighting for its existence and yet private
citizens within such a totalitarian state were still allowed to keep their own (licensed)
arms. As no one else had anything to declare, the Germans divided the men up into 6
unequal groups and moved them off to different locations in the village. This was ostensibly
so they could be held there whilst the village was being searched.
At this time there was little apprehension
amongst the men, as the story that they were being given was still plausible, even if it
had changed from that of an identity check to a search for arms. The division into the
groups was accompanied without any difficulty and the men with their guards soon reached
the various barns, garages and sheds that were to be used to house them. At some of the
locations there was a hold-up, because the buildings were full of farm equipment and this
needed to be cleared before the men could fit inside. As they waited at the Laudy barn,
Joseph Bergmann (who had been born in Kokern, Germany and moved to Oradour from Alsace)
said to his friend Marcel Darthout, "Look out, they are going to kill us!"
Darthout did not believe him and asked what made him think such a thing, "well I
heard …" was all he said. Being a fluent German speaker, Bergmann must have
overheard something that was said between the soldiers.
The 6 buildings used to hold the men were well
scattered about the village, without a direct line of sight linking them all: see
Village Plan. This obviously meant that any signal for co-ordinated action by the soldiers
would have to be either by radio or a loud enough sound to be heard by everyone, no matter
where they were. In 1944, radio communication within the SS down to platoon level was not
that widespread, so the signal that day was to be an audible one.
16:00 Saturday 10th June 1944
The survivors from the Laudy barn all mention
hearing an explosion of some kind as the signal for the shooting to begin. Other sources,
mainly the survivors of Das Reich, mention Hauptsturmführer Kahn firing either a pistol,
or a sub-machine gun into the air. It seems unlikely that the signal was solely gunfire,
given that sporadic shots had been ringing out since the assembly began on the fairground.
It would not have been possible for the troops at the various killing sites to distinguish
between the signal to commence firing and other shootings. What if they themselves came
under fire from the Resistance? Some accounts have suggested the ringing of the church
bells and it is quite true that they could have been heard all over the village and would
have provided an unambiguous signal. The problem with this idea is that none of the
survivors have ever mentioned hearing the bells and Mme Rouffanche who was in the church
did not say that she either saw or heard it done.
In the church at this time were most, but not all
of the women and children of Oradour, (some late comers were placed in the Bouchoule barn
with the men).
The following testament comes from Madame
Marguerite Rouffanche, the only survivor from the church. Over the years following the
massacre she gave her statement many times to different people, including the court in
Bordeaux in 1953. Her evidence was, with minor variations, highly consistent. She died in
1988 aged 91 and is buried in the cemetery at Oradour: see
Mme Rouffanche grave.
"At about 2pm on the 10th of June 1944,
German soldiers burst into my home and ordered me to go to the fairground together with my
husband, son, two daughters and granddaughter.
A number from the village were already assembled
and men and women were flocking in from all directions. They were followed by the
schoolchildren, who arrived separately. The Germans divided us into two groups, women and
children on one side and men on the other. The first group that I was in was taken under
armed guard to the church. It consisted of all the women from the village, especially
mothers, who entered the House of God carrying their babies in their arms, or pushing them
in their prams. All the schoolchildren were there as well. We must have numbered several
Crammed inside the church, we waited in
growing anxiety to see what would happen next. Around 4.00 p.m. a few soldiers, about 20
years of age brought into the nave, close to the choir, a large box, from which hung
strings, which trailed to the ground. When the trailing strings were lit, the device
suddenly exploded with a loud bang and gave off a thick black suffocating smoke. Women and
children, half-choking and screaming in terror, rushed to those parts of the church where
the air was still breathable. It was thus that the door to the sacristy was broken down
under the irresistible pressure of a terrified crowd. I followed them and sat down on a
step. My daughter joined me. The Germans saw that people had escaped into the room and
cold-bloodedly shot down everyone who was hiding there. My daughter was killed where she
stood by a shot fired from outside. I owe my life to my closing my eyes and feigning
Firing burst out in the church (from the
entrance door), and then straw, firewood, and chairs were thrown in a heap onto the bodies
lying on the flagstones. I had escaped the slaughter unwounded and took advantage of a
cloud of smoke to hide behind the altar. In that part of the church there were three
windows. I went to the middle one, the biggest and with the aid of the stool used to light
the candles, tried to reach it. I don't know how, but my strength was multiplied. I
heaved myself up to it as best I could and threw myself out of the opening that was
offered to me by the already shattered window. I fell about 10 feet.
When I looked up I saw that I had been
followed by a woman, who was holding out her baby to me from the window. She fell down
next to me, but the Germans alerted by the child's cries fired at us. The woman and the
child were killed. I myself was wounded as I made my way to a nearby garden. I hid amongst
some rows of peas and waited in terror for help to arrive. That was not until the
following day at about 5:00 PM".
Four points need clarifying in the above
statement. Firstly, although Mme. Rouffanche does not say which of her two daughters she
saw killed in the church, in other statements she has used the phrase, "my young
girl", which would make her Andrée (18) and not her elder married sister Amélie Peyroux (21).
Secondly, at the trial of the surviving SS men in
Bordeaux, she mentioned that the woman who followed her was "Madame Hyvernaud".
The only person who fits this description with a young baby was Madame Henriette Joyeux
(née Hyvernaud) and her 7-month-old son René Both these bodies were found close to the
church and both had death certificates issued, making them 2 out of the 52 who could be
formally identified. The remaining 590 bodies found in the village being too badly burned for
formal identification by the standards of 1944.
Thirdly, although Mme. Rouffanche
said that the Germans were, "alerted by the child's cries", it seems
unlikely that this was the case. Given the scale of the operation taking place at this
time, it is more likely that they were seen, rather than heard.
Fourthly, although Mme.Rouffanche only
mentions "Madame Hyvernaud" and her son as following her through the
window to escape from the church, the SS
imply that another person followed
them ("a 12 year old girl jumped from a window, broke an ankle and was shot").
This unidentified fourth victim was most probably Sarah Jakobowicz (who was
actually 15 at the time). It is not absolutely certain that Sarah did escape
this way but she is the closest in age and her body was later identified, so she
was not burned in the church with the others.
I think that it was probably the blast of the
chest in the church that was taken as the signal for the shooting of the men to commence,
possibly re-enforced by Kahn firing a burst from a sub-machine gun immediately afterwards.
Robert Hébras in Madame Laudy's barn mentions hearing an explosion, "probably a
grenade" and then, "the men behind the machine guns settled into
position and fired". The position of the guns was very close to the entrance to
the barn and the inevitable consequence of this was that most of the men inside were
felled by shots to the lower body and legs, as evidenced by their skeletal remains:
see The Means of Execution.
When the guns fell silent, soldiers entered the
Laudy barn and began shooting those men who were obviously alive and moving about. Marcel
Darthout, who had been hit four times was lying on the ground with a wounded friend
partially covering him, this man was groaning and so attracted attention and was shot,
"I felt it when he died". The troops now began to cover the bodies with
straw and firewood, when this was done they left the barn leaving the doors ajar. There
were probably about 10 men still alive at this time out of the 60 or so who had entered
François Brissaud, a cobbler who had lost a leg
in the First World War called out, "The bastards! They have cut my other leg off!"
Félix Aliotti, lying close to Darthout said softly, "My legs are shattered".
Pierre Duqueroix, (who is normally quoted as being, 'the town guard', but is described
as being a day labourer in the official record) said, "Both my legs are ruined.
My poor children". Some of the survivors could see the Germans through the
partly open door, walking around outside the barn, but dared not move lest they be
spotted. Just then came a blare of music and the sounds of German speech from a radio.
Marcel Darthout recalled in 1988, "How strange, murder to a musical
accompaniment!" The next event was the return of the soldiers, who then set the
There were six men who were able to move to some
extent at this point, Robert Hébras, Marcel Darthout, Yvon Roby, Clément Broussaudier,
Mathieu Borie and Pierre-Henri Poutaraud. The later made his own escape ahead of the
others, but was spotted and shot dead, (Roger Godfrin saw this happen, as described above)
the other five left together supporting the badly wounded Darthout. They went first into a
small courtyard at the rear of the barn and then through a hole that Borie (a mason by
trade) made in a wall into another small yard. There they hid in some rabbit hutches until
about 19:00 before finally escaping from the village. Broussaudier and Roby
left together by way of crossing the fairground, watched anxiously by Borie from
their hiding place. Then Borie left, after giving detailed instructions to
Hébras as to which route to use and promising to wait for him in the paddock.
Hébras did not want to leave Marcel Darthout, who was wounded in the leg, but
the fire was getting closer and Darthout insisted that he be left alone. Hébras
ran and joined up with Borie, who was waiting for him as promised. Eventually
and painfully Darthout made his own escape and was sheltered nearby at La
At around 16:00, or a little later, a test tram
from Limoges arrived at the stop outside village. The only persons on board were the driver
and his engineer assistant, Marcelin Chalard. Chalard, the engineer got off to talk to the
Germans, who shot him dead and threw his body into the river. The tram was then ordered
back to Limoges and this does raise the question as to what the driver did on his return?
Did he not tell people what had happened and if he did, why did the 19:00 tram from
Limoges to Oradour run as normal?
Recently the Germans had introduced a 2 hour
advance on GMT throughout France, so there was daylight up to about 23:00 in June and in
addition the moon was over 80% full. No one fleeing the village late that night had any
trouble with visibility and equally the guarding troops would have had little difficulty
in spotting any careless escapees. Nevertheless there are no reports of anyone being
killed much after about 19:00, so the conclusion is that after the major orgy of killing
between 16:00 and 18:00 the concentration of the troops had become dulled and catharsis
had set in, or possibly by then their orders had been changed.
17:00 Saturday 10th June 1944
By now the bulk of the killing was over, but the
search for any fugitives was intensified with all properties being entered and searched
for any who had avoided the summons to the Fairground. The aid workers who entered the
village over the next few days reported finding bodies in many locations. For example in the
Rue Emile Desourteaux there was the case of an elderly bedridden man (Pierre Giroux) who
seemed to have been burned to death in his bed. It was not possible to recognise M. Giroux
from his remains in the gutted house, but the supposition is that it was he from the
location alone. A group of cyclists on a day out from Limoges were apprehended when they
arrived in village after the population had been split up and sent to the church and various
barns. They were all shot in front of the Beaulieu forge (this may have been before the
church was set on fire.) A group of bodies were found down the well on the road to St.
Junien (the present entrance to the ruins from the Centre de la Mémoire passes by this well).
People who lived outside the village, but within
earshot, came to look at what was going on, or to search for their children. If seen by
the troops and judged to be approaching too closely they too were killed.
At this time the picture is of the SS roaming all
over the village in small groups, or working as individuals as they hunted down the remaining
inhabitants. All the roads were guarded; nevertheless a few people did manage to sneak in
for a quick look. Mostly they were parents, frantic with worry for their children and
reckless as to their own safety. Madame Deméry managed to reach the Boys school and found
it deserted, but with the children's satchels still in place on their pegs. She was able
to leave again without being detected.
Later at the trial in Bordeaux, some of the
accused soldiers were to claim that they had attempted to let villagers escape during the
search, but had been prevented from doing so by more zealous superiors. Joseph Busch (from
Alsace) said in 1953, that he was on guard duty at the church when two women came looking
for their children, "We told them to leave or they would be shot. Just then Boos
(an Alsatian SS volunteer) came along with a German, they dragged the women into a barn
and shot them". Albert Ochs (also from Alsace) said that he, "saw
Steger (a German SS Sergeant) and another German pushing along the road, a sick old woman.
I said to them, 'Oh let her go', and Steger said, 'Shut up Alsatian'". Ochs then
said that the two Germans had shot the woman in the doorway of a house and that he had
been wounded in the legs by ricocheting bullets. He spent the remainder of the day lying
down in a lorry with his legs bandaged
(this was probably the man whom
Johannes Seefried treated).
It is worth remembering that of the 52 people who
had death certificates issued, most were not burned. By the standards of 1944 a person had
to be recognisable for a certificate to be granted. There was no such thing as DNA
fingerprinting and dental records were not used for formal identification. The
implication of the above is that most of the 52 did not die in either the church or the
barns, they were killed elsewhere and not burned to the point of being unrecognisable.
These 52 identifiable victims range from 7 months to 78 years in age, 12 of them being
The biggest problem area for the Germans at this
time was the church. The exploding chest mentioned by Mme. Rouffanche seems to have been
an attempt to asphyxiate the women and children, but it failed. The troops then had to
resort to machine gun fire and hand grenades in order to subdue the 400 or so people in
the body of the church. Heaps of fired cartridge cases were found later by the entrance
door and one can see to this day bullet marks in the walls and in the memorial to the dead
of W.W.I: see Memorial
(see also Otto Kahn's
statement regarding the supply of explosives for use in the church).
During the trial in 1953 various soldiers
described the construction and use of, concentrated charges. These were made by
tying grenades together and pulling the pin of the one in the centre, these charges were
used in the church as a means of swiftly killing the occupants and causing considerable
internal damage to various parts. Between about 17:00 and 18:00 the majority of the
soldiers were at the church, guarding it, gathering firewood, straw, shooting and throwing
grenades. During the trial, the presiding judge accused the defendants of using flame
throwers and spare fuel cylinders to spread the blaze. There is no real evidence for this
action, nor is it necessary in order to explain the state of the bodies, or the partial
melting of the bells: (see fire model) & (church bells).
At one point, just before the fire in the church
had really got going, an Alsatian woman came to the door and shouted in German that she
was not French and should be let out, but according to Jean-Pierre Elsässer (an
Alsatian), "Hauptsturmführer Kahn shoved her back into the flames. He said he
was not going to have any witnesses turning up later". This person was most
probably either Mme. Maria Kanzler or Mme. Odile Neumeyer, both from
Schiltigheim, a suburb of Strasbourg and the only adult
Alsatian women in the church.
It is only a guess on my part, but Mme. Neumeyer seems the most likely of the
two because Mme Kanzler had her 14 year old daughter Dora with her in the church
and I think it unlikely that she would have attempted to escape in this manner
without her daughter. At this time (under the terms of the armistice)
all three of they were German citizens. Identifying these women is something of a guess, there is no hard evidence for this, but
they fit the
known facts better than other candidates. See
for his own version of what he did that day.
Sometime around now Sturmbannführer Diekmann
left Oradour and drove back to Limoges in order to report back to Der Führer Regiment
his actions. When he arrived and spoke to Sylvester Stadler (the commanding officer),
Stadler "was extremely shocked by this report and shaken to the core".
Stadler went on to say, "Diekmann this may cost you dearly. I am going to ask the
Division (Das Reich) court at once for a court martial investigation against you. I cannot
allow the regiment to be charged with something like this!" In fact an in-house
investigation was later held when the Division had reached Normandy and before they were
committed to battle. It is said that as news of the event spread, no less a person than
Field Marshal Rommel himself offered to preside over the court martial.
Stadler, who was shortly to leave the regiment to
command the 9th SS Panzer Division 'Hohenstaufen', seems to have been genuinely concerned
by what he clearly realised was an overreaction. It is perhaps significant that from
somewhat after 19:00, few if any further people where killed in or around Oradour,
possibly as a result of orders from Stadler in Limoges. Given that radio communication was
impossible and that by now the telephone system in Oradour was unusable, any orders would
have had to be by word of mouth. It is known that two cars containing Germans were seen
travelling through Veyrac (on the road from Oradour to Limoges) that evening and as they
were unescorted, the occupants must have thought themselves reasonably secure from attack.
In any case it does seem likely that Stadler would have wished for further clarification
of the situation, hence the journey.
18:00 Saturday 10th June 1944
From about 18:00 the combustible material was set
alight and the church began to burn. It was then that the main destruction of the
began as the troops entered, looted and burned every building, bar the house of M. Dupic
the village draper. This was used as a centre for those soldiers who were to remain in
Oradour overnight and it was not set alight until the following morning. Hauptsturmführer
Kahn distributed drink looted from this house to the men in the evening. In the days
following, the French aid workers counted between 20 and 25 empty champagne bottles lying
in the grounds. Given that there were about 150 to 180 soldiers present in Oradour at this
time, this only represents about one glass (150ml) per man, not a large amount. In any
event the SS were highly disciplined troops and the idea of them having a drunken orgy in
the midst of such an action, with officers like Kahn present is simply unbelievable.
It was during this phase that the Pinède
children decided to make their escape from the Avril family hotel. They had little choice
by now, as the building was on fire and their position was becoming desperate. Running out
of the rear of the Hotel they nearly collided with an SS trooper. The eldest girl,
simply, "what should we do?", the soldier did not answer, but waved his
arm towards the open fields and they ran for their lives, eventually sheltering
in the hamlet of La Martinerie, to the north of Oradour. Later on that night, by
chance, Robert Hébras and Mathieu Borie after their escape from the Laudy barn,
sought shelter at the same house.
Also around this time, all those other people who
had hidden in their houses and gardens began to make their way out of the
folk ended up in the surrounding hamlets and villages where they told the story of what
had happened in Oradour. This led to many fearful people gathering on the outskirts of
the village, desperate for news of family and friends, but for the most part they did not enter
because of the sentries stationed at the outskirts. Some spoke to the guards and received
various replies from the reassuring to the blunt. Only one person, Professor Forest
managed to talk his way past the soldiers (one of whom was Albert Daul, another Alsatian)
and into the village where he spoke to an (unknown) officer so as to enquire where his children
were. This officer angrily told him to leave, which he did. It is highly significant that
Professor Forest was not killed, due I think to the SS by now having had enough of
bloodshed, or possibly as a result of new orders from regimental headquarters.
19:00 Saturday 10th June 1944
The next event was the arrival of the normal,
scheduled Limoges to St. Junien tram, which routinely stopped at Oradour. When the tram
arrived, soldiers boarded it and examined identity papers (only the second instance of
this happening). The twenty passengers whose papers showed that they were from Oradour or
the immediate district were made to get off. Although the line ran on through Oradour the
tram could obviously not continue to St. Junien at this time, although it is noteworthy,
that the power must have still been connected to the overhead wires. Then the tram was
sent back to Limoges with the rest of the passengers still on board. What is strange about
this incident is that this tram arrived at all in view of the reception that the earlier
test tram received at about 16:00.
The terrified passengers, who were now in the
company of the SS, were made to walk with them on a path skirting the village, where they
could see soldiers moving about, setting fire to buildings and throwing grenades.
Eventually they arrived at a field command post located in a farmhouse. After some
discussion between themselves and after checking with higher command, the soldiers let the
20 frightened French people go. One of the passengers, a young woman, was given a (looted)
bicycle by one of the soldiers. This was because she lived some way away from Oradour and
it would help her on her journey. Such is the nature of extreme events like Oradour, that
one minute people are being killed in the most horrific manner and the next, a young woman
is thoughtfully being helped on her way. There was an atmosphere of almost surreal,
knife-edged balance about this event, only a tiny push and all those people would surely
have been killed. See
Otto Kahn's statement regarding his actions at this time.
It is probable that Adolf Diekmann
arrived back in Oradour about now after his bruising interview with Sylvester
Stadler and this can explain the change in attitude.
20:00 Saturday 10th June to early morning Sunday 11th
During the night, several more
villagers who had
managed to evade the soldiers during the day, made their escape. Aimé and his wife
Jeanine Rénaud who had been hiding in the Desourteaux garage yard (Aimé worked for
Hubert Desourteaux) met Hubert and a Madame Robert and together at about 02:00 on Sunday
morning they managed to leave the village, arriving at Rénaud's parents house at about 04:00
the same morning.
Around 21:30 over 100 of the troops departed from
Oradour and travelled to Nieul about 5 miles to the east. The rear guard left behind was
thus no more than 20 to 30 strong. In Nieul they requisitioned the school and some houses
for billets and set to eating and drinking. There are reports of them spending a
considerable amount of time washing in the school toilets. The officers slept together in
the school and not as at first arranged, in private houses. The soldiers kept a guard on
their vehicles throughout their stay in Nieul and to the locals seemed excited and
By any standards, what took place in
Oradour-sur-Glane on Saturday 10th June 1944 was a war crime and over the
following years many attempts have been made to bring justice to all the victims
of this ghastly crime. Sadly as you will read in following chapters, the concept
of justice has proven to be elusive and I do not think that any real conclusion
has been reached, or is ever likely to be concluded.
Throughout the night, anxious and increasingly
desperate people had begun to gather on the outskirts of the village, many of them parents
whose children had not returned from school. Others were villagers who, for one reason
or another had been absent on the Saturday, but now wished to return home. As a result of
wishful thinking, misinterpretation and rumour, the story had grown overnight that the
children at least were safe in the woods.
At about 06:00 in the morning,
after it had been looted the Dupic house was set alight. The troops now prepared to leave
Oradour with all their booty and headed in the direction of Nieul and not back to
St. Junien from whence they had come the day before. At approximately 11:00 the last of the
SS drove out of Oradour, taking with them a stolen car, which they towed behind a lorry.
When they reached the small hamlet of La Plaine on
the D9, about 1½ miles east of Oradour, the towrope broke. The car then crashed into a
telegraph pole, seriously injuring the driver. He was carried to the lorry and the damaged
car set on fire where it was. The source for this story was Hubert Desourteaux who after
he parted from the Rénaud's made his own way to a place of safety and witnessed the crash
During the day many French people made their way
into the village and finally discovered the true nature of the disaster. The first shock was of
course seeing the destruction of the village, then the discovery of the remains in the
church, followed by the realisation of the full scale of the killings.
One of the first into the church was a farmer
called Hyvernaud from Mazenty, Oradour-sur-Glane, looking for his two sons, Marcel (8) and
René (10). He found the younger boy almost immediately: "He lay on his side and
was half-burned … but I did not find my older boy. Behind the altar, crowded
together, lay at least twenty small children who had sought to find protection there. This
cover did not help them much. They were all smothered by smoke or burned to death. But
there is one thing that I must say and that is; all honour to the mothers of Oradour. Not
a single adult hid behind the altar. They left this last place of refuge to the children".
(Quoted from Jens Kruuse). It is from behind the altar that Mme. Rouffanche climbed out of
the church through the centre window and it is one of the unexplained mysteries of Oradour
that no one after her and Mme. Hyvernaud attempted to escape in that way
(possibly also Sarah Jakobowicz did, see above).
One of the few people to enter Oradour that
morning and find any relative still alive was Robert Hébras's father who had been working
away from home at the hamlet of Veyrac, about 3 miles to the south-east. Whilst his son
Robert had survived (one of 5 from the Laudy barn), he found that his had lost his wife
and both daughters in the attack.
Alphonse Lévignac was looking for his two sons,
Jean (16) and Charles (12). Whilst he was standing outside the church he heard a woman's voice
calling, "I am suffering too much. Carry me to the river, I want to die
Lévignac, catching sight of her said to Hubert Desourteaux, "I did not
know there was a Negress living in Oradour !" : It was Mme. Rouffanche.
They found a wheelbarrow and used it as a
makeshift stretcher to carry her to Laplaud; there she was washed and examined by Dr.
Gaudois. He found that she had four bullet wounds to the legs and one in the shoulder. The
following day they moved her to hospital in Limoges, explaining to a curious German
sentry, "She fell out of the hay loft". Mme. Rouffanche was to stay in
hospital for almost a year recovering both physically and mentally from her ordeal. She
was eventually to move to the new Oradour and live there for the rest of her life.
André Desourteaux had been at work as usual in
the postal sorting office in Limoges that Saturday. On the Sunday he took the train as far
as St.Victurnien and then cycled back to Oradour to see his parents and found the place in
ruins. On entering the village he met Martial Brissaud (the man who had run to hide when the
Germans first arrived) who told him that everyone was dead. He stopped at what had been
his home and rested his foot on a fallen stone, the first thing that he remembered
thinking (as he recalled in 1988) was, "they will pay for this".
After a couple of weeks, he and Robert Hébras
joined the Resistance in order to try and get some revenge and "so as not to feel
alone". They had very little training and scarcely knew how to operate their
machine gun (Hébras had the gun Desourteaux the ammunition). When they were betrayed and
ambushed in a barn along with 30 others, Hébras later claimed that he had, "seen
death closer that day than on 10th June". In the ensuing fight, 10 of the
Resistance were killed, but both Hébras and Desourteaux managed to escape uninjured.
All the people who entered Oradour that day
commented on the terrible stench of burned flesh pervading the whole village, especially at
the church. What was also notable was the state of the surviving domestic animals,
particularly the dogs who had their tails between their legs and who whined as they sniffed
around the ruins trying to find their owners.
On Monday morning the SS returned to Oradour in a
futile attempt to tidy up some of the mess. It is difficult to imagine what the thinking
was of whoever gave them order to go and do it. The size of any clear-up was huge and the
Das Reich Division was under orders to march to the Normandy battle front with all speed.
Nevertheless a party did arrive and began to bury the dead. One of those sent was Antoine
Lohner (an Alsatian) who spent some time on both the Monday and the Tuesday digging
graves. The soldiers dug two main burial pits, the larger being about 10 feet long in the
garden of the presbytery and the other near to the Denis wine store on the road to
St. Junien: see Village Plan. In addition there were
several half-hearted attempts at burying the dead at other locations. There is the often
quoted example of a man's body buried so carelessly that his hand was seen sticking up in
Troops returned again on Tuesday, but soon gave
the job up and left. As mentioned above, theirs was an impossible task and a pointless one
as by now the news of the massacre had spread far and wide. That any attempt was made to
tidy up the event at all, gives perhaps a clue as to the sense of shock that existed at
this time in the Das Reich command. Just why did the SS come back to Oradour and attempt
to tidy the mess up? What did they hope to achieve?
In the days that followed French aid workers
operating under the most difficult conditions moved into Oradour and the surrounding
hamlets and began the grim task of recovering and attempting to identify the victims. The
smell of decay, in the hot June sun was overwhelming and the men and women doing the work
wore masks soaked in eucalyptus essence as some form of protection. They exhumed all the
bodies that the soldiers had attempted to bury and gathered the remains from the church
and other locations, as well as all those personal effects that they could find.
Eventually the French authorities were able to publish a full list of the dead, which came
to a total of 642 persons. (There is the
possibility that the true death toll could be higher than this figure, say 643,
or 644, due to the likelihood of some very young babies not being included in
the original total). Only 52 of these were formally identified with death
certificates being issued, the rest being so badly burned as to be unrecognisable
by the standards of 1944 and so
were listed as, "officially declared missing".
In the days following, Das Reich moved northwards
towards its fate as a part of the German defence against the Normandy landings. What
rapidly became apparent to the German command was that the previously intensely irritating
attacks by the Resistance had ceased and that they enjoyed a relatively trouble free run
up north until the Loire was crossed. Once over the river, the armour and other heavy
equipment could only move safely at night, due to the presence of overwhelming allied air
power. The Division reached the front in a somewhat piecemeal fashion, the first units
getting there by 15th June, but the last not arriving until early July. This diminished
the impact that such a powerful force could have had on the outcome of the battle.
On 29th June, Adolf Diekmann was hit in the head
by a shell splinter and killed outright. He is said to have left his command post shelter
just to the north of Noyers during a bombardment in the afternoon, without his helmet.
"The death of the commander, who had been the soul of the resistance, resulted in
a crisis" (from Otto Weidinger 'Comrades to the End').
With the death of Diekmann the whole Oradour
affair could be allowed to drop from the attention of the German Army. It is ironic that
Rommel, who had offered to conduct Diekmann's court martial, was himself compelled to
commit suicide as a result of being implicated in the 20th July 1944 assassination attempt on
Hitler. It is interesting, if futile to wonder what would have come out of this trial had
it had ever taken place?
No one was ever tried or punished within the
German armed forces for the massacre of the citizens of Oradour. What is significant about
this remark of course is that it included Diekmann. In spite of Stadler's claimed outrage,
Diekmann kept his command of the First Battalion of the Der Führer Regiment of the Das
Reich Second Waffen SS-Armoured Division, right up to his death, he was not even
suspended from duty pending the enquiry.
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Chapter 3 of In a Ruined State
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© Michael Williams: 4th September 2000 ... revision
Wednesday, 30 March 2022