The Trial at Bordeaux 1953
Eight and a half years after the events of 10th June 1944, the trial opened in Bordeaux of those members of the 3rd Company of the 1st Battalion of Der Führer Regiment of Das Reich 2nd SS-Panzer Division that were still alive and could be brought before the court. There were others whom the French justice system wished to try, but were unable to locate, such as Otto Kahn, or were unable to persuade to attend, such as Heinrich Lammerding. The trial proved to be an exercise in divisiveness, in anguish and above all to show how an attempt to render justice in a democracy still ridden by guilt was doomed to fail. The verdict produced a short lived, but very real sense of crisis within France and even threatened the possibility of the province of Alsace wishing to break its re-established union with the Republic.
The courthouse in Bordeaux used to house the trial is still standing today. The building is known locally as the 'Arab Tower', due to the distinctive tower with a steeple roof and it is located on the corner of the Rue Pessac and Rue des Treuils, near the centre of Bordeaux.
The Accused present at the trial (all past members of Der Führer)
SS-Oberscharführer ... Karl Lenz: he was transferred from the Luftwaffe to the SS in 1943
SS-Unterscharführer … Wilhelm Bläschke: medical orderly
SS-Rottenführer … Wilhelm Boehme
SS-Mann … Fritz Pfeufer
SS-Mann … Hermann Frenzel
SS-Mann … Herbert Daab
SS-Mann … Erwin Dagenhardt: (he was eventually able to prove his absence from Oradour during the killings)
SS-Mann …Wilhelm Nobbe: found to be clinically insane and not tried (he did not attend the trial at all)
French Nationals (all from Alsace and all except for Boos, conscripts):
SS-Unterscharführer … Georg René Boos: SS-Volunteer, awarded Iron Cross II in Russia
SS-Mann … Paul Graff: the only defendant, before the trial began to admit to killing anyone at Oradour.
SS-Mann … Albert Daul
SS-Mann … Jean-Pierre Elsässer: Elsässer is an appropriate name, as it means, 'Alsatian' in German
SS-Mann … Louis Hoehlinger: won the Croix de Guerre whilst serving in the French army in Indo-China (present day Vietnam) after the war and before the trial began. In 1953 he was a police inspector in Saigon (present day Ho Chi Minh City) and had travelled from there to Bordeaux for his trial.
SS-Mann … Albert Ochs: wounded twice in the legs on 10 June 1944 by ricochets fired at an old woman by Unterscharführer Steger
SS-Mann … Joseph Busch
SS-Mann … Antoine Lohner: won the Croix de Guerre fighting with the French Army against the Germans in 1940
SS-Mann … Fernand Giedinger
SS-Mann … Alfred Spaeth: won the French Colonial Medal and the Parachute Badge whilst serving with the French army in Indo-China (present day Vietnam) after the war and before the trial began.
SS-Mann … Louis Prestel
SS-Mann … Henri Weber
SS-Mann … Jean Niess
SS-Mann … Camille Grienenberger
It is interesting to note that that some of the Alsatians above show French forenames with German surnames, a good indication of the changing national status of the province over the years.
Others not present, of both nationalities, but known to be alive, made up an additional 44 persons. Thus the grand total of living persons who were known to have either been at Oradour on the 10th June 1944 or to bear some responsibility for the actions of the soldiers, who were there, was 65.
Some of the court proceedings detailed below may have imprecise dates, due to the manner in which the various newspaper reporters filed their stories. The days quoted represent my best attempt at removing the ambiguities, if anyone has more accurate data, please let me know.
Even before the trial began it was obvious that it was going to be a most difficult affair to handle, with very little prospect of pleasing all sides, or indeed as events were to show, of even pleasing anyone at all.
The two most pressing initial problems were, firstly the question of whether the Alsatians should be tried alongside the Germans and secondly how to ensure that Heinrich Lammerding, the commanding officer of Das Reich at the time of Oradour was brought to trial. Lammerding was known to be living openly within the British zone at Düsseldorf, he was a Civil Engineer by training and ran his own business. However, since he had already been condemned to death in his absence, for the hangings at Tulle, it seemed unlikely that he would voluntarily attend.
It is of historical interest now, but for years after the end of the war, Germany was divided into four administrative zones run by the Americans, British, French and Russians. Each of the powers controlled their own 'zone', which in the case of the Russians, eventually led to the creation of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and the Berlin Wall. The three Western powers relinquished their hold sooner than did Russia, but in 1953 all the zones were quite tightly regulated by their respective controlling powers.
The British had become concerned that since 1945 in some cases French requests for extradition were more to satisfy a post-war blood lust than to achieve justice. In the light of this caution, the British government required some quite strong proof of guilt before agreeing to an extradition request from their zone. In Lammerding's case it was felt that there was sufficient doubt as to his involvement in Oradour to refuse the request, or at least not to instantly agree to it. The French were, and still are, convinced that Lammerding ordered the massacre, as can be read on the plaque in the cemetery in Oradour.
From its opening in 1999 the new Centre de la Mémoire at Oradour has accused Lammerding of ordering the massacre, as well as stating that the man who led the attack was called "Commandant SS Dickmann", (instead of Sturmbannführer Diekmann). No reason for the attack has ever been quoted by the Centre.
The days leading up to 12 January 1953:
The rumblings of disquiet over the forthcoming trial of those members of Das Reich that had been identified and were available to stand trial, started years before the trial itself began.
Eight German soldiers had initially been in British run prisoner of war camps since 1944 - 45 and had all given statements as to their involvement in Oradour. In addition, two Alsatians (Boos and Graff) had been in prison since 1945, the other twelve Alsatian defendants were at liberty in 1953 and voluntarily surrendered themselves to the court the day before the trial began. The reason why the Germans were held in prison since the end of the war is easy enough to understand; they were after all prisoners of war who were known to have been present at Oradour on 10th June 1944, the two Alsatians were being held for quite different reasons.
I have some sympathy for Georg René Boos, for he was born French, then had his nationality forcibly changed to German following France's failure to protect itself in June 1940. Whilst he was a German, he volunteered for the Waffen-SS so as to fight communism and then after the war in 1945 he had his nationality forcibly changed back again to French. In 1953 he found himself on trial for his life for what was now called the treasonable action of volunteering to fight for Germany during the time that he was in German eyes, a German citizen.
Paul Graff was the only one of the defendants to have actually admitted that he killed anyone at Oradour before the trial began, so naturally enough he had been held in custody. The twelve free Alsatian defendants were known in France at this time as, "Les Douze" (The Twelve). The Twelve eventually became Thirteen when Graff was able to show that he too had been conscripted and was not a volunteer like Boos. The French authorities had interviewed "Les Douze" at various times, both during the war (some of them had deserted to the French armed forces in Normandy) and immediately after its conclusion in 1945. The soldiers had first been told by their interviewers that since they were conscripts and known as, "malgré-nous" (against our will), they were to be regarded as witnesses and not as defendants. Additionally eight of them had been under eighteen at the time of their conscription in 1943 -44 and so under French law were to be regarded as minors, not fully answerable for their actions.
This attitude changed dramatically in 1947, following a visit by President Vincent Auriol to Oradour on the anniversary of the massacre. During the commemoration he was urged by the secretary of the ANFM ((Association Nationale des Familles des Martyres d'Oradour-sur-Glane (National Association of the Families of the Martyrs of Oradour-sur-Glane)) to pursue all perpetrators of the crime and bring them to justice with all speed. It is perhaps significant that this meeting was very well attended. Amongst the many dignitaries present was the Communist (FTP) Resistance leader Georges Guingouin, who at this time was mayor of Limoges (it was Guingouin who had been responsible for the fate of Sturmbannführer Kämpfe). Auriol told his audience that the government was to introduce new legislation, which was to shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defence; in effect the accused would have to show their innocence. This new law which was totally against the established principles of normal judicial procedure, had been drafted in an attempt to make 'justice' swifter and easier (for the prosecution.) The essential principle was that anyone who was shown to be a member of a criminal organisation was to be judged guilty of any crime committed by their unit; unless they could show that they were not present or otherwise involved. In the context of Oradour the relevance of this new law was that the whole of the SS had been declared a criminal organisation during the war crimes trials at Nuremberg. On 15 September 1948 this idea became law in France and was known as, 'The Law of Collective Responsibility'. It was to be a retroactive law; thus anyone who was thought to have committed a crime before the law came into force could be tried under it. Thus all members of the Third Company of the First Battalion of Der Führer Regiment of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division Das Reich were to be tried. This was notwithstanding the fact that some of them were French (Alsatian) and (in 1948) free men, who had been told in 1947 that they were not being regarded as liable for their actions at Oradour.
As the date for the trial approached, feelings in Alsace began to rise at the thought of "Les Douze" being held accountable for their being German soldiers in 1944 against their wills, especially now that they were French again. In the Limousin (the district around Limoges / Oradour-sur-Glane) feelings were high that there was not, nor should there be, any difference between German and Alsatian; a crime was a crime no matter who committed it.
Monday 12 January 1953, Bordeaux:
In the small hours of the day a train from Metz in the French province of Lorraine pulled in to Bordeaux rail station and 11 rather apprehensive and lost looking men got off. They were met, not as they had expected by their lawyers, or representatives of the law, but by the press. Eventually they managed to rouse one of their defending counsel from his bed (after hiring taxies to take them to his hotel) and he arranged accommodation for them overnight. Thus it can be seen that the trial proceedings started off in a faintly surreal atmosphere and that set the tone in which it was to continue. The "Horror Trial" that all of France had been awaiting, was about to start and two thirds of the defendants spent their first night comfortably in a hotel, they were not even held in custody. One man, Camille Grienenberger, managed to miss the train at Metz and arrived alone and late on Monday afternoon with no one at all to meet him.
Such a dramatic trial, one which the whole country was awaiting and yet one with such lackadaisical arrangements concerning the security and custody of the majority of the accused! However from the beginning of the trial, all the accused were accommodated in prison when not in court.
The trial proper started later that Monday afternoon in a small courtroom on the outskirts of Bordeaux. This courtroom seemingly was deliberately chosen, so that the numbers of onlookers present would be small and thus more easily controlled in the event of any disturbance. In the years since 1953 the court has had an additional story added to it, but its essential character has remained unchanged.
The presiding judge was a civil magistrate, Marcel Nussy-Saint-Saëns, a nephew of the composer (whose Organ Symphony has bass notes of such amplitude, that 33 rpm vinyl records had to be specially cut, so that the needle could accurately track the music near the centre). He headed a tribunal consisting of an additional six serving officers who were to try the case under the arrangements of the Standing Military Court. This Court had been set up in France to try war crimes and it did not use the jury system, just the tribunal to determine both verdict and if need be, sentence.
Judge Saint-Saëns opened proceedings by stating that the trial was primarily a trial of 'Nazism' and he made a strong complaint concerning the length of time taken for the trial to begin, some 8 years and 7 months in fact. It was he said, quite unjust for the German defendants to have been held in custody for all that time without a trial. Additionally many of the Alsatian defendants had married and were currently raising families. Now they found themselves on trial for their lives after being told (in 1947) that they were free to go. His remarks indicated that this was not going to be a rushed or biased trial, rather to the contrary, he was after a fair hearing for both sides. President Auriol later described Saint-Saëns as, "a remarkable man" who in an impossible position did a creditable job.
Saint-Saëns began by recalling the events of 10th June 1944 at Oradour-sur-Glane and described the background to the case. He recalled that General Gleiniger commanding the German garrison troops for the Limousin had made a visit to the ruins and that Field Marshal Rommel had written to Hitler expressing the view that those responsible should be punished. The counsel for the defence were then given their first opportunity to speak.
The remainder of the first day was taken up with the defence lawyers for the Alsatians stating their plea that the Alsatians and the Germans should be tried separately. This discussion was a continuation of the public debate on the subject which had been going on for some time before the trial began.
Tuesday 13 January 1953:
Counsel for the defence drew attention to the fact that over 130,000 Alsatian men had been drafted into Germany's armed forces and some 40,000 had not returned. They described how the Germans had attempted to 'Germanise' life in the province and how any attempt at avoiding the military call-up was severely punished. No Alsatian family was unaffected by the conscription and all could identify with the defendants. They could all too easily imagine how they or a member of their family could have found themselves at Oradour that day.
The counsel for the German defendants opposed the plea for a separate trial. They said that since all the defendants were at Oradour together, they should be tried together. The legal argument over the validity of a joint trial of Alsatians and Germans continued with Saint-Saëns becoming exasperated with this attempt, as he saw it, to split hairs. He eventually stated that it was impossible for the court to try the men separately without violating the provisions of the military code. On this basis he ruled that it must be a joint trial.
Wednesday 14 January 1953:
The court was so packed, "that sitting space on the floor was a privilege". A reporter who was present counted 21 defendants, 17 lawyers, 60 military police, 12 tribunal staff, 70 reporters and 50 members of the public, all packed into a small court room. (see picture) It is noteworthy that reporters were by far the largest group present, easily outnumbering those members of the public whom had come to see justice done.
Judge Saint-Saëns said, "If anyone doubts that there were atrocities committed at Oradour, let him listen carefully." Then the court heard three Government prosecutors read from a 40-page indictment detailing the full nature of the charges against the accused. The prosecutor described how after the massacre the SS men regaled themselves with wine on 10th June and returned the next day in an ineffectual attempt to bury the dead.
There were 12 relatives of the dead in court, just behind the defendants; both groups sat with expressionless faces throughout. At the close of the day Saint-Saëns asked if any of the defendants had any objections to what they had heard, or if they wished anything to be translated. He said, "French law does not oblige me to give you a translation but I want to give you all the chances there are." All the defendants stood to attention and answered either, "Non" or, "Nein Herr Präsedent." It must be remembered that the seven Germans had over 8 years in prison to learn French if they did not previously speak it.
Meanwhile in Germany, events were being followed with interest. The newspaper, Deutsche Zukunft (German Future) ran an article comparing the events at Oradour with the bombing of Dresden. They said that they could not understand why 'Bomber' Harris (British Air Marshal) who had ordered the raid was being elevated to the peerage. By implication they were asking the question that if the killing of 642 men, women and children in Oradour was a crime, why was the killing of tens of thousands in Dresden being rewarded with honours?
Thursday 15 January 1953:
This day started with the clerk of the court reading out details of the specific offences with which the men were being charged. He also read out the names of all the 642 victims, during which the whole court stood for the half an hour that it took. Some of the children had not been baptised, so they were listed at this time as, "Infant aged two, infant aged three months, infant-aged two weeks." Eventually all such children were to be named by their relatives and it is these names which appear on the memorial tablets in the cemetery at Oradour. Judge Saint-Saëns then explained that the defendants were to be tried under the French penal code for individual crimes and the Law of Collective Responsibility for crimes committed by their unit.
Saint-Saëns statement was to the effect that if individual responsibility could not be proven, then they were all guilty anyway as it had already been established that they were all members of the guilty 3rd company. A kind of, 'if you're not guilty, then you're not innocent either' situation.
The initial statements of the defendants were made to the court. Lenz said that after the event he had heard that the reason for the attack was in revenge for the killing of Sturmbannführer Kämpfe on the 9th June. Judge Saint-Saëns pointed out to him that Kämpfe had been taken alive some 30 miles from Oradour. Lenz continued by saying that he had not done anything bad and that he had just walked around the village on the day.
What is interesting about Lenz's statement above is that he mentioned hearing about Kämpfe 'after the event'. The kidnapping was not given to the troops as the explanation for their attack before they went to Oradour and Lenz was the only one to mention it during the trial.
In the Haut-Rhin (the Department covering Alsace) the president of its assembly, M. Bourgeois, who was also a Deputy in the National Assembly, denounced the decision to hold a joint trial. His argument was that by having one trial, the court was saying in effect, that the German wartime decree, which made Alsatians into Germans, was valid. On the other hand, if the court did not distinguish between Alsatian and German, then why was Boos who had volunteered for the SS whilst being a German citizen, being tried for treason? In effect Boos was being tried on the basis of, 'heads you're guilty, tails you're not innocent'.
In the Limousin, the ANFM strongly supported the decision to try both groups together. They said that if the Alsatians were claiming to be French, then that made their actions on 10th June 1944 all the more reprehensible. Why had they not tried to prevent the killing of their fellow citizens, if indeed they were as French as they claimed to be?
No one in the ANFM seems to have noticed that if the Alsatians were to be regarded as being non Frenchmen (i.e. as being German), then trying Boos for treason was illogical. Passions were running high and reason was giving way to emotion.
Friday 16 January 1953:
At the beginning of the day Judge Saint-Saëns noticed a young girl of 8 sitting in the court and he asked what she was doing there. Her mother Mme. Gabrielle Tessaud explained, "I brought my daughter here so that she will be able to know the murderers of her father (Paul) and grandfather (Jean)." Saint-Saëns said that he did not think the trial was a suitable place for one so young. Mme Tessaud protested saying that Paule, who had been named after her father, had a right to know how he died. She was allowed to stay.
The defendants were now called to give verbal statements of their actions in Oradour. Both Pfeufer and Frenzel said that they were part of a squad of 12 that was ordered to execute men in a garage, but that they could not really remember much detail. Pfeufer said that, "I think I aimed at their chests, but I don’t really remember. I could not see very well. I had a light machine gun." When asked what the civilians looked like, Frenzel said, "They were standing against the wall and I could not see them clearly." Pfeufer added, "We fired at 20 men on orders of Hauptsturmführer Kahn, it was all over quickly." It is interesting to read Kahn's account of his actions that day and to compare what he said he did, with what his men said he did.
A notarised letter by Heinrich Lammerding (commander of Das Reich Division on 10 June 1944) was put before the court. In his deposition Lammerding stated that he had been informed by Stadler (commander of Der Führer Regiment) that Diekmann had exceeded his orders and that he would have faced an enquiry, but was killed before it took place. It is noteworthy that according to Otto Weidinger, who became the commander of Der Führer on 14th June 1944, Diekmann did have a hearing before the Division's court. This was sometime after the Division arrived in Normandy, however Weidinger was not called as a witness to the trial, nor did he send a statement of any kind to be read out to the court.
In a unanimous declaration, all the Deputies of Alsace and Lorraine condemned the (joint) trial of the Alsatians as an, "abusive interpretation of the law." The British Government it was understood was tacitly supporting the Alsatian point of view and this was (in part at least) why they were not prepared to hand over Lammerding (it was later proved that the French had never actually formally asked for his extradition).
Saturday 17 January 1953:
The court heard Lohner retract in part his previous statement that he had seen Lenz throwing grenades into the church, it was he said another German, not present at the trial. This retraction caused Saint-Saëns to say that the accused had entered into a conspiracy to defeat the course of justice. Graff was much more open, he said that he was present at the killing of two women and that he helped pile up heaps of faggots and brushwood onto the bodies of the women and children (many of them being still alive) in the church.
The defendants only admitted to certain specific acts, such as being present at Oradour (and not even that in every case) and denied all the most serious charges. Graff was the only one who prior to the proceedings beginning, admitted killing anyone and he did not change his story during the trial.
Demonstrations took place in Alsace at the war memorials, organised by the, Association des Evadés et Incorporés de Force, (Association of Deserters and Forcibly Enlisted men). This was the pressure group that had been formed to protect the interests of the Alsatian conscripts on their return to civilian life in France. They were protesting of course for a separate trial of the Alsatians from the Germans.
Sunday 18 January 1953:
Considerable 'behind the scenes' activity took place, both politically and in the media. It was reported that, "Stacks of letters full of threats, advice, warnings and of politically inspired pressure are pilling up on the desk of Judge Saint-Saëns, President of the Military tribunal." In addition Saint-Saëns was warned that various political groups, especially the Communists were out to exploit the trial for their own ends. The current mayor of Oradour was a Communist and the party line was that both Britain and the USA had joined in a conspiracy to protect war criminals by refusing to extradite them on request. It was impossible, said the Communists, for both French and German soldiers ever to be part of the proposed, 'European Army.'
More demonstrations took place in Alsace in support of the defendants.
Monday 19 January 1953:
More details of the events of 10th June 1944 were relived in court.
Albert Ochs had been in the French Army when the war started and was captured in June 1940 as a Frenchman, but was set free in August that year as a German. He was then conscripted into the SS in February 1944 and recounted how as a member of Unterscharführer Hans Steger's squad he was ordered to kill the sick in their homes. Steger had said, "If you find anyone ill, execute them on the spot". Ochs went on to describe how Steger had beaten an old woman in the doorway of her home and when he had protested, Steger said, "Shut up Alsatian" and then shot the woman dead. Ochs was hit twice in the legs by ricochets from this incident and spent the rest of the day lying down in a lorry receiving first aid. After Oradour he deserted and joined the FFI as a resistance fighter. At the time of the trial he was employed as a village policeman.
Antoine Lohner had been in the French Tank Corps in 1940 where he won the Croix de Guerre fighting against the Germans. After the French defeat he was demobilised and sent home to Colmar as a German citizen. He was called up into the SS as a German conscript in 1943. Now in 1953 he was white hared and troubled by what he had seen at Oradour. He described how the children had been encouraged to sing as they walked to the church and then, "the cries of the women and children are still in my mind". Lohner went on to quote Steger as saying, "If anyone refuses to come to the fairground, or you find old people who cannot walk, shoot them." Lohner said that he later saw Boos and Steger throwing grenades into the church. He deserted in Normandy to the Americans, who eventually turned him over to the French.
Louis Hoehlinger was an Inspector with the Saigon (now, Ho Chi Minh City) Police before the trial began and this does illustrate one of the anomalies of the case, as he had come to France on leave to attend his own trial. A strange affair, a police officer on trial for the mass murder of his (current) fellow citizens, committed when he was officially of a different nationality. These nationality changes, French to German, German to French were totally outside his control. He was a minor of seventeen at the time of Oradour and had been conscripted into the SS. After Oradour he deserted and joined the Resistance and later the French Army where he served in Indo-China, winning the Croix de Guerre. Eventually, still in Indo-China (present day Vietnam) he joined the police force. He stated that he regretted ever belonging to the SS, which drew Saint-Saëns into remarking that it was, "An organisation of assassins and thieves."
Herbert Daab had been in the Hitler Youth since the age of ten. He admitted being in an execution squad which shot about 20 men in a barn, but that he had only helped load a machine gun for someone else and not actually killed anyone himself.
Tuesday 20 January 1953:
Today was the day that Georg René Boos was accused by his co-defendants of being a killer of women and children, Boos denied the charges. He had volunteered for the SS at 18 years of age and been awarded the Iron Cross II for action in Russia. Boos was not liked by the other defendants who described him, "as more German than the Germans." They described how, "One day he got mad because some of his squad joked about a date he had with a girl. He put us on parade for two hours, ordering us to repeatedly lie down on the muddy ground and then get up again to attention. Then he gave us extra punishment because our uniforms were dirty." Boos was repeatedly accused of throwing grenades into the church and of helping to set fire to it by his fellow defendants. He did admit to giving the 'coup de grace' to various wounded men, but denied the claim of Lohner that he had shot two women near to the church.
Boos claimed that Hauptsturmführer Kahn, "was a hard man" and that they had been warned to, "expect heavy fighting at Oradour." He also denied the veracity of the statement that he had given to the British whilst a prisoner of war, because he said he had been so badly beaten at the time that, "I don’t know what I told them, I could not move for four weeks."
A large rusty baking container was brought into court. In this container the burnt body of a baby had been discovered and Boos was asked what he knew of the matter. It was claimed that he had been in the squad near to the bakery where the container had been discovered; he said nothing.
Wednesday 21 January 1953:
This was the last day of examining the defendants' statements. Four of them stated that they had either been on sentry duty outside the village or not present at all during the killings. They said that their orders were to prevent anyone either entering or leaving the village and at the time believed that a battle was taking place there.
Unterscharführer Wilhelm Blaeschke who was in the medical corps said that he had paid no attention to what was going on and had played no part in it. He denied the allegation of Lenz that he had gone into a barn (one of the killing sites) with a pistol.
Rottenführer Wilhelm Boehme was also questioned about the hanging of two women on a lamppost at Freyssinet-le-Gélat on 21st May 1944 after a sniper had killed a German soldier. Boehme tried to withdraw a statement that he had made whilst a prisoner of war in England in 1945 about both this event and Oradour, because he said that he had been beaten continually whilst making it. Saint-Saëns interrupted him to say that; "they were greatly surprised to hear that, especially of the English". For some more information about Freyssinet-le-Gélat, see the transcript of the DVD, "Oradour retour sur un Massacre".
Thursday 22 January 1953:
The court again refused a defence plea for a separate trial for the Alsatians, who were still to stand alongside their German companions.
Today was the first day of evidence by the witnesses of the events at Oradour, most notably that of the survivors. Clément Broussaudier who survived the shooting in the Laudy barn said, "It was all planned, all prepared." Mathieu Borie told how the mayor refused to name 30 hostages and how the Germans, "beat us along like beasts to the slaughter" to the Laudy barn. Broussaudier quite specifically mentioned how one soldier kicked the baker Léopold Bouchoulle who was slowly walking to the fairground supported by his two sons. (It is worth mentioning that some other witnesses, such as Robert Hébras saw no signs of brutality at this time, before the shooting started.)
Marcel Darthout (who survived the shooting in the Laudy barn) produced a sensation in court when asked by Saint-Saëns if he wished to say anything more, added, "I saw no difference between the Alsatians and the Germans in Oradour. They were all equally full of hatred."
Friday 23 January 1953:
Marguerite Rouffanche, who was ill today, described the events in the church through a deposition read out in court on her behalf.
Marcel Bellivers, one of the relatives of the dead shouted from the back of the court, "That is the man who killed my mother." He was pointing at Henri Webber, who stood up white faced and declared, "I was never in Oradour, I was a sentry outside." This prompted Boos to state that all the Alsatians had been in the village. Saint-Saëns questioned Bellivers asking if he was sure, as over eight years had elapsed and memories fade with time. Bellivers, who had hidden in a cow stall during the round up of the population, saw his mother being led away and insisted that it was Webber. This was the first time that anyone outside the SS had claimed to recognise any of the soldiers in court as having been present on 10th June 1944. It was in fact the only time during the trial that anyone claimed to recognise any of the defendants as being in Oradour on 10th June.
Jean Canou, the Resistance fighter, whose kidnapping of Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe was the event that was said to have led the SS to Oradour, claimed that he thought a mistake had been made. "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." However read the account of Len Cotton regarding the resistance activity of the escape network.
It is worth stating that at this time in the court there was no universally agreed motive for the attack. Everyone had a theory as to why the SS had acted as they did, but there was no consensus. Some of the defendants had mentioned Kämpfe's abduction as a reason, some that they thought there was a Resistance presence at Oradour. Various witnesses had their own ideas, 44 years later André Desourteaux was to claim that it was done so that, "Their army could go through easily." That is, it was done to dissuade the Resistance from further attacks on Das Reich during the march to Normandy and the invasion front. The attack did indeed quieten the Resistance in the Limousin, it stunned them into a state of inactive shock.
Saturday 24 January 1953:
Jean Brouillard who represented the families of the victims interrupted the statements of witnesses to demand the death penalty for all 21 defendants, whom he accused of lying. "They completely lack sincerity. Each is as bad as the other. An exemplary sentence for all will be the only correct manifestation of French justice."
The court continued to hear witness statements from various people who had entered Oradour during and immediately after the SS was there. Mme. Demery who lost two sons and eleven other members of her family managed to reach the boys school before it was burnt and found their caps and satchels hanging in the schoolroom, but no sign of the children.
Perhaps the most controversial witness in the whole case was M. Massiéra a police official in the Limoges Police Force at the time of the massacre. He claimed, "In my opinion the massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane was certainly provoked by the assassination of two German soldiers on the viaduct at Saint Junien. The SS wanted to make an example; if they chose Oradour it was evidently because they were not in a position to destroy a town like Saint Junien, which has more than six thousand inhabitants." The killings to which he referred had taken place on the evening of 8 June when Resistance fighters opened fire on a group of ten soldiers walking across the viaduct. (this was before Das Reich arrived in the area) M. Massiéra's allegation profoundly shocked all those present in the court, as it seemed to place both the Resistance and the SS on the same level. He had visited Oradour just after the massacre and had seen the carnage in the church, so he was no armchair theorist, but a man with first hand experience of events.
Various witnesses who had managed to hide in the village mentioned the sound of the children's shoes as they were marched to the church. They could not see the procession, but could hear it and the sound was a haunting one.
The impression was gathering strength from each witness that Oradour was not a centre of Resistance. The story was told that the parish priest strongly disapproved of the Resistance and even members of the Resistance itself, such as Canou said that there was no activity in Oradour, but see picture of Len Cotton for another side to the story.
Sunday 25 January 1953:
The court did not sit today.
Monday 26 January 1953:
Boos stated that an Alsatian lawyer had told him that the safety of his family could depend upon his evidence. When challenged to give further details and describe the man, all he would say was that he was, "blond."
Tuesday 27 January 1953:
Marguerite Senon testified that she had been on the last tram to reach Oradour on Saturday and that she had been briefly held with a group of twenty passengers whilst soldiers ate and joked about the day's events. After she was let go, by pretending to be not from Oradour, she returned the next day to find, "what had once been a house, with flower pots still standing on the window ledge. The only living things were my uncle's dogs. I ran."
Louise Gauthier (also on the tram) described how the soldiers, "hunted poultry in the farmyards." She said that they told her that they had, "Found a Resistance arms dump." This assertion sounds like an attempt at self-justification to a civilian. If they found an "arms dump" where was it, what happened to it?
Marcelle Lamaud had been away from her home and when she, "Returned, the farm was looted and empty. There had been seventeen people there. Everything was gone, from my four-year-old daughter to the bread in the kitchen and the gold upstairs. The doors were open, but no one came back."
Wednesday 28 January 1953:
Roger Godfrin gave evidence today, at this time he was a sixteen year old cadet with the French Air Force.
Doctors testified that many of the corpses that they had examined showed signs of having been burned alive.
Saint-Saëns drew attention to one of the anomalies of the case by referring to a part of Graff's statement where he mentioned shooting at a woman near to the cemetery. "There you have it again, this tragedy of an Alsatian firing on a refugee woman from Lorraine" i.e. a Frenchman shooting a Frenchwoman on the orders of a German, or if you prefer, a German shooting a German on the orders of another German.
The National Assembly voted today to repeal the 1948 Law of Collective Responsibility. This action at last restored a true sense of justice to the trial and removed the, 'heads you are guilty, tails you are not innocent' aspect of the judicial process.
Thursday 29 January 1953:
Saint-Saëns ordered photographs of the charred remains of the victims to be passed round the defendants. "Let them look at the glorious work of the valiant Third Company of Der Führer Regiment." The pictures were passed round rapidly, but Blaeschke (German medical orderly) refused to look at them, "I have decided not to look."
Doctor Pierre Manfrand the curator of the ruins, produced many artefacts that had been salvaged from the site. Prams riddled with bullet holes, broken toys; watches stopped by the heat of the fires and a glasses case with a bullet hole through it. Saint-Saëns remarked on the twisted state of many of the metal objects and said that; "The fire which melted these could not have been produced with straw or with wood. Tell the accused men that we know that the church bell melted drop by drop under the extremely violent action of the material which they used." When the defendants said nothing, Saint-Saëns went on, "I will tell you what was used. You had flame-throwers with spare tubes. Did not you use these tubes and pour their contents over the victims?" See the model of the fire in the church for further information, but it is my belief that Saint-Saëns was wrong in thinking that flame-thrower fuel had been used, as the necessary heat could have been quite easily generated without it.
Other witnesses described the scene in Oradour on the day after the attack. Alphonse Lévignac who took his sons Jean (16) and Charles (12) to Oradour to escape the allied bombing of his home in Avignon and went looking for them, saw Mme Rouffanche near to the church and thought she was a Negress as she was so blackened by smoke.
Mme. Hyvernaud described how she was walking from Les Bordes to Oradour on the 10th June when she saw the Germans approaching and hid behind a bush. She saw an officer handing pieces of paper, which seemed to be plans to the N.C.O's
There was a report that the ADEIF had written to the Swedish Embassy in Paris stating that according to, "well founded rumours" Hauptsturmführer Kahn was living in Swedish territory and asking for their help in locating him. This request came to nothing and Kahn was never brought to trial, either in 1953 or later and as is now clear Kahn was never in Sweden at all, but was living under his own name in Germany. See Kahn's statement for further detail as to his actions on the 10th June 1944.
Friday 30 January 1953:
A statement was issued by the British Government saying that France had made no official request for the extradition of Brigadeführer Lammerding. This led to M. Pleven making a statement in the National Assembly to the effect that Britain had never actually refused to hand over Lammerding. There had been a problem in that until Lammerding had sent his notarised statement to the court, the French authorities had not known his exact whereabouts. Now that his address was known he said, formal extradition proceedings could begin. The same day it was reported that Lammerding had left his Düsseldorf home for an unknown destination. Lammerding, like Kahn was never brought to trial.
Georges Clement who had been a leading figure in the Alsatian Resistance movement told the court that the Alsatian defenders had been forced into the SS and that they had no choice in the matter. Conscription had begun in 1942 and had lasted for as long as Germany held power over the province. Families in Alsace were warned that if their sons deserted or tried to evade enlistment, the whole family could be deported. "In many families one son was fighting with the Free French while another was in the German Army." A truly horrible prospect for those involved.
Joseph Rey, Mayor of the Alsatian City of Colmar said that he and many others had been sent to the Nazi, "Re-education centre at Schirmeck, a horrifying madhouse, where people fought for crusts of bread." He said to Saint-Saëns, "Monsieur Le President you must understand our position, my mother who is 82 has changed her nationality five times in her lifetime. That is the drama of my little country. I have fought hard for my country which is France, but I also fought with the Germans against France in 1917 and 1918."
Saturday 31 January 1953:
It was reported that West Germany would not agree to the extradition of Lammerding even if a request were made to them. It must be realised that matters of extradition for civil matters were by now in the control of the German domestic government, but war crimes were still controlled by the occupying powers. In the case of Lammerding, because the British were not convinced of his guilt and they viewed it as a civil matter, it was for the German authorities to agree to the extradition request.
Mme. Rouffanche was able to attend court and give her testimony in person. She was very weak and frail from her recent illness. The members of the tribunal gathered round her chair instead of her having to stand in the witness box to give her evidence.
Another mother, Mme. Ledot described how she had visited the church two days after the attack and, "I found my mother there. There were still faggots on her body. I found my little grandson, dreadfully burned. I buried him myself."
Sunday 1 February 1953:
The court did not sit today.
Monday 2 February 1953:
Witnesses tried to explain the predicament that the Alsatian conscripts found themselves in when called up for the German army. Gustave Degen one of a total of 862 men from his village to be drafted into the SS said, "Sweeping floors with a toothbrush … things like that break a man. Disobedience becomes impossible." Edward Schildknect said that he was forced to march in full kit until he collapsed, "You could not disobey. If I had been at Oradour, I do not know what I would have done."
There were further reports from Germany that Lammerding had "gone to earth." The search for him began properly today when British High Commission Headquarters finally received a formal request from France for his extradition. (It should be realised that Britain had not at this time agreed to extradite Lammerding, only to try and find him for questioning.)
Tuesday 3 February 1953:
There was almost a universal sigh of relief today in Alsace, when three weeks after the joint trial began, the court finally yielded to the weight of evidence and persuasion; to grant the Alsatian defendants a separate trial from the Germans. The case was to continue on Wednesday with the Alsatians having a separate hearing from the others.
There was a demonstration of forgiveness today, Marie-Louise Neumeyer, a teacher from Alsace said, "I want to say that when my brother and sister were shot at Oradour, where they were refugees, we had not seen them for four years. Yet when the news came my deepest feeling was - I am sorry for these Alsatians conscripted into the SS. I cannot bring myself to consider them responsible - because these young men were themselves victims of Hitler's rule." Mme. Neumeyer said that she had decided to speak out when the mother of the defendant Albert Daul told her of her personal sorrow. In addition to Albert she had another conscript son who was missing in Russia, both men victims of 'Hitler's rule'.
In Limoges, 40,000 people took part in a demonstration to protest at the repealing of the 1948 Law of Collective Responsibility. (It was this action that had allowed the tribunal to split the trial into two).
Wednesday 4 February 1953:
This was the first day of the separate trial and the seven Germans sat alone.
The Alsatian barrister, Maître Boerner (appearing for the Germans) argued that the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Convention on prisoners of war applied to his clients and that they could not be held to account for a law which had retrospective action (the repealed Law of Collective Responsibility). Lieutenant-Colonel Gratien Gardon, the prosecuting officer, rejected this claim, saying that that the trial was not of a province (Alsace) or of a nation (Germany), but of individuals.
Colonel Gardon said that Hauptsturmführer Kahn was the villain of the piece (Diekmann being dead) and that, "If there is a single man or a single Government in the world ready to shelter this man, it is to be feared that all efforts made since 1945 to establish the rule of law will have been in vain." He went on to appeal to the public, "To unmask and make known the whereabouts of this monster." Remember, as is now known, Kahn was living openly under his own name in Ottmarsbocholt, Germany, but at the time he was suspected of living in Sweden.
Colonel Gardon went on to describe the bloody trail in France left by Das Reich both before and after Oradour. Gardon spoke for four hours, summarising the case for the prosecution. He drew attention to the problem of the Alsatians, "We had scarcely heard the recital of horror by the all too few survivors of Oradour, when other Frenchmen came to tell us that the Alsatian accused, at first sight murderers, were in reality victims to be pitied. Is not the task of reconciling the irreconcilable almost beyond the power of man?" In this, Gardon was absolutely correct, as future events during the trial were to show.
Thursday 5 February 1953:
The French lawyers defending the Germans asked the court to disregard the statements that they had made whilst being held as prisoners of war in Britain. Two of the defendants (Blaeschke and Boehme) had claimed of being beaten into making statements that they now wished to retract. Maître Audet said, "I understand the tribunal has had doubts that British methods could ever be questioned. I have obtained some information about them. At one British camp, excesses were committed. They resulted in court proceedings against the camp commander and his officers. These interrogations were carried out by soldiers, not by police or judicial authorities, which perhaps explains the situation. Prisoners statements were written down in English and the accused men had to sign them without understanding. I think the tribunal may judge that these interrogations cannot be upheld."
Colonel Gardon called for the death penalty for Lenz and jail sentences for all the other Germans present. He also called for the death penalty for Hauptsturmführer Kahn and all the other identified members of the Third Company not present. Lenz was singled out as the most senior man present before the court, but there was very little direct evidence against him. He claimed that on 10 June 1944 he had spent two and half-hours on sentry duty in a field and another three hours as a lookout up a tree. When his own defence lawyer said that this sounded incredible, he changed his story somewhat, "I did not actually spend three hours up the tree. I spent about two hours when I should have been up the tree playing with a dog in a field, but I would rather not try to tell the court about that. They could not possibly believe it." His lawyer agreed with him.
It is noteworthy that there had not been any specific charges brought against Lenz, but Colonel Gardon said, "It is enough for me that Lenz was a non-commissioned officer in the SS. Nobody has ever seen a SS-Oberscharführer walking round like a tourist during operations." It can be seen from Gardon's statement that he still harboured thoughts similar to the theme of the Law of Collective Responsibility.
Friday 6 February 1953:
The day was taken up entirely with the defence lawyers of the German accused making pleas on behalf of their clients. The French lawyers who represented all the defendants performed magnificently throughout the trial. There was no question but that they tried as hard for the German accused as they did for the French Alsatians.
Maître Laffeuillée-Vieillard who represented Lenz, challenged Colonel Gardon by saying that since the repeal of the 1948 Law of Collective Responsibility it was not sufficient to claim that just because Lenz was there; that he must also be guilty. Proof was needed and there was no specific evidence against Lenz.
Frenzel was only seventeen at the time of the massacre and had been with his unit for just four months. His counsel pleaded that he was in no position to query the orders of his superiors.
The various counsel re-iterated the need to obey superior orders, especially in the SS and the consequences to the defendants of refusing to obey, or even of querying such orders.
The president of the ADEIF said that he had received a threatening letter from Buenos Aires, sent by an organisation of former French members of the SS. They threatened vengeance against the, "hateful" proceedings of the trial of the Alsatians.
Saturday 7 February 1953:
Today the Alsatians were back in court to hear the prosecution case against them. Their counsel pleaded that since the Law of Collective Responsibility had been repealed, the court had no jurisdiction to try most of them, as there was little specific evidence against individual soldiers. This plea was rejected and the case continued.
Boos was the prime target for the prosecution as he was described as being Kahn's lackey, directing the shooting at his behest and later administering the coup de grace to the wounded. There were witnesses (other defendants) who had testified to his throwing grenades into the church, shooting the wounded and had he not robbed the sacraments from the tabernacle in the church the day after the massacre? Boos denied all these charges.
The prosecution were arguing that nothing could excuse these 'Frenchmen' from firing on their fellow citizens, an illegal order was an illegal order, no matter where and when and by whom it was given. However the definition of what was, 'illegal' it must be admitted depended upon one's point of view; from the defendants point of view they had no choice.
Sunday 8 February 1953:
The court did not sit today.
Monday 9 February 1953:
Colonel Gardon demanded the death penalty for Boos and a mixture of hard labour or solitary confinement for all the other Alsatians (including Graff). He went on to quote from Shakespeare's Richard III in order to sum up the case for the prosecution. "I am reminded of the words of Gloucester (who was covered in blood) standing by the dead body of the King.
Gloucester: Say that I slew them not?
Lady Anne: Why, then they are not dead: but dead they are, and, devilish slave, by thee".
In other words said Gardon, "you might as well say despite the heaps of ashes and ruins, that the massacre never took place. But the people of Oradour are dead: well dead."
Gardon was scathing of the Alsatian claim about repression and the risk to their families if they disobeyed orders. He pointed out that the ones that deserted only did so after they had come under fire in Normandy. Shooting helpless civilians was no problem for them, but they could not stomach real fighting, they were undoubtedly guilty. "The Germans were our enemies but these Alsatians were Frenchmen. They fired on their brothers."
Tuesday 10 February 1953:
Today was wholly given over to the pleas for the Alsatian defendants. Maître Moser said that the reason that the Alsatians were in court was because Alsace had been incorporated into Hitler's Reich as a result of France not defending itself properly in 1940. He argued that the judgement on the Alsatians would be a judgement on the whole province and that was unfair. The men were in effect prisoners of the SS and could not have been expected to act differently to the way they had (Boos, being a volunteer, was not included in this plea).
Counsel gave evidence of the harsh measures taken against deserters and those who disobeyed orders; they refuted Gardon's claim that the Alsatians had any choice in the matter.
Wednesday 11 February 1953:
The trial entered its final stages today with the Alsatian counsel for the defendants making their final statements. When asked by Saint-Saëns if the Alsatians had any personal statements to add, only Boos replied, "I regret sincerely having been in this sad affair without having wished it."
Then counsel for the Germans spoke and the men were allowed to make individual statements if they wanted, most did so and expressed their confidence in the court. Lenz said, "As a German I regret sincerely the events of Oradour. I took no part. With full confidence I leave my fate in the hands of this high tribunal." It is worth remembering that there was very little evidence against Lenz, other than the fact that he had been at Oradour (which he never attempted to deny).
Counsel appealed to the world to seek out the officers responsible and hand them over to justice (especially Kahn who was thought at the time to be hiding in Sweden).
The tribunal then withdrew to a locked and guarded room to consider their verdicts; it was expected to be a lengthy affair as they had over 800 separate charges to review.
The verdicts were announced at 02:10 am on Friday 13th February 1953 after the tribunal had deliberated for thirty-two hours. The defendants were asleep in their cells and were wakened to hear their fate. Before the sentences were read out, the Great Bell of Bordeaux was rung in memory of the dead of Oradour. Not many people were surprised at the results, but that did not of course prevent the expression of disgust from both Alsace and the Limousin. Feelings in Germany itself were not surprisingly largely ignored by the French, but the Germans also had reason to feel unhappy.
In addition to their sentences, all the Germans were barred from living in France for 20 years. This was a curious addition, as it is difficult to see why they would ever want to reside in a country, which so despised them.
Karl Lenz … Death
Wilhelm Bläschke … 12 years hard labour
Wilhelm Boehme … 10 years hard labour
Fritz Pfeufer … 10 years hard labour
Hermann Frenzel … 10 years jail
Herbert Daab … 12 years hard labour
Erwin Dagenhardt … Acquitted (he was able to prove that he was not in Oradour during the killings)
Wilhelm Nobbe … Not present in court, as he had been found clinically insane prior to the trial beginning and so was not actually tried at all.
Georg René Boos … Death
Paul Graff … 8 years jail
Albert Daul … 8 years hard labour
Jean-Pierre Elsässer … 6 years jail
Louis Hoehlinger … 6 years jail
Albert Ochs … 5 years hard labour
Joseph Busch … 8 years hard labour
Antoine Lohner … 7 years hard labour
Fernand Giedinger … 8 years hard labour
Alfred Spaeth … 5 years hard labour
Louis Prestel … 6 years hard labour
Henri Weber … 6 years jail
Jean Niess … 5 years hard labour
Camille Grienenberger … 8 years hard labour
1) Of the 45 not present at the trial, all were condemned to death in their absence including Kahn and Lammerding. This blanket condemnation had of course the effect of driving all these men even further out of the public view and rendering their testimony under oath lost to the causes of the truth, justice and history.
2) As can be seen from the above sentences, the German defendants received longer terms of imprisonment (about one-third longer) than the Alsatians.
The verdicts produced a storm of protest in both Alsace and the Limousin, the former thought they were too harsh, the latter, too lenient. The rest of France seemed to divide its opinion along political lines, generally the left (especially the communists) thought the sentences too light, the right too severe.
All the defendants, both German and Alsatian, immediately lodged appeals, except for Graff who had already served most of his sentence whilst awaiting trial.
The Alsatian newspapers had delayed their publication, so as to carry full reports of the sentences and lengthy comments on them. The papers were eagerly awaited in the province and their contents caused an immediate reaction. War memorials were hung with black drapes, thousands marched in protest, flags hung at half-mast and bells slowly tolled in mourning.
Posters went up all over the province declaring, "we do not accept the verdicts" and "all Alsace declares solidarity with her thirteen sons". War veterans prepared to return their medals to the Government, local councils met in emergency session to declare support for the malgré-nous. Boos was excluded from this support as he was viewed primarily as a traitor, having volunteered for the SS, even though he was technically a German at the time.
General de Gaulle said, "What Frenchman will not understand the enraged grief of Alsace?" He went on to speak of the province being, "brutally annexed by the enemy after the capitulation of Vichy." His concern was that after 6 years of war the French nation should not now permit, "the infliction of a bitter injury to national unity." René Plevin, the minister for national defence indicated that the government would support a bill to grant amnesty to all those forcibly incorporated into the German army. This went some way to calming Alsatian unrest.
On Thursday 19th February the French National Assembly passed a new bill granting amnesty to all malgré-nous for all crimes committed as a result of their forcible incorporation into the German army. This bill was passed by 319 votes to 211 with 83 abstentions, the large number of abstentions indicating that this was a difficult issue for the consciences of the Representatives.
With the passing of the amnesty, all the protests in Alsace stopped and the province returned to normal literally overnight. However in the Limousin things were viewed very differently. On Friday 20th and Saturday 21st February, representatives from the ANFM returned the Croix de Guerre and other awards granted to the memory of Oradour. They said that the village would no longer welcome official visits from state representatives. In a show of anger, they put up plaques listing the names of all the Deputies who had voted for the amnesty at the entrance to the ruins (where they remained until 1966.)
In Germany itself there was unease at the sentences being passed on their nationals and a feeling that if the French were being pardoned, then so should the Germans. After all the German SS soldiers on trial had also been conscripted into the army and they were just as young (some under 18) at the time of Oradour as the French. Even Lenz who had been judged the most harshly was not a volunteer for the SS. The German newspaper, Die Welt (The World) asked, "Were the Germans acting less under orders, less under pressure and force than their Alsatian colleagues? Were they different persons?"
Three days after the amnesty bill was passed on Sunday 22nd February, the thirteen Alsatians (including Graff, but not Boos) were released from custody at 3:30 AM. They returned to Alsace that afternoon to be received with joy both by their families and the province as a whole.
The people of the Limousin were devastated, the ANFM said to President Auriol, "Our dead are being held in scorn and jeered at. Oradour has been sacrificed a second time. Oradour the symbol of barbarity will henceforth be also the symbol of the unpunished crime."
Soon after, the majority of the Germans were freed, as they had already completed most of their sentences whilst waiting for the trial to begin.
In 1971 Heinrich Lammerding died at Bad Tölz in Bavaria without having ever been brought to trial, or even arrested on any charges at all.
In 1977 Otto Erich Kahn died in Ottmarsbocholt, Germany. He was never located whilst alive and is now known to have lived in Germany under his own name until his death (see photograph of his grave headstone). The stories that were circulating saying that he had left Germany for Sweden after the war, were just a smokescreen to mislead investigators. His post-war life was very low-key and he lived quietly without maintaining contact with his ex-colleagues in the Waffen-SS, as can be read in his statement made in 1962.
In 1983, Heinz Barth, who had been an Untersturmführer at Oradour, was found to be living openly and under his own name in East Germany. The Government of the day decided to have a public trial for Barth and this was undoubtedly a politically motivated event as there was no obvious reason why it happened when it did other than political expediency. A group of witnesses from Oradour including Robert Hébras went to give evidence.
Barth had little by way of new information to add at his trial, he re-iterated that no arms or ammunition had been found at Oradour either before or after the massacre. He did not really know why the attack had been ordered, he just followed orders. He took a simple view of the day, "In war one acts harshly and with the means available." His only regret was that he would be unable to see his grandchildren growing up whilst in jail. (Barth never attempted to deny his involvement in the attack). He was sentenced to life imprisonment following his trial and he was the most senior person ever tried in person for the massacre.
Barth was released from prison in 1997 following the re-unification of Germany. He had thus spent some 14 years in jail, by far the longest sentence served by any of the men convicted for their actions at Oradour. When he was released, Barth successfully appealed against a ruling that had denied him his war pension.
See the list of Dramatis Personae for details of all the main characters in the Oradour story and what happened to them.
© Michael Williams 22nd December 2000 ... revision
Tuesday, 29 November 2022