The Story of Oradour-sur-Glane
Sworn Affidavit of Eberhard Matthes
Quoted below is a sworn affidavit made
by retired German Army Lieutenant Eberhard Matthes, signed 16
November 1980, which makes some startling claims about what really
happened at Oradour-sur-Glane on 10 June 1944 when 642 men, women
and children were massacred and every building in the town was
set on fire by Waffen-SS soldiers of the 3rd Company of Der Führer
Regiment, Das Reich Division.
This affidavit was quoted in the original
German by Herbert Taege in a book entitled "Wo ist Kain?
- Enthüllungen and Dokumente zum Komplex Tulle und Oradour,"
published in 1981. Otto Weidinger quoted the affidavit from Taege's
book in a small booklet, entitled "Tulle and Oradour - eine
deutsch-französische Tragödie," which he published
in 1985. Weidinger's book was translated into English by Colin
B. Newberry. The following text of the affidavit is from the
English version of Weidinger's book:
"In addition to numerous private
and official visits, in November and December of 1963 I was at
the French training area of La Courtine in my official capacity
as an officer of the Bundeswehr, and in the summer of 1964 I
spent some time with my family in southwest France (Massif Central).
As a former participant in the war
and regional chairman of the association of repatriated soldiers
I was interested in all matters that had to do with reprisals
and the shooting of hostages and so on, and consequently I visited
Oradour-sur-Glane on both occasions.
Upon my first visit in December 1963,
in German Bundeswehr uniform and in a Bundeswehr jeep with a
driver, my experiences were as follows:
1) The part of the village that had
been destroyed in 1944 had been turned into a kind of open-air
museum with a kiosk selling drinks, cigarettes, etc. as well
as brochures telling of the happenings in Oradour in June 1944,
the latter at an astonishingly low price.
2) Immediately after my arrival the
jeep was surrounded by children and also by, for the most part,
elderly inhabitants and we were warmly welcomed.
3) When these older inhabitants -
in 1963 they would have been between 50 and 60 years old - saw
me reading one of the brochures, some of them said I should not
believe everything I read. A lot of what had occurred had been
different to what the brochures said. I was naturally somewhat
perplexed and said that it was bad enough if German soldiers
had fired upon women and children in the church that they had
set fire to or whilst they were attempting to escape from it.
The answer to this was quite clear
and unequivocal: the church had not been set fire to by the Germans
in the first place. On the contrary, SS soldiers had risked their
own lives to save several women and children from the burning
church. Two women in the group around me even said that they
themselves had been rescued by German soldiers, otherwise they
would not be standing there that day.
4) In the meantime the mayor had arrived,
who introduced himself and welcomed me very warmly: I was the
first German soldier in uniform to visit Oradour since the war.
He was very pleased about this. Politically he was a left-winger,
but France and the FRG were allies and friends. One had to accept
the past and learn the right lessons from it. And in the war
wrong had been done everywhere. I immediately confronted him
with what I had heard beforehand from the inhabitants, to which
he replied that the Maquis had also done a lot of wrong to German
soldiers at that time, for which reason none of the accused Germans
in the Oradour trial had been condemned to death and almost all
of those who were imprisoned had been released.
5) I can remember one episode very
clearly. Near the ruins of the church there was, among other
things, an old child's pram with a sign saying this pram had
burnt out with a child in it during the massacre. I believe it
was the mayor himself who, upon seeing it, smiled and said that
the remains of a pram had indeed been found on that spot, but
now that Oradour had become a kind of place of pilgrimage, and
the village also profited from the visitors financially, such
things had to be renewed every few years.
6) Understandably I had now become
very much interested in the Oradour incident. I had an opportunity
of talking to French officers, with whom we had a very open and
comradly relationship and without any reservations. One high-ranking
French officer answered my questions as follows:
'One of the major reasons for the
actions of the Germans in Oradour in June 1944 was no doubt the
fact that the advancing Germans had found a burning or already
burnt-out German ambulance right in front of the village. All
six persons in the ambulance must have been burnt alive. The
driver and the person beside him were tied to the steering wheel.
This was undoubtedly a deed perpetrated by the Maquis. Entwined
with this was the mysterious and agonizing killing, in the same
area and at about the same time, of a high-ranking German officer
who had fallen into the hands of the Maquis. In the same situation
French troops would also have had to take reprisals, possibly
involving the shooting of hostages, as provided for in the laws
and customs for war on land from 1939 through 1945. For these
reasons there are many French soldiers and officers who do not
visit Oradour in an official role. And for the same reasons (as
far as the officer knew) no official military ceremonies are
held in Oradour.'
7) Upon my second - private - visit
to Oradour in the summer of 1964 I found further confirmation
of what I had been told in that the owner of the kiosk or attendant
(also an elderly man), from whom we bought something to drink,
answered as follows to my remarks about the brochures: There
were a number of witnesses who knew exactly how everything had
actually happened in 1944. They had either not been heard at
all during the trial, however, or they had to limit themselves
to irrelevant details. The accused Germans had also received
prison sentences and been released soon afterwards, instead of
being sentenced to death, because otherwise some of the witnesses
would no doubt have 'spilled the beans' and told what really
The explosion in the church was actually
set off by a civilian. This individual is even believed to have
shot a civilian while escaping from the church via the vestry,
after setting a fuse. Speculation is that a member of the Maquis,
perhaps not even a Frenchman, committed the deed in so that the
Germans would be blamed. This would presumably cause even more
civilians to join the resistance. Instead, the deaths at Tulle
and Oradour ended Maquis activity in the Dordogne through the
German withdrawal in August."
The following quote is from "Tulle
and Oradour - a Franco-German Tragedy" by Otto Weidinger
On 13 April 1981 retired Lieutenant
Eberhard Matthes added to his sworn affidavit of 16 November
1980 by stating that in December 1963 the women who had claimed
to have been rescued from the burning church by soldiers in German
uniform had also told him, among other things, that the firing
outside the church had not begun until the church interior had
started to burn following an explosion. From this one can conclude
that the explosion in the church may have been the real reason
for shooting of the male population. When elderly women in Oradour
say such things to an officer of the German Bundeswehr, the whole
Oradour complex appears in a new light. The responsibity for
burning down the church with the women and children trapped inside
it is thus removed from Diekmann's shoulders.
The destruction of the church of Oradour
can be blamed neither on the regiment DF, nor on Das Reich Division,
nor any other German command.
The fact that two French civilians
had drawn Diekmann's attention to this village in particular
also poses the question of whether he was purposely drawn in
the direction of Oradour for the purpose of provoking harsh measures
by the Germans against the civilian population, but not in anticipation
of such rigorous actions as actually occurred.
From the questioning of then Obersturmführer
Gerlach the following facts are clear:
1) Oradour-sur-Glane was in the hands
of the Maquisards,
2) the majority of the population
was on the side of the Maquisards,
3) women also appeared as active members
of the Maquis, dressed in leather jackets with steel helmets.
4) the village was the command centre
of a high-ranking Maquis staff body,
5) confusion of Oradour-sur-Glane
with another place of the same name could not have been possible.
During a conversation between the
author and the then Maquis chief in the Dordogne-Jugie (called
'Gao') in Paris in 1969, the latter freely admitted that weapons
and ammunition had of course been stashed in all houses in Oradour
at that time; it had been their job to supply weapons and ammunition
to the towns and villages in the Dordogne.