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 had happened.

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.

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