The Story of Oradour-sur-Glane

The story of the Massacre, as told by Robert Mackness

In 1988, Robin Mackness, a businessman living in Oxfordshire, England, wrote a book called "Massacre at Oradour" in which he describes a bizarre incident that took place in 1982: he was asked by a colleague on the board of directors of a Swiss bank to contact one of the bank's clients and then deliver a package, which the client would give to him, to a third party. The package contained about half a million dollars in gold bullion which the bank's client, a Jew who had been a member of the French resistance, had stolen from a German military truck during an ambush near Oradour-sur-Glane on the night of 9 June 1944. The client was using the code name of Raoul, but Mackness later learned that he had been born Raphael Denowicz in 1923 in Leipzig, Germany.

Raoul told Mackness that his father had owned a jewelry business and that "from 1930 onwards his father was steadily moving money, with the help of his suppliers in Antwerp, out of Germany and into Zurich." To escape persecution in Nazi Germany, the family moved to Alsace, then a part of France, and changed the family name to Denis. (Ironically, one of the buildings where the Oradour massacre took place was the Denis Wine and Spirits storehouse.) Mackness wrote that "His father also arranged for his money to be moved from German-speaking Zurich to French-speaking Geneva, such now was his hatred for anything German." Raoul was now asking Mackness to get involved in a plan to move gold from France to Switzerland, which was not unusual for someone with his family history.

Mackness learned that, on 9 June 1944, Raoul had stolen 30 boxes of gold bars from a German military vehicle, after all but one of the SS soldiers in the convoy had been killed in an ambush, along with all the Resistance fighters except for him. The one SS soldier, who had managed to escape, reported the ambush to his superior officer. The next day, the SS found the charred bodies, which Raoul had doused with gasoline siphoned from the trucks, and set on fire after burying the 30 boxes of gold by the side of the road. The bodies of the Resistance men were burned beyond recognition and the SS officer in charge, Otto Dickmann, apparently did not know that there were Frenchmen among the dead. (Mackness spells the name Dickmann, although the correct spelling is Diekmann and his first name was Adolf, according to former SS officer Otto Weidinger.)

According to Mackness, as told to him by Raoul, the theft of the gold provided the motive for Dickmann to go to Oradour-sur-Glane, which was only four kilometers from where the looted truck was found. According to Raoul, Major Dickmann and his superior officer, Brigadier General Heinz Lammerding, had been systematically stealing Nazi gold for their private "pension fund." At the time of the ambush, they were secretly transporting the gold in a heavily guarded truck which contained important military records. Raoul had discovered the gold by chance after the ambush.

Ironically, according to former German SS soldiers, there was a similar ambush near Oradour-sur-Glane on 9 June 1944, when an ambulance was set on fire, burning 4 wounded soldiers alive, along with the driver and another man in the passenger seat, who were both chained to the steering wheel.

On the day that the SS soldiers destroyed Oradour-sur-Glane, the Allied invasion of Europe had just taken place four days earlier on 6 June 1944. The Waffen-SS Das Reich division was desperate to get to Normandy to join in the battle, but they were being delayed by acts of sabotage carried out by the French resistance. Yet, according to Mackness, the first priority of Lammerding and Dickmann had been to transport their stolen gold to a safe place. After the gold was stolen, Dickmann conferred with Lammerding, and then took time out from fighting the war to search for it, according to Mackness. Not finding the precious gold, Dickmann had then taken revenge on the innocent civilians of Oradour-sur-Glane. To make sure that no one would ever know why he had come to Oradour, Dickmann had subsequently murdered the two French police officers that had accompanied him as translators during the interrogation of the townspeople, according to Mackness. However, according to some of the survivors, many of the SS soldiers spoke excellent French since one third of the company consisted of soldiers from the French province of Alsace.

Unfortunately, Mackness was arrested by customs officials before he could deliver the gold for Raoul. He was told that he had been betrayed by one of the participants, who had "denounced" him to customs. Mackness refused to divulge the names of the other people involved and subsequently served 22 months in a French prison. While he was in prison, Mackness researched the subject of the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane and became convinced that Raoul's story about the gold was the only reasonable explanation for the complete mystery of why the SS had picked the innocent village of Oradour-sur-Glane to destroy.

According to Mackness, there are 9 unanswered questions about the destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane which have finally been explained by the story of the stolen gold.

1. It has never been explained why Dickmann took the road that he did, which brought him to the site of the remains of the ambushed SS convoy. Dickmann's route from Saint-Junien on 10 June 1944 was in the opposite direction of Oradour. He took this route in order to find the ambush site because this was the route that had been taken by the convoy carrying the hidden gold.

2. There is no good explanation for why Dickmann, a battalion commander, was at Oradour-sur-Glane. Captain Otto Kahn could have handled a reprisal without a higher ranking officer being present. Raoul's story of the stolen gold gave Dickmann a motive for going to Oradour. The only other explanation that has ever been offered was that Dickmann was concerned about the kidnapping of his good friend, Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, and was personally looking for him.

3. It is known that Dickmann was talking constantly on the radio in his car from the time that he left Saint-Junien on the 10th of June. Mackness thinks that Dickmann was radioing back and forth to find out whether or not Kämpfe had been found yet, but more importantly, he was trying to find out what had happened to the truck with the gold stashed among the military records.

4. The fourth mystery is why the SS soldiers herded all the inhabitants, who lived within three kilometers to the south of the town, into Oradour, but not the people who lived north, west or east of the town. It is also a mystery why the SS didn't just shoot the villagers where they stood, instead of taking the trouble to transport them into Oradour to kill them. The site of the ambush was south of Oradour, so all the inhabitants in that vicinity were suspects in the theft of the gold. According to Mackness, the SS loaded some of the villagers onto trucks and then marched the rest of them on foot to Oradour-sur-Glane. The villagers looked back to see their homes and all their possessions going up in flames.

5. Why the SS picked Oradour-sur-Glane to destroy in reprisal for the ambush of the SS convoy, or the kidnapping of Kämpfe, is the fifth mystery. Although nearby Saint-Junien was a hotbed of Resistance activity, the inhabitants of Oradour were totally neutral.

6. The sixth mystery is why the SS didn't just machine-gun the assembled townspeople in the village square, instead of locking the women and children in the church and the men in several buildings. According to Mackness, the assembled townspeople were told by Dickmann that weapons and other prohibited merchandise had been reported in the village. The women were told that they were being taken to the church, where it would be safer for them, while a search was conducted for the weapons. After the women had been marched away, the men were told that they would be held inside the buildings while the search was conducted. Dickmann's search for the gold provided a motive for locking up the townspeople.

7. No one has been able to explain why the men were deliberately shot in the legs. This was so consistently done that it appeared that the soldiers had been ordered to shoot low. Mackness wrote that it made no sense to wound innocent civilians, only to burn them alive moments later. Mackness thinks that Dickmann intended to interrogate the wounded men in an attempt to find the gold, but his soldiers had set fire to one of the barns before they were ordered to do so.

8. The biggest mystery of the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre is why the SS had boarded a tram which arrived in the middle of the destruction of the town and had ordered all the passengers who lived in Oradour to get off, while ordering the others to return to Limoges on the tram. If Oradour had been selected at random for reprisal, as many people think, then it made no sense to segregate the passengers who lived in Oradour and order them off the tram. Mackness thinks that Dickmann intended to interrogate these inhabitants about the location of the stolen gold. However, these 22 townspeople, who had just returned from Limoges, were allowed to escape by the Alsatian SS soldiers who had been ordered to guard them. These same Alsatian SS soldiers had earlier set fire to the Laudy barn before being ordered to do so, according to Mackness, and they were not being allowed any further participation in the reprisal action at the barns.

Mackness mentions "two teenage sisters, and their young brother, all Jewish, who had finally been driven from their hiding place in a basement by the heat of the flames." Mackness wrote that the trio were allowed to escape by an Alsatian SS soldier who "told them to get out of Oradour as fast as they could." According to Mackness, this same Alsatian soldier had given a stolen bicycle to a young girl who was on the tram that arrived during the destruction of the village, so that she could make a faster getaway.

9. The last mystery concerns two cars which were seen racing through Oradour-sur-Veyrac, a few miles down the Limoges road from Oradour-sur-Glane, later that day. The only car in the SS convoy that left Saint-Junien that morning was Dickmann's car. So where did the other car come from? Mackness thinks it might have been the doctor's car, which was then returned to Oradour-sur-Glane, where it still stands today.

Mackness's story contains yet another mystery: If Dickmann and Lammerding had been stealing Nazi gold, they would have wanted to keep this a secret at all cost. The penalty for an SS man who stole anything, but especially something that technically belonged to the Reich, was summary execution. Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, had made that very clear in several speeches. But how did Dickmann and Lammerding hope to keep their secret with so many SS soldiers involved in the search? If the soldiers had found the gold in their house-to-house search, and if they had turned it in to their superior officer, how would Dickmann have then managed to keep the gold for himself and his accomplice, Brigadier General Lammerding? If Dickmann and Lammerding had tried to cash in gold bars bearing the stamp of the German Reich, how would they have managed to escape arrest for grand theft?

Since the stolen gold was not found by the SS in Oradour-sur-Glane that day, Mackness did not address this last mystery. He claims that Raoul told him that he had returned to the site of the ambush at a later time. He had dug up the 30 boxes of gold, but had only spent a small amount to start a business. He had managed to keep the rest of the gold hidden somewhere until 1982 when he finally decided to move it out of France into Switzerland. To move the gold, which he had kept hidden for 38 years, Raoul had first confided in the director of his bank and had then involved a man who was a complete stranger to him in this risky project which was a violation of the laws of both France and Switzerland.

Mackness waited until everyone who could corroborate his story was dead and then wrote his book.

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