The Official Story of Oradour-sur-Glane
The official story of the massacre at
Oradour-sur-Glane is told in a 190-page book entitled "Oradour-sur-Glane,
a Vision of Horror." This is the Official Publication of
the Remembrance Committee and the National Association of the
Families of the Martyrs of Oradour-sur-Glane, written by Guy
Pauchou, sub-prefect of Rochechouart, which is a nearby town,
and Dr. Pierre Masfrand, the curator of the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane.
The book tells the official story of
the destruction of the peaceful village of Oradour-sur-Glane
on June 10, 1944 when 642 innocent men, women and children were
brutally murdered for no reason at all and the whole town was
destroyed by Waffen-SS soldiers in Hitler's elite army.
On June 6, 1944, four days before the
Massacre, the Allies had landed at Normandy; this was a crucial
time for the German Army. If the Germans had any chance of winning
the war, they had to get to Normandy as soon as possible and
stop the invasion, yet Waffen-SS soldiers took time out to go
to Oradour-sur-Glane to murder innocent civilians who were not
involved in the war in any way.
This official version of the Massacre
at Oradour-sur-Glane, as told by the survivors, reveals the enormous
pride that the inhabitants had in this unique village in the
rolling farm country of the Limosin. The survivors never recovered
from the overwhelming grief that gripped them after they lost
their entire families and the village that held so many fond
memories from their childhood. Their peaceful way of life was
destroyed forever by marauding Waffen-SS soldiers who targeted
defenseless French civilians for no good reason on a beautiful
Summer day in 1944.
After the war, the town received a citation
from the Nation of France, which reads as follows:
"The methodical rounding up,
the deliberate massacre of these 700 men, women and children,
the systematic destruction of these 328 buildings, is the archetypal
example of a French community that suffered under barbarism.
A motiveless crime, an unthinking cruelty which did nothing but
lift the patriotic fervour of the French people, stiffen their
desire for liberation, and add to, if possible, the dishonour
of Germany and the disgust it engendered."
According to the Official Publication,
the perpetrators of the atrocity at Oradour-sur-Glane were Waffen-SS
soldiers of the 3rd Company of the SS regiment "der Führer,"
which was part of the 2nd Panzer Division known as "das
On June 9th, the day before the massacre,
a detachment of "das Reich" Division soldiers was billeted
in the area bordering Oradour. Some of the soldiers were staying
at Rochechourart and others were staying at Saint-Junien, only
13 kilometers from Oradour-sur-Glane, where the French Resistance
had blown up a bridge that day. That evening, the soldiers at
Rochechourart were moved to Saint-Junien after committing acts
of violence and killing several citizens in the town.
Included among the SS soldiers, who were
involved in the Rochechourart violence, were some from Schiltigheim,
a suburb of Strasbourg in Alsace, a former French province that
had been annexed by the Germans into the Greater German Reich
after France was defeated in June 1940. There were also refugees
from Schiltigheim living in Oradour-sur-Glane.
One out of every three soldiers in the
3rd Company of "der Führer" regiment, the perpetrators
of the Oradour massacre, was a Frenchman from Alsace and most
of them were under 18 years of age. Except for one man who had
volunteered to join the SS, the Alsatians who participated in
the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane had been drafted into the regular
German Army and were then assigned to the volunteer SS army,
according to their testimony in the trial held in 1953.
At least one survivor, Monsieur Paul
Doutre, was a 21-year-old "draft dodger" who stayed
in his home while the villagers were being assembled and then
managed to escape after the SS set fire to his house. Although
the booklet doesn't mention it, he might have been a refugee
from Alsace or Lorraine and was called a "draft dodger"
because he had refused to join the German army after Alsace-Lorraine
was annexed into the Greater German Reich in 1940.
The authors of the booklet, "Oradour-sur-Glane,
A Vision of Horror," point out that what was most striking
about the destruction of the village was "the methodical,
systematic and even scientific manner in which it was perpetrated."
As the booklet explains, "The German insistence in asking
whether there were any munitions dumps was evidently a step of
prudence which may be explained by the desire to protect against
explosions which the fire might cause and of which they might
be the first victims."
The SS soldiers brought with them all
the equipment necessary to destroy the village including bombs,
grenades, cartridges, and incendiary bombs, a collection of modern
weapons which the authors call "the last word in science
According to the authors, "An asphyxiating
gas container intended for the liquidation of the unfortunate
victims in the church was specially brought in by lorry."
In the opinion of the authors, "The Germans have distinguished
themselves from other peoples by their delirious taste for torture,
death and blood." The official story is that the German
beasts made plans in advance to gas the women and children and
to carry out this terrible crime in the sanctity of a church.
The official version of the massacre
makes it abundantly clear that the people of the village were
completely innocent. Although the Limosin region was the center
of the Communist Resistance movement, the villagers in Oradour-sur-Glane
were completely isolated from the war going on all around them.
No German soldier had ever before set
foot in Oradour, because there was no reason to. No one in the village
had anything to do with the French Resistance. No weapons had
ever been stored there and no Maquisards, as the Resistance fighters
were called, had ever stayed there. No attacks on SS soldiers
had ever occurred in the town, nor anywhere near it, according
to the official version of the story. Nothing had ever happened
that could possibly offer any justification for the murder of
defenseless civilians, nor the burning alive of women and children
and the desecration of a Catholic Church.
In 1944, Oradour-sur-Glane was an idyllic
village that was heretofore untouched by the war. The inhabitants
were neither collaborators with the enemy, nor connected in any
way with the Resistance movement. They were engaged only in peaceful
pursuits such as playing soccer, fishing in the Glane river,
gathering in the numerous cafes, or socializing at the tram station
where it was the custom for the villagers meet the daily trains
The word Oradour comes from the Latin
oratorium which means an altar and a place to offer prayers
for the dead who, in Roman times, were buried in the vicinity
of a crossroads. An ancient "lantern for the dead"
in the cemetery at Oradour-sur-Glane is one of the few that have
survived from the Roman days.
The Glane river flows past the southern
entrance to the village, "singing under deep green cradles
its eternal hymn of glory to our beautiful Limousin," as
the book so poignantly describes it.
Oradour-sur-Glane was an island in a
sea of chaos, where hundreds of refugees had come to get away
from the war, including some of the Red Spaniards, the Communists
who had fought in the Spanish Civil War which ended in 1939.
The town itself had 330 inhabitants, but there was an equal number
of refugees there at the time of the massacre. There were even
a few Jews hiding in the village, safe in the knowledge that
the villagers were non-partisan, so there was no reason for the
German occupiers to ever enter the village.
This quote from the Official Publication
mentions the Jewish survivors:
"We must also mention: Monsieur
Litaud, former postman; Madame Lauzanet, a woman in her sixties;
and finally two young Israeli girls by the name of Pinede, and
their younger brother, who managed to escape the massacre by
fleeing under the Germans' noses."
The town was surrounded by small hamlets
where the farmers lived. They shopped in the town and sent their
children to the Oradour schools. According to the 1936 census,
the commune of Oradour-sur-Glane had a population of 1,574 people,
including the 330 residents of the town and the inhabitants of
all the surrounding hamlets. As the Official Publication states,
"It was into this small, quiet, delightful town that the
German hordes would perpetrate the most monstrous and abominable
crime in our history."
There was no excuse whatsoever for the
German occupiers to select Oradour-sur-Glane for such a horrific
crime. The official version points out that "the Nazis had
no valid reason to attack this peaceful town."
There are various theories about why
the village of Oradour-sur-Glane was randomly selected by the
SS. One possible reason was that the town was mistaken for another
village, only 15 miles away, with a similar name, Oradour-sur-Vayres,
which was active in the Resistance.
In his book entitled "Justice at
Nuremberg," author Robert E. Conot wrote the following:
When a popular battalion commander
was killed in the village of Oradour-sur-Vayres, near Limoges,
the troopers descended in error on Oradour-sur-Glane. Unable
to extract any information, they machine-gunned the 190 men of
the community in the square, and burned 245 women and 207 children
alive in the church. The account of an eyewitness was introduced
into evidence: "Outside the church the soil was freshly
dug, children's garments were piled up, half burned. Where the
barns had stood, completely calcinated human skeletons, heaped
one on the other, partially covered with various materials, made
a horrible charnel house."
The above testimony was given by one
of the survivors at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg
in 1946. The "popular battalion commander" was Sturmbannführer
Helmut Kämpfe, a close personal friend of Adolf Diekmann,
the man who had ordered the massacre. (Diekmann's name is given
as Otto Dickmann in all the official accounts.)
Another story is that an SS officer dropped
a pencil on a map and the tip pointed to Oradour-sur-Glane.
Some say that nearby Saint-Junien was
originally the target because Resistance fighters had blown up
a bridge in the town the day before, but when the mayor told
the SS that there were 1800 partisans in the town, they chose
Oradour-sur-Glane instead. As the authors of the Official Publication
explain, Oradour-sur-Glane was targeted since "it was not
because of elements of resistance there, but rather because they
knew very pertinently that there were not and that they could
consequently commit their odious crime with impunity."
In a book entitled "Oradour, Village
of the Dead," the author Philip Beck wrote the following:
Colonel Rousselier, commander of the
12th military region of the FFI at Limoges, stressed: "There
were no engagements of any sort in the region of Oradour-sur-Glane.
We had no camp, no arms cache and no explosives anywhere near
The FFI was the French Forces of the
Interior, a French resistance
organization which was very active in the area near Oradour-sur-Glane;
it was the army of Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free
French, who had his headquarters in London.
Philip Beck points out that the inhabitants
of Oradour would have been fearful of reprisals and would have
tried to flee when the SS arrived if they had been involved with
the resistance. He wrote: "All accounts point to their air
of innocence throughout."
The Official Publication paints a vivid
picture of the Waffen-SS and the German people as barbarians
devoid of any civilized manners or feelings. The first sentence
of their version of the story tells us that Oradour-sur-Glane
was "a charming, attractive, small town" before it
was "crucified with such atrocity by German barbarity."
Oradour-sur-Glane is today called a "martyr
village;" the ruins have been preserved as a symbol of German
barbarity, according to the Official Publication.
The authors of the Official Publication
were particularly offended by two reports filed by the SS shortly
after the massacre. Regarding the first report, on June 13, 1944,
the Official Publication states that "it is understandable
that its purpose was to justify the massacre by mentioning the
importance of the advantages that the Reich had gained from it."
This is a reference to the fact that Resistance activity in the
area ceased after the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane and the SS
troops were finally able to get to Normandy to fight the Allied
invaders, instead of battling the guerrillas.
The second report by the SS on June 17,
1944 was even more offensive because it "raises the matter
of its salutary influence on the troops' morale." Before
the massacre, the morale of the SS had been low because they
were frustrated by the delay in getting to Normandy since the
railway lines had been sabotaged by "terrorists," and
the SS soldiers were being attacked by the Maquisards, the Resistance
fighters. This report implied that their morale had been raised
by the joy of killing innocent villagers who had never done them
The Official Publication points out that
... unleashing of such monstrous instincts
and the obsession with atrocities such as these has no name in
any language - except however in the German language, where the
term 'Schadenfreude' has been created and which may be translated
as 'pleasure in doing evil.' How edifying it is when we find
that in Germany such a brutal state of mind, heart and spirit
should be so natural, normal and usual that it should be necessary
to create a special word to designate this!
The German word Schadenfreude is frequently
used in America to mean "taking malicious pleasure in someone
else's misfortune." It is not used to mean "pleasure
in doing evil."
In the Forward at the front of the book,
the authors of the Official Publication leave no doubt about
their opinion of the SS soldiers whom they refer to as "The
Huns." This is a pejorative term that was first used during
World War I when German soldiers were accused of cutting off
the hands of babies in Belgium.
The following paragraph is a quote from
the Forward of the Official Publication:
A traveler in June 1944 leaving Limoges
for Angouleme would have been captivated by the charming balance
of the surrounding countryside. How easily he would have stepped
aside from the main road to take some more intimate by-way to
discover to his delight, above the meandering river Glane, between
two rows of willows and poplars, the church of the town going
by the melodic name of Oradour.
A few days later, nothing was left
of this village apart from ruins and embers, the blackened sections
of walls grasping the sky like stumps, and the charred remains
of its inhabitants. The Huns had been that way, killing, pillaging,
destroying, burning and annihilating animate beings and inanimate
alike with method and refinement, for in the art of killing they
are masters par excellence.
The "fateful day" of the massacre
was on a Saturday, the 10th of June, 1944. The villagers were
looking forward to the Sunday Mass the next day, which was to
be the First Communion day for some of the Catholic children.
Ironically, the 10th of June was also the date of the German
destruction of the town of Lidice, two years earlier, in what
is now the Czech Republic. At the trial of the perpetrators in
1953, the survivors of Lidice were invited to witness the proceedings,
along with the survivors of Oradour-sur-Glane.
Oradour-sur-Glane was crowded with people
that June day, including children who had been evacuated from
other areas, especially Nice, Avignon, Montpelier and Bordeaux.
Although it was a Saturday, the schools were filled with children
because a medical visit had been scheduled. In addition to a
boys school and three separate classroom buildings for girls,
there was a special school for refugee children from Alsace-Lorraine
which had 21 students. There were 64 pupils in the boys school
and 109 girls in three classrooms, making a total of 191 children
registered in the Oradour schools.
Many of the parents of these children
lived outside the town itself and were not killed in the massacre.
They continued to live in the area, mourning the loss of their
children for the rest of their lives. Only one of the school
children escaped that day. In addition, younger children and
babies died in the church, the youngest one only a week old.
On the day of the massacre, there was
to be a distribution of tobacco rations in Oradour-sur-Glane.
The village was located in a rich agricultural region and many
people were there to stock up on food provisions. Others had
come for week-end recreation, as the Glane river was noted as
a great place to fish. The Hotel Avril was full of guests, some
of whom had come to the town to escape the "danger of bombardments
in Paris," or from other places like Reims and Bordeaux.
There were "one or two Jewish families
hiding under assumed names" who were long-term guests at
the Hotel. At the Milord Hotel, the tables were also full for
lunch. Amongst the regulars who were eating lunch at the Milord
were "Parisians with their families." It was a beautiful
summer day and the residents had no reason to believe that the
hostilities between the German occupiers and the French Resistance
fighters would ever reach their peaceful community.
The inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane
had just finished a leisurely lunch when "the Krauts"
arrived around 2 p.m. according to Madame Lang, one of the survivors,
who lived near the church.
The Official Publication also quotes
Hubert Desourteaux, who was one of the first to observe the SS
soldiers at around 2:15 p.m. According to his recollection, there
was a "heavy lorry convoy" consisting of "ten
or so vehicles, five of which (three lorries and two half-tracks)
moved through the main street, rue Emile-Desourteaux, making
for the upper town, where they stopped." They had entered
the lower town at the south end of the main street, coming from
the direction of Limoges. He estimated that there were around
200 soldiers, all wearing camouflage jackets in shades of green
The town crier, Monsieur Depierrefiche,
was ordered to walk through the streets, beating a drum, and
reading out an order that all the inhabitants, without exception,
men, women and children, were to assemble immediately in the
Market Square with their papers for an identity check. The fact
that Oradour-sur-Glane had a town crier gives one an idea of
how much life has changed in the 60 years since the massacre.
For years, the survivors mourned the loss of their former way
of life, and the loss of the scene of their childhood, neither
of which could ever be replaced. The ruins of the village serve
as a constant reminder of what was lost when the German barbarians
According to Monsieur Marcel Darthout,
who was one of the survivors, the SS men "went into the
houses in Oradour, had every door opened and under threat of
arms, brutally forced everybody, even the ill, to the assembly
point." The troops "proceeded without hesitation, methodically
and with order, just as if on manoeuvres."
Survivor Clement Broussaudier described
how a sick school teacher, named Madame Binet, was forced to
leave her bed and go to the Market Square in her pajamas. The
crippled uncle of Armand Senon, another survivor, was beaten
and forced to leave his house. Everyone had to assemble under
the pretext of checking their identity papers.
There were unverified stories that one
of the SS soldiers said that a skirmish was expected to take
place in the village and he would himself escort the children
to the church to "assure their safety." There was only
one school child who was not killed in the massacre. Roger Godfrin,
a schoolboy from the French province of Lorraine, which had been
annexed into the Greater German Reich in 1940, escaped through
the garden behind the school and disappeared into the woods.
According to the official story, Godfrin told a friend: "They're
Germans, I know what they're like. They'll try to hurt us. I'm
going to try and escape."
Madame Lang observed the scene from her
hiding place in one of the houses. "What an anguishing sight,"
she said, "of mothers enfolding their babies in their arms
and others pushing them in prams. Young girls were crying. Then
the school children arrived, boys and girls, making their way
to their place of execution. I can still hear the sound of those
poor kids' shoes, tapping the road, overshadowed by the heavy
thud of the torturers' boots."
The book lists the names of all the victims,
along with their occupation. One of them was Jean Ramnoux, a
clog maker. The sound of the shoes "tapping the road"
came from the wooden clogs, probably made by Ramnoux. The majority
of the victims were unemployed, according to the list in the
The SS soldiers also rounded up the inhabitants
who lived in the surrounding hamlets south of the village of
Oradour and drove them in trucks to the Market Square. The family
of survivor Marguerite Rouffanche was among them. By 2:45 p.m.
everyone had been assembled. Mothers carried babies in their
arms; old people had been dragged from their beds, and the town
baker, who had been interrupted in his work, was standing there
bare-chested and covered with flour. The assembled villagers
were surrounded by SS soldiers who had six sub-machine guns trained
Dr. Jacques Desourteaux, who had been
out on a house call, drove into the village in his car just as
the people were being assembled. His father, Dr. Paul Desourteaux,
who was the mayor of the town, was ordered by one of the soldiers
to select 30 hostages. When he refused, he was taken to the Town
Hall for a short time and then returned to the assembly point.
He had offered himself and his family as the hostages, but his
offer was declined.
At 3 p.m. the assembled inhabitants were
divided into two groups with women and children in one group
and the men in the other. The women and children were marched
off to the church while the men were ordered to sit down in three
rows, facing a wall.
Monsieur Darthout is quoted in the book
as saying the following:
"They had to find a pretext for
the terrible massacre they were preparing. An interpreter stood
forward and announced "There are secret arms and munitions
deposits here made by 'terrorists'. We shall make searches. During
this time, to facilitate our operations we shall put you in the
barns. If you know of any such deposits," he added, "we
request you to reveal them to us now."
No one admitted to any deposit and
for the good reason that there were none. It was a totally peaceful
village where each went about his own small business or farming
his land. I must mention that never was any assassination committed
against any German soldier and there was no reason that might
justify the least reprisal from them."
According to the Official Publication,
while the women were awaiting their fate in the church and the
men were sitting in rows of three on the Market Square, the SS
began carrying out a systematic pillage of the town, searching
each house and emptying it of its contents.
The Official Publication claims that
this was not a search for weapons, but rather a search for valuables
that the SS wanted to steal. "The village was rich and theft
was bound to be lucrative: silver, linen, provisions, precious
objects, everything was there."
The next day a locked safe was found
in the burned out home of Monsieur Dupic, where the SS soldiers
had stayed the night after the destruction of the village. When
the safe was forced open, it was found to be empty, proof that
the SS had stolen the money from it, according to the Official
At 3:30 p.m. "an officer, tall and
thin looking, came from the side of the church to speak to Monsieur
Desourteaux," according to 29-year-old Armand Senon who
witnessed the action from his house which was on the Market Square.
He was not at the assembly point because he was incapacitated
by a broken leg, which he had sustained playing football. After
a brief discussion, the men of the town were ordered into six
locations: the Laudy, Milord, and Bouchoule barns, the Desourteaux
garage, the Denis Wine and Spirits storehouse and the Beaulieu
According to Monsieur Roby, one of the
five survivors who escaped from the Laudy barn, the SS soldiers
leveled machine guns at them as they sat in the barn. And then
"Suddenly, five minutes after our entrance into the barns,
as if in obedience to a signal like a powerful explosion, that
I judged to come from the Market Square, they gave a loud cry
and cowardly opened fire on us." Several of the survivors
mentioned hearing a loud explosion, which they thought was a
signal, just before the men of the village were murdered.
The first men to fall, during the shooting
in the barns, were protected by the bodies that fell on top of
them. After all the men had apparently been shot, the "torturers
walked on top of our bodies to finish off at point blank range
with their revolvers any injured person they saw still moving,"
according to Roby. The SS men then piled "straw, hay, faggots,
cart slats, ladders and so on" on top of the bodies and
set fire to them. Then they left the barn. The men in the Laudy
barn, who had not been hit, or who were only slightly injured,
managed to crawl out from under the bodies and escaped through
a hole in the wall into an adjoining storeroom. An SS soldier
returned and set fire to some straw in the storeroom. When he
left, the five survivors managed to escape through an exit in
the storeroom to another building where they hid for the next
three hours. The fire eventually reached this building, and the
five men escaped through a narrow passageway between two walls.
They made their way to the Market Square. It was now around 7
p.m. The SS men had apparently left, so the survivors ran towards
the cemetery, where they finally found safety in the surrounding
All of the survivors reported that the
men in the barn were initially shot in the legs. The five survivors
who escaped from the Laudy barn all said that there were wounded
men who were burned alive. Madame Lang, a survivor who was hiding
in a house only six yards from the Milord barn, said that she
"heard the most heartrending screams and cries for help
with intermittent strafes of gun fire." There is no explanation
offered in the official version for why the prisoners were shot
in the legs and then burned alive.
In the barn belonging to Monsieur Bouchoule,
the bodies of women and children were found, along with the charred
remains of the men. This barn is located across the road from
the Church. In the wine storehouse of Monsieur Denis, the remains
of both men and women were found. The official version of the
massacre explains that "No doubt, these were poor victims
apprehended at the last moment and added at random to the men's
group." There were no women or children found in the other
four buildings where the men were massacred.
The village of Oradour-sur-Glane was
connected to the city of Limoges by a tram line. In the midst
of the destruction of the village, two trams arrived. The first
tram had only tramway employees in it. The SS soldiers shot one
of the employees, Monsieur Chalard, after he stepped off the
tram and tried to cross the bridge over the Glane river. His
corpse was thrown into the river and the tram was sent back to
Limoges with the rest of the employees still in it.
The second train arrived around 7 p.m.
by which time, most of the villagers had been murdered and the
town had been burning for at least two hours. One of the passengers
was Mademoiselle Marie Gauthier, a resident of Limoges, who gave
the following account, which is quoted in the small booklet entitled
"Oradour-sur-Glane, A Vision of Horror," the official
version of the story:
"This tram was stopped at the
changeover point of the Saint-Victurnien road by the Germans,
who made us stay in the carriages. A soldier left by bicycle
apparently to get orders and when he came back, he made all the
passengers who were heading for Oradour get out. There were about
22 or 23 of us and we were heavily escorted to a point not far
from the village of Les Bordes. We were made to cross the Glane
on a narrow footbridge with the help of a tree trunk and then
were directed to the Thomas house where the command post was
Our group was then stopped in the
open country. The officer commanding the detachment held a discussion
with the officer of the command post. The men and women were
then separated and an identity check was made before we were
brought back together again. After some hesitation and debate,
suddenly the S.S. came forward, cocked their guns and made a
circle around us. There was no doubt in our minds that they were
preparing to execute us. Those were interminable moments of anguish
and terror. Finally after a somewhat heated discussion between
the officer and the commander, they announced that we were free.
We immediately hurried to reach the country."
The tram was then sent back to Limoges
where it arrived at around midnight.
A group of SS soldiers spent the night
in the home of Monsieur Dupic, a fabric merchant who managed
to escape when he saw the Germans enter the town. His house was
located at the north end of the main street. The SS soldiers
did not leave Oradour-Sur-Glane until the following day at about
11 a.m. They set fire to the Dupic house just before they left.
The next day, the remains of 20 to 25 Champagne bottles were
found in the ruins.
According to the Official Publication:
Without doubt, during the night, the
most atrocious orgies occurred in this house. [...] They drank
and binged in the Teutonic fashion, whilst other discoveries
indicate clearly enough the monstrous nature of the scenes that
these sadistic brutes gave themselves over to in the light of
the fading glow of the fires.