The Oradour-sur-Glane Massacre
The following information about the massacre
of 245 women and 207 children in the Catholic Church in the French
village of Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944 is from The Official
Publication of the Remembrance Committee and the National Association
of the Families of the Martyrs of Oradour-sur-Glane, a 190-page
booklet entitled "Oradour-sur-Glane, A Vision of Horror."
On that beautiful Summer afternoon in
June 1944, four days after the Allied invasion at Normandy, all
the women and children in Oradour-sur-Glane were herded into
the village church by Waffen-SS soldiers in the elite German
army, while the men in the town were taken to six buildings in
The men were shot in the legs and then
burned alive, according to the Official Publication which states
While the frightful killing of the
men was being carried out, yet more savage and horrific was the
massacre of the women that was taking place. It is beyond imagination
and constitutes an indelible stain for the army that made it
The army that carried out this unbelievable
atrocity was the 3rd Company of "der Führer" regiment
of "das Reich" Division, also known as the 2nd Panzer
Division of the Waffen-SS. The Official Publication has no explanation
for why the women and children were separated from the men and
then murdered in even more barbaric fashion.
Only one woman managed to escape from
the Oradour-sur-Glane church, according to the official version
of the story. The lone survivor was 47-year-old Madame Marguerite
Rouffanche. She lost her husband, her son, her two daughters
and her 7-month-old grandson in the massacre that day.
According to Philip Beck, a British writer
who wrote a book called "Oradour, Village of the Dead,"
the Rouffanche family lived in the hamlet, south of Oradour,
called La Ferme de l'Etang; they were ordered out of their home
by SS soldiers who burst in and told them to gather their identity
Madame Lang, a survivor who was hiding
in a house, said the following, as quoted in the Official Publication:
A terrifying sound erupted in the
direction of the church which was just a few dozen yards from
us. There was detonation after detonation followed by an immense
clamour and terrified cries. Machine guns sounded off then a
cloud of smoke rose up. Still so many clamours! We stayed silent
with fright, appalled and horrified. There was no doubt! A terrifying
massacre was being carried out just a few yards from us.
According to the official version of
the story, "the torturers aimed low if only to get the poor
children of Oradour." There is speculation that the women
and children were deliberately wounded in the legs before the
church was set on fire.
According to the Official Publication:
A large number were almost certainly
burned alive. Their pitiful cries were heard in various parts
of the town. The bishop's office report states that inhabitants
two kilometers from Oradour could hear the clamour coming from
the holy place.
Not content with just shooting the women
and children, the brutal SS soldiers lobbed hand grenades into
the church, blowing up babies sitting in their baby carriages.
After the massacre, the children's prams (baby carriages) were
discovered to be riddled with bullet holes. One had multiple
perforations due to the explosion of a grenade. There is no explanation
in the Official Publication for why the SS used so much fire
power to kill innocent babies, many of whom were less than a
year old, nor any explanation for why the SS soldiers first set
off a gas bomb in the church. The youngest victim was only a
At least 14 of the SS soldiers who were
involved in this inexplicable overkill were French nationals
from the province of Alsace, all but one of whom claimed that
they had been forced to fight in the German Waffen-SS army after
Alsace was annexed into the Greater German Reich following the
defeat of France in 1940. Not only were these soldiers French,
many of them were probably also Catholic; at least 20 of the
murdered children were refugees from Alsace-Lorraine who were
attending a Catholic school in Oradour.
Yet in spite of the fact that they had
murdered women and children, who were their own countrymen, for
no reason at all, these Alsatian soldiers never served a day
of prison time after being convicted by a military court in 1953
for the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane. The Alsatians were granted
amnesty and the court records were sealed for 100 years, so we
will never know within our lifetime why the women and children
of Oradour-sur-Glane were so viciously killed in cold blood for
no reason at all.
The SS soldiers had arrived in Oradour
around 2 p.m. and had ordered all the inhabitants to assemble
at the Market Square (The Fairgrounds) with their identity papers
in hand. Residents of the farming hamlets on the south side of
Oradour were brought to the assembly point in trucks.
The women and children were separated
from the men and taken to the church. A Limoges journalist, Pierre
Poitevin, later interviewed Madame Rouffanche in the hospital.
She told him that the infants in their prams and pushchairs were
placed in one of the side chapels, the Chapel of St. Anne.
By 3 p.m. the SS had finished plundering
the town, according to the survivors. Around 4 p.m. the killing
in the church began, according to Madame Marguerite Rouffanche,
the lone survivor.
According to the Official Publication:
The vault of the nave was treated
mercifully by the fire and was still in place the day after the
killing but has recently fallen down. The walls, blackened by
the flames, are still up. The main altar was partly destroyed,
the right chapel altar disappeared but the one in the left chapel
was spared. The fire was less developed in that part than in
the rest of the building.
The church is very old, with parts of
it dating back to the 15th century, according to the Official
Publication. A staff member at the Center of Memory told me that
the church was originally built in the 12th century. The bell
tower was built in the 16th century, according to the Official
Publication, and there does not appear to be any access to it
from the main part of the church. The roof of the church, underneath
the tower, is still intact.
The church had a seating capacity of
350 people, but the Bishop's report estimated that the number
of women and children killed in the church was over 500. Only
52 bodies found in the village were ever positively identified.
The others listed in the death toll were missing and presumed
dead, but no death certificates were ever issued for them.
According to the Official Publication,
the evidence of bullet holes in the walls
... indicates that numerous shots
were fired from the entrance door. Other volleys were also fired
off from inside the holy place. Indeed a large number of cartridges
A report by the Bishop's office states
... hundreds of cartridges were found
on the ground as far as the first third of the church. This would
indicate that the Germans penetrated fairly far inside the holy
place to proceed with their tragic gunfire attack. In any case,
bullet marks visible on some of the walls speak volumes in this
There are bullet holes in both side walls
of the church and also on the right side of the main altar. Apparently,
the Germans who "penetrated fairly far inside the holy place,"
shot from both sides of the church, taking the risk of killing
each other in their zeal to kill the women and children. The
bullet holes do not look like they were made by machine gun fire.
Shots may have been fired through a window
right next to a door on the right side of the church. According
to a staff member that I talked to at the Center of Memory, this
door opened inward and the women and children were unable to
escape through it because of so many people pressed against it.
As if it weren't enough to defile a Catholic
Church with the execution of women and children within its sacred
walls, the SS soldiers, many of whom were Catholic, had even
gone so far as to steal the consecrated Communion hosts from
the tabernacle that had been spared by the fire, but was obviously
broken into the next morning, according to the official story.
The burning of the entire town began
at around 5 p.m. after the killings in the church and the barns.
According to the official version, the town was burned in order
to destroy the "traces of pillage." However, the killers
neglected to collect the rings and necklaces from the women and
a large amount of jewelry was found among the charred remains
in the church.
The SS soldiers did not rob the men either,
before they killed them; paper money and coins were also found
in the village ruins and are included among the displays in an
underground crypt at the cemetery.
The upper part of the town, at the north
end of the main street, was the first section to be set on fire.
This was at the opposite end from the church. Major Otto Diekmann,
the commanding officer who had ordered the destruction of the
town, reported to his superior officer that the fire from the
nearby buildings had spread to the church. This would be close
to impossible since the church was made entirely of stone and
it had a tile roof.
According to the official story, the
SS had brought plenty of explosives with them in preparation
for burning the town.
The Official Publication notes that
To start the inferno, the Germans
used grenades, tablet explosives and fire bombs. Houses, farms,
shops and barns went up in flames and disappeared one after another.
By 10 p.m. "the joyful town was
no more than a mass of smoking ruins."