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 village.

The men were shot in the legs and then burned alive, according to the Official Publication which states the following:

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 their responsibility.

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 papers.

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 week old.

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 were discovered.

A report by the Bishop's office states that

... 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 matter.

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."


Back to The Story index