Synopsis of the Official Story of Oradour-sur-Glane
Around 2 p.m. on 10 June 1944, four days
after the Allied invasion of Normandy, approximately 150 Waffen-SS
soldiers entered the tranquil village of Oradour-sur-Glane in
the Limosin region of south central France. For no apparent reason,
Hitler's elite troops destroyed every building in this peaceful
village and brutally murdered a total of 642 innocent men, women
and children, an unexplained tragedy which has gone down in history
as one of the worst war crimes committed by the German army in
World War II.
On that beautiful Summer day, the defenseless
inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane were rudely dragged out of their
homes, including the sick and the elderly, and ordered to assemble
on the Fairgrounds on the pretext of checking their identity
papers. After all had been assembled, they were forced to wait
in suspense with machine guns pointed at them. Then the women
were separated from the men and marched a short distance to the
small Catholic Church, carrying infants in their arms or pushing
them in baby carriages.
The men were then ordered to line up
in three rows and face a wall that bordered on the Fairgrounds.
A short time later, they were randomly divided into groups and
herded into six buildings: barns, garages, a smithy, and a wine
storehouse. Around 4 p.m., a loud explosion was heard which was
interpreted by the men to be a signal for the SS soldiers to
begin firing their machine guns. Most of the men were wounded
in the legs and then burned alive when every building in the
village was set on fire at around 5 p.m. By some miracle, 6 of
the men managed to escape from one of the burning barns and 5
of them survived. They testified in court about this completely
unjustified German barbarity against blameless French civilians.
The Oradour church only had a seating
capacity of 350 persons, but 245 frightened women and 207 sobbing
children were forced inside at gunpoint while the men were still
sitting on the grass of the Fairgrounds, awaiting their fate.
The women and children were locked inside the church while the
SS soldiers systematically looted all the homes in this prosperous
farming village. Then around 4 p.m. a couple of SS soldiers carried
a gas bomb inside this holy place and set it off, filling the
church with a cloud of noxious black smoke. Their intention had
been to asphyxiate the women and children in the House of God,
but their plan failed.
As the women and children pressed against
the doors, trying to escape and struggling to breathe, SS soldiers
then entered the crowded, smoke-filled church and fired hundreds
of shots at the hapless victims, while other SS men stood outside
ready to machine-gun anyone who attempted to escape. The soldiers
fired low inside the church in order to hit the small children.
Babies in their prams were blown up by hand grenades, filled
with gas, that were tossed into the church. Then brushwood and
straw was carried into the stone church and piled on top of the
writhing bodies of those that were not yet dead. The church was
then set on fire, burning alive the women and babies who had
only been wounded by the shots and the grenades. The clamour
coming from the church could be heard for a distance of two kilometers,
according the Bishop's office report.
The fire inside the church was so intense
that the flames leaped up into the bell tower; the bronze church
bells melted from the heat of the flames and fell down onto the
floor of the church. One SS soldier was accidentally killed by
falling debris when the roof of the church steeple collapsed.
Only one woman, a 47-year-old grandmother,
escaped from the church. Taking advantage of a cloud of smoke,
she hid behind the main altar where she found a ladder that had
been left there for the purpose of lighting the candles on the
altar. Madame Marguerite Rouffanche, the lone survivor of the
massacre in the church, managed to escape by using the ladder
to climb up to a broken window behind the altar, then leaping
out of the window, which was 9 feet from the ground. Although
hit by machine gun fire and wounded 4 times in the legs and once
in the shoulder, she was able to crawl to the garden behind the
presbytery where she hid among the rows of peas until she was
rescued, 24 hours later, at 5 p.m. the next day, and taken to
the hospital in Limoges where she was admitted under an assumed
name. It took a full year for her to recover from her wounds.
In 1953, she testified before a French military tribunal in Bordeaux
about the massacre of the women and children in the church.