The Oradour-sur-Glane Massacre
WARNING: This is a synopsis of the
story according to the SS. For the official version of the story,
On 10 June 1944, two platoons of soldiers
in the 3rd company of Der Führer regiment of Das Reich division
in the Waffen-SS army, under the command of Captain Otto Kahn
and accompanied by Battalion Commander Adolf Diekmann, went to
the village of Oradour-sur-Glane for the express purpose of searching
for another battalion commander, Major Helmut Kämpfe, a
beloved officer and a close personal friend of Diekmann, who
was missing. It was known that Kämpfe's car had been ambushed
and that he had been kidnapped by members of the Maquis, who
were part of the FTP, a French Communist resistance organization,
commanded by Georges Guingouin. It was believed that the Maquis
was planning to ceremoniously execute Kämpfe that very day.
Diekmann had received information that
morning from two collaborators in the French Milice (secret police),
who told him that Kämpfe was being held prisoner in Oradour-sur-Glane
and that the Maquisards, as the resistance fighters were called,
were planning to burn Kämpfe alive. This information was
confirmed by German intelligence reports.
Another SS officer, named Karl Gerlach,
had been kidnapped the day before by the Maquis and taken to
Oradour-sur-Glane, after he had offered to give information to
their leader in exchange for his life. In the village, Gerlach
saw members of the Maquis, including women who were dressed in
leather jackets and wearing steel helmets, the clothing of Resistance
fighters. He escaped, wearing nothing but his underwear, just
as they were preparing to execute him. He gave this information
to Diekmann and showed him the location of Oradour-sur-Glane
on a map.
Also on the day before, in the nearby
town of Tulle, 73 SS soldiers had been murdered by the Maquisards
after they had surrendered, and their bodies had been horribly
mutilated beyond recognition. Genitals had been cut off and stuffed
into their mouths. Some of the soldiers had been run over by
trucks while they were still alive. An SS soldier had been dragged
by his heels, face down, behind a vehicle until he was dead.
Female resistance fighters had thrown excrement on the bodies
of the SS soldiers. These were German soldiers who had surrendered
in good faith to the Maquis, but had not been treated according
to the rules of warfare under the 1929 Geneva Convention.
After the Allied invasion at Normandy,
General Dwight D. Eisenhower had unilaterally informed the German
army that the French resistance fighters were to be regarded
as legal combatants under the protection of the Geneva Convention,
but the partisans in Tulle were not honoring the Convention.
Just outside the southern entrance to
Oradour-sur-Glane in the tiny hamlet of La Ferme de l'Etang,
the SS soldiers came upon the horrible scene of a recent ambush
of a German Army ambulance. Four wounded German soldiers had
been burned alive inside the ambulance; the driver and another
soldier in the passenger seat had been chained to the steering
wheel and burned alive.
Before entering the village, the SS rounded
up all the residents of the farming hamlets near the southern
entrance of the village, where the ambulance was found, and took
them in trucks to Oradour-sur-Glane, including family members
of Madame Marguerite Rouffanche.
Madame Rouffanche, who lived in the hamlet
of La Ferme de l'Etang, miraculously survived the massacre by
jumping out of a window in the church; she testified under oath
that the SS soldiers had set off a smoke bomb in the church in
an attempt to asphyxiate the women and children, and had then
set fire to the church, burning some of the women and children
As they entered the village, the SS soldiers
encountered resistance from the partisans. One SS soldier was
killed and another was wounded. After closing off all the access
roads and surrounding the village, Diekmann ordered the SS soldiers
to round up everyone in the village and bring them to an assembly
point on the village green, called the Fairgrounds. The population
of the village was only 330 people but there was an equal number
of refugees hiding there, including 26 "Red Spaniards"
who were Communist veterans of the Spanish Civil War.
When everyone had been assembled, Diekmann
explained to the mayor of the village that they were looking
for weapons and also for the missing Kämpfe. Diekmann asked
for hostages and the mayor offered himself and his four sons,
but the offer was declined and the hostage request was dropped.
The assembled villagers were asked to volunteer any information
about weapons stored in Oradour-sur-Glane. Getting a negative
response, Diekmann ordered the village to be searched.
The women and children were separated
from the men and taken to the local church for their own safety
while the town was searched for weapons and ammunition. The bodies
of a number of German soldiers were discovered during the search,
along with weapons and ammunition in almost every house. The
SS later learned that the village had been the weapons and ammunition
supply point for the whole Dordogne area, which was the center
of the Communist resistance movement.
While the search was being conducted,
the men were held in six buildings, guarded by soldiers with
machine-guns. At 4 p.m. a loud explosion was heard. The soldiers
thought that they were being attacked by partisans hiding in
the village and the execution of the 190 men in the six buildings
began, all at the same time. At 5 p.m. the destruction of the
whole village began, as all the buildings were set on fire, starting
at the north end.
At 4 p.m. one or two of the partisans
in the village, probably not Frenchmen, had entered the crowded
church, located at the south end of the village, where the women
and children were being held, and had set off a gas bomb. The
partisans in the French resistance movement included Polish guerrilla
fighters in the Polish Home Army and escaped Russian POWs. Their
intention had been to kill the women and children by asphyxiation
and blame the German army for this terrible atrocity. This would
provide motivation for more people to joint the French Resistance
movement. In fact, two of the survivors, Andre Desourteaux and
Robert Hebras, did join the Maquis three weeks later.
Then a bomb exploded in the tower of
the church, causing the bronze bells to melt. A woman who was
hiding in a house near the church said that she had heard "detonation
after detonation" in the church. What she heard was grenades
and ammunition, that had been stored in the church, going off
after a fire started in the church, wounding the women in the
legs and killing the children and babies. SS soldiers risked
their lives to enter the smoke-filled church in an attempt to
rescue the women, but only a few could be saved. Years later,
several women from the village told a visiting German army officer,
Eberhard Matthes, that they had been rescued by SS men that day.
Diekmann returned to his headquarters
and made a report. His commanding officer, Sylvester Stadler,
was angry because Diekmann had not followed orders to take hostages,
that could have been used in further negotiations to free Kämpfe,
who had not yet been found. Diekmann had seen enough in the village
to cause him to presume that Kämpfe was already dead, so
he had ordered the town to be destroyed in a reprisal action,
which he had the authority to do under the Sperrle Order.
The SS later intercepted a message sent
by the Maquis in which the leaders ordered the Maquisards to
stop fighting in the area of Oradour-sur-Glane. Das Reich division
was finally able to get to Normandy in 17 days, instead of the
3 days it would have taken without the interference of the French
Resistance, which was fighting illegally in violation of the
1929 Geneva convention and in violation of the Armistice signed
between Germany and France in 1940. A reprisal action for the
purpose of discouraging illegal partisan activity was legal under
the 1929 Geneva Convention.
During an inquest which was conducted
by the SS, Diekmann testified that the bodies of a number of
executed German soldiers had been found in Oradour-sur-Glane.
At the Nuremberg war crimes trial after the war, SS soldiers
testified that the bodies of dead German soldiers had been found
in Oradour-sur-Glane. Diekmann was court-martialled for exceeding
his orders, but he was never brought to trial because he was
killed in action at Normandy. His fellow officers believed that
he had committed suicide by deliberately getting himself killed.