The Story of Oradour-sur-Glane

The story of the Massacre from the SS point of view - for the Official story, click here.

The SS justification for the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre centers on their claim that the destruction of the village was a reprisal, which was legal under international law up until the Geneva Convention of 1949. Reprisal does not mean revenge. It is a legal term defined in international humanitarian law. It means that an Army has the right, during war time, to respond in kind when guerrilla fighters violate international law, and there is no other way to stop them from continuing their illegal activity except by a reprisal action. The SS did not follow every attack by the French resistance with a reprisal. Most of the time, the guerrillas were captured and sent to concentration camps such as Natzweiler-Struthof, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Dachau.

This reprisal action was taken because the SS believed that the Oradour-sur-Glane villagers were heavily involved with the Maquis, a French Resistance group; they claimed to have discovered that almost every house in Oradour was filled with weapons and ammunition.

Even the women of Oradour-sur-Glane were involved in resistance fighting, according to a report by Obersturmführer Karl Gerlach, ordnance officer of the 2nd SS Assault Gun detachment of "Das Reich" Division, who had escaped from the village after being captured by the Maquisards. He told of seeing women in Oradour-sur-Glane wearing yellow leather jackets and steel helmets which he identified as the clothing of the Resistance fighters. His report was recorded in the Division Tagebuch for 9 June 1944.

According to Sarah Farmer, who wrote a book entitled "Martyred Village," Robert Hebras joined the Maquis a mere three weeks after the massacre, along with his boyhood friend, Andre Desourteaux, a resident of the village who was a postal worker in Limoges. In the early days of the French resistance movement, the postal workers, telephone operators and railroad workers were among the first to organize in the guerrilla warfare against the German occupation of France. The postmaster in Oradour was also among the survivors, allegedly because he was out delivering mail when the village was attacked.

In November 1945, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg indicted Alfred Jodl and Wilhelm Keitel, the two top German generals of the Wehrmacht, on charges of participating in a common plan to commit war crimes by violating the Laws and Usages of War under the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1929. Among the war crimes listed was the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, which was declared to be a violation of Articles 46 and 50 of the Hague Convention. There was no mention that the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre was a violation of the 1929 Geneva Convention because it wasn't; it was a reprisal, which was legal under international law at that time.

Article 46 of the Hague Convention states that the lives of persons and private property must be respected by the Military Authority over the Territory of the Hostile State, which in this case would have been the authority of the Germans over occupied France.

Article 50 of the Hague Convention states that no general penalty shall be inflicted upon the population of an occupied country on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly or severally responsible.

However, the perpetrators of the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre were not Wehrmacht soldiers under the command of Jodl or Keitel, but rather soldiers in the Waffen-SS, an elite volunteer army which had divisions of men from many other countries, including France.

The Waffen-SS was an army of around one million men, which was separate from the regular German Army, called the Wehrmacht. The letters SS stand for Schutzstaffel, which means protection squad in English. Americans sometimes confuse the SS with the SA, which was the Sturm Arbeitung, or Storm Troopers. The SS originally started as Hitler's body guards, while the SA was the private army of the Nazi political party which fought street battles with the Red Army of the Communists in the early days.

By the end of World War II, 60% of the Waffen-SS soldiers were volunteers fighting in SS divisions from other countries besides Germany; they had joined the SS to fight against Communism. The French division of SS soldiers, called the 33rd Waffen-Grenadier der SS Charlemagne, fought bravely on the eastern front and then defended Berlin to the last man in 1945.

Around one-third of the SS soldiers who participated in the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre were from Alsace, a former French province that had been annexed into the Greater German Reich after the fall of France in 1940. Alsace was originally a German state, but was taken by the French after the Thirty Years War which ended in 1648. Germany reclaimed it in 1871 after winning the Franco-Prussian war. France took Alsace again after World War I. Because of this centuries old tug-of-war, Alsatians had mixed loyalties.

One of the Alsatians admitted to having voluntarily joined the SS; the rest were malgré-nous, or men who claimed in their trial testimony that they had been drafted into the German army against their will. According to the Official Publication of the survivors, some of these Alsatian soldiers were from the town of Schiltigheim in Alsace. Ironically, there were also Alsatian refugees in Oradour, including some who were from Schiltigheim. They had fled Alsace to avoid being drafted into the German Army.

The French province of Lorraine had also been incorporated into the Greater German Reich, but there were no men conscripted into the SS from Lorraine, according to Robert Hebras, one of the last remaining survivors of the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre. Hebras wrote in his account of the tragedy that he does not believe that the Alsatians were forced to join the SS. According to Hebras, the Alsatians were unable to furnish any proof at their trial that they had been conscripted into the SS.

The Waffen-SS was despised by the Allies. The SS had a bad reputation because it was SS soldiers who guarded the Nazi concentration camps, although the guards were part of a separate SS group. The SS also had a reputation for being extremely dedicated to their cause and for being the bravest fighters, but to the Allies, who were fighting "the Good War" on the same side as the Communist Soviet Union, the SS men were murderers who were the personification of Evil.

After the war, the Allies designated the SS as a criminal organization which meant that all soldiers in the SS, including Waffen-SS soldiers who had fought heroically on the battlefield, were automatically war criminals, regardless of whether or not they had personally committed any atrocities. However, this rule did not apply to the Alsatians in the SS because the provisional French government had passed a law after the Liberation which did not allow for Frenchmen to be prosecuted for war crimes. For example, one of the accused SS soldiers in the Malmedy Massacre case was a French citizen and because of this, the charges against him were dropped before the trial began.

Following the Normandy invasion, the German Army, and especially the SS, had come under heavy attack by the Maquis, a resistance group that in today's War on Terror would be called insurgents or illegal combatants. The Waffen-SS Das Reich Division, which had been ordered from Bordeaux to the Normandy front, took 17 days to complete what would normally have been a three-day journey, suffering numerous casualties en route, as they were attacked by the Maquisards.

The Maquis was working closely with the British, who gave them supplies and coordinated their efforts. In the days immediately following the Allied invasion at Normandy, the leader of the Free French, Charles de Gaulle, was making plans to become the President of France after it was liberated from the German occupation. From his headquarters in London, he directed the British to drop money and ammunition to the resistance fighters in rural areas, rather than supplying the 25,000 Communists who were in Paris. He did not want the capital city of Paris to be liberated by the Communists because this would have resulted in a Communist government in France after the war. The Maquis fought in the outlying areas, hiding in the hamlets and villages of rural France; de Gaulle wanted all the Allied ammunition to be given to them.

The Maquisards set land mines, wrecked trains, blew up bridges and railroad tracks, ambushed German soldiers, kidnapped high-ranking German officers, killed wounded SS soldiers, and directed British and American planes in the bombing of German troop trains. There were also French collaborators who were helping the Nazis in the fight against Communism, particularly the Milice, the secret police, which helped the German Gestapo in arresting the resistance fighters.

The destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane had the desired effect because, immediately after the massacre, the Communist partisans, who had been wreaking havoc in the Limosin area, gave the order to stop fighting. The order was intercepted by the Germans and this immediately lifted their morale. The reprisal had worked; this was basically the reason why reprisals were allowed at that time, although such bestial cruelty as the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane is, understandably, no longer legal under international law.

In a rambling autobiography entitled "SS Panzergrenadier," former Waffen-SS soldier Hans Schmidt, who is now an American citizen, writes about the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre from the SS point of view. In a footnote on page 377 of his book, Schmidt debunks the official story that the villagers were innocent. The following quote is from his book "SS Panzergrenadier":

"Almost every French village in the Limoges area claimed after the war to have been a hotbed of resistance against the German occupiers. It was so nice to play the heroes after four years of submission. Alas, according to postwar French reports, of all the villages in the vicinity, Oradour-sur-Glane was allegedly totally innocent of anti-German terrorist activities. It just shows how dumb the Germans are, always picking on the innocent."

According to Schmidt's book, the Waffen-SS soldiers of Das Reich Division, the perpetrators of the massacre, had been stationed from April to June 1944 in the Toulouse area for rest, recuperation and replenishment, after fighting the Russians on the Eastern front.

Schmidt claims that during the occupation of France "German soldiers usually got along very well with the locals." But, according to Schmidt, this changed soon after the start of 1944 when the French underground became more active. He blames the British government for encouraging the French Resistance activity.

Schmidt wrote that

... about one hundred soldiers of Das Reich had been murdered or kidnapped by the 'heroes' of the Maquis (terrorists!) before the division embarked, by road and train, on the difficult trip to Normandy. In doing so, Das Reich had to traverse the mountainous area in the surroundings of the city of Limoges where partisans were especially active.

Oradour-sur-Glane was right in the heart of this area, only 14 miles from Limoges.

In his book, Schmidt tells about the kidnapping of Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, the battalion commander of the 3rd Battalion of Das Reich Division, on the night of 9 June 1944. Representatives of the French resistance had sent a ransom note to "Der Führer" battalion command post on the morning of the 10th of June. Acting on this information, Sturmbannführer Otto Diekmann, a close personal friend of Kämpfe, took two platoons from 3rd Company/1st Battalion/Regiment "Der Führer" to Oradour-sur-Glane to search for him.

On the search for this "beloved officer," Diekmann's men had discovered a burned-out German ambulance that had been set on fire, apparently by the partisans, near the southern entrance to the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. The driver of the ambulance had been tied to the steering wheel with wire. He had been burned alive, along with the man sitting next to him in the passenger seat, and four wounded soldiers inside the ambulance, according to Schmidt's book.

Before entering Oradour-sur-Glane, the SS rounded up the residents of the hamlets on the south side of the village, because this was the vicinity where the burned out ambulance was found. By coincidence, the one woman who survived the massacre, Madame Marguerite Rouffanche, lived in a hamlet on the south side of the village.

According to Schmidt, "For the Germans, all indications pointed to Oradour as a hotbed of the Maquis. Reprisals were in order. In spite of later French claims to the contrary, weapons were found hidden in houses of the village. Following Hitler's orders, the men of the town were to be executed and all the houses leveled."

The Official Publication of the Oradour-sur-Glane Remembrance Committee and the National Association of the Families of the Martyrs of Oradour-sur-Glane includes the following information:

"A special envoy of the French Interior Force (the Resistance) who visited Oradour in the first few days specified that the charred remains of a father, mother and three children were gathered from inside a baker's oven. We ourselves found, not far from this baker's oven, a fire damper, still half full of coal, in which was discovered human bones (lumbar vertebrae) in an advanced state of charring. Faced with such a finding, it is clear that one is allowed to surmise a great deal."

Apparently the SS surmised something quite different, based on the discovery of charred bodies at the bakery. According to a book by H. W. Koch, entitled "Aspects of the Third Reich," the still smoldering body of Major Helmut Kämpfe was seen at an Oradour bakery by Diekmann's men and the body was identified by the Knight's Cross. Members of the Milice, the French secret police, had told the SS the day before that the Maquisards in Oradour were planning to burn Kämpfe alive. Other sources claim that Kämpfe was killed in the village of Breuilaufa, where his first grave was found in 1945.

Only 52 of the 642 victims of the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre were ever identified; the others were missing and presumed to have been killed there on 10 June 1944, although no death certificate was ever issued for them. It was known that members of the Maquis were back in the ruins of the village for two days immediately following the massacre; it is possible that some of the bodies were moved to the bakery.

The official list of the victims indicates that the majority of the men in Oradour-sur-Glane were unemployed. How did they manage to survive, with no source of income, in the middle of a war? What did they do to while away their time? One explanation could be that they were members of the French Resistance who were receiving money, as well as weapons, in parachute drops by the British.

As for the myriad of sewing machines that were found in the ruins, it could be that the women in Oradour-sur-Glane were sewing arm bands for the FFI, the French resistance army, that General Dwight D. Eisenhower had just declared to be legal combatants after the successful invasion at Normandy. The arm bands were decorated with the Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of de Gaulle's Army. Monsieur Dupic, whom Vincent Reynouard accused of being a member of the French Secret Army, was a fabric merchant. His house was well stocked with food and wine, and this is where the SS soldiers stayed the night after the destruction, according to the Official Story. The body of Monsieur Dupic, one of the 52 that could be identified, was found in his garden. He had apparently hidden when he saw the SS men enter the town.

Another curious thing about the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane is the great number of cars that were stored in the garages there. In her book "Martyred Village," Sarah Farmer explained that the Nazis had confiscated the cars in occupied France, but people in the town of Limoges had hidden their cars in Oradour-sur-Glane. A car would have been a handy thing for a resistance fighter to have, especially for the Maquisards who were fighting in rural areas. However, it was an hour-long trip by tram from Limoges to Oradour-sur-Glane to pick up a hidden car, and then another hour-long trip back to the city after using the car, which would have been very inconvenient for a resident of Limoges. Gasoline was rationed and not easily obtained, so few people used cars during the German occupation of France.

In his book, Schmidt claimed that

While the reprisals were being carried out, the women and children of the village had been ordered into the village church for their own safekeeping. Then the unthinkable happened: The church caught fire, and "somehow" an inferno developed that would cost most of the women and children their lives. Young SS-soldiers tried desperately to help people trapped in the church but not many could be saved.

A retired German Army officer, Eberhard Matthes, supports Schmidt's claim. In 1980, Matthes gave a sworn affidavit in which he stated that during a visit to the ruins in 1963, two older women in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane told him that they had been saved by SS soldiers who risked their lives to go inside the burning church to rescue them. These women also told Matthes that the SS had not started the fire in the church.

According to Hans Schmidt,

The Maquis had hidden armaments and explosives underneath the roof and elsewhere in the church, and that it was this material that had caused the catastrophe.

Today visitors to the church can see the bronze bells which melted and crashed down from the burning tower, although a short distance from the main door of the church, a wooden confessional box located in the transept of the left side altar, did not suffer any burn damage at all. So how could flames from a fire, that was allegedly started by the SS in the church, have spread to the stone tower, which was not connected to the nave of the church?

Matthes also stated in his sworn affidavit that during another visit to Oradour-sur-Glane in 1964, a man there told him that the explosion in the church was a bomb that was set off by a civilian, who had escaped through the vestry, after setting a fuse. His purpose was to blame the Germans for this monstrous act so that more people would join the French Resistance.

According to Matthes, this informant had speculated that the civilian who set off the bomb may not have been a Frenchman. Members of the Maquis included Polish partisans in the Polish Home Army and Russian soldiers who had defected and fought on the German side, but then deserted the German Army. There were also 26 Red Spaniards, who were Communist refugees from the Spanish Civil War, living in Oradour-sur-Glane, as well as Jews who were hiding from the Nazis.

The door to the vestry, or sacistry, through which the person who allegedly set off the bomb escaped, is located on the left side of the main altar in the front of the church. Madame Rouffanche claimed that this door was broken down by the women after a "smoke bomb," that had been carried into the church by two soldiers, exploded in the back of the church. Other versions of the story claim that the bomb exploded near the communion rail in the front of the church where there is now a hole in the stone floor.

Madame Rouffanche said that she entered the sacristy and sat down on the steps, but then went back inside the church and escaped by climbing up a ladder and jumping out a window behind the main altar. Another woman also climbed up the ladder with her baby in her arms and jumped out the window. After the massacre, the bodies of 15 children were found behind the main altar. Why didn't the children follow Madame Rouffanche up the ladder and escape through the broken window?

A similar case, in which SS soldiers were wrongly blamed, was a massacre that took place in the Polish town of Jedwabne on July 10, 1941 during the German invasion of the Soviet Union. 1600 Jews in the town were viciously murdered by the Polish residents, two weeks after the German soldiers had left. Innocent men, women and children were forced into a barn and then burned alive. The perpetrators claimed that they had been ordered by the Germans to commit this crime, but a trial in 1949 proved that this was a lie.

In another section of his book, Schmidt makes the assertion that SS soldiers were instructed not to desecrate churches or cemeteries. This flies in the face of well-known stories that the SS used Jewish grave stones for target practice and then paved the streets of the concentration camps with the broken stones, as depicted in the movie "Schindler's List." But according to Schmidt, the French Resistance knew that "German soldiers were careful not to infringe on religion and thereby on the churches in occupied territories" so that was why they chose a church to hide their weapons. Schmidt wrote that the Maquis had boasted, after the war, about "hiding weapons and explosives (and escaped allied airmen) in cloisters, churches and other religious institutions" to outwit the Germans.

One of the problems with the SS version of the story, as told by Schmidt and other former SS soldiers, is the testimony of Heinz Barth, a Sargent and platoon leader in the 3rd Company, Panzergrenadier Regiment 4, Das Reich Division. It was Barth's company that perpetrated the massacre in Oradour-sur-Glane, but for some unknown reason, he was not among the SS men put on trial in Bordeaux in January 1953 to answer for the crime. Barth had been wounded in the war and one of his legs had been amputated.

In 1981, Barth was arrested at his home in East Germany, then a Communist republic, where he had been living in plain sight for 35 years in the town where he was born. He was interrogated for two years before he was finally brought to trial in 1983; Schmidt claims that Barth was tortured in order to force him to confess to events that could not have happened. In the Communist court system, the procedure is to obtain a confession before the trial and then the accused repeats his confession on the witness stand during the proceedings. Barth was sentenced to life in prison, since Communist East Germany did not have the death penalty. After two years of alleged torture, he had admitted everything in court and confirmed the official story that no weapons had been found in the town of Oradour-sur-Glane. Because of Barth's confession, the survivors' story has been proved in a court of law, while the SS has no official proof of their claims.

Barth was released in 1997 after serving 16 years of his life sentence. By that time, he was almost 80 years old, and he had lost the government pension to which he was entitled as a war veteran. Schmidt wrote that former SS soldiers had helped to get Barth released and "there are also indications that the Paris government acted in his behalf: all French legal actions concerning Oradour had ended twenty years before Barth's arrest by the Communists."

Comparisons are often made between the destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane and a similar German reprisal against the town of Lidice in 1942. Both of these reprisals took place on the same day, the 10th of June, although two years apart. The Czech village of Lidice was destroyed in reprisal for the assassination of Reinhard von Heydrich, the governor of the German protectorate of Bohemia and Movaria, now the Czech Republic. Czech partisans, who were trained by British agents in England, had parachuted into Bohemia and had then shot von Heydrich after ambushing his car. Von Heydrich had to be eliminated because he was a good administrator, whose fair policies did not inspire the Czech people to resist.

During the destruction of Lidice, the men of the village were executed, but only seven women were shot, according to William Shirer who wrote "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." The rest of the women were sent to the women's concentration camp at Ravensbrück and the children were taken to Germany to be raised by German families.

In sharp contrast, the women and children of Oradour-sur-Glane were singled out for worse treatment than the men, according to the official story. They were held inside a solidly-built stone church where they were first blinded and choked by billowing clouds of black smoke from a gas bomb which the soldiers had allegedly brought with them, according to the official version of the story. Then the women and children were allegedly blown up with hand grenades tossed through the broken windows, while at the same time, hundreds of cartridges were fired by soldiers, who had entered the crowded, smoke-filled church, aiming low so as to better hit the children.

The SS version of the story suggests that the hand grenades and cartridges had been stored by the local resistance fighters in the church and that they went off after a fire started when a bomb was set off by one of the partisans who had sneaked into the church. The men of Oradour-sur-Glane were not executed until after the first explosion in the church, according to the two women who spoke to Matthes in 1963. The explosion provided the proof that there were weapons stored in the village.

Otto Diekmann, the commanding officer who ordered the reprisal at Oradour-sur-Glane, returned to his headquarters in the late afternoon, and gave his report to his commanding officer. Diekmann had gone to Oradour-sur-Glane to search for his friend and fellow officer, Helmut Kämpfe, the commander of Der Führer Battalion 3, who has been kidnapped by members of the FTP, the French Communist resistance, on 9 June 1944.

The following quote from Diekmann's Report was included in Otto Weidinger's book, "Comrades to the End":

The Company had encountered resistance in Oradour, the bodies of executed German soldiers were found. It then occupied the village and immediately conducted an intensive search of the houses. Unfortunately this failed to turn up Kämpfe, however large quantities of weapons and ammunition were found. Therefore all the men of the village were shot, who were surely Maquisards.

The women and children were locked up in the church while all this was going on. Then the village was set on fire, as a result of which the ammunition that was stored in almost every house went up. The burning of the village resulted in fire spreading to the church, where ammunition had also been hidden in the roof. The church burned down very rapidly and the women and children lost their lives.

Some former SS men believe that Diekmann committed suicide by deliberately getting himself killed at Normandy. He had been court-martialled because, in ordering the reprisal, he had exceeded his orders and he knew that he would soon be put on trial by the SS.

German Army General Erwin Rommel demanded the court martial of Diekmann, and even said that he would conduct it himself. Compare this with General George S. Patton tearing up the court-martial papers of the American soldiers who committed the Dachau massacre. Ironically, the killing of over 500 Waffen-SS Prisoners of War, who had surrendered at Dachau, was motivated by the anger that American soldiers felt after seeing dead bodies of prisoners on a train outside the camp, while the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre may have been touched off by the anguish of the SS soldiers at seeing the charred bodies of wounded Waffen-SS men who had been burned alive in an ambulance just outside the village.

The Official Publication, which is the story of Oradour-sur-Glane according to the survivors, ends with the following condemnation of the Nazis:

"The race of lords tried to impose upon us the benefits of German Kultur; the resplendent, superior, fertile and eternal Kultur with, as its finest flower, Nazism and its sweetest fruits, the S.S.

In our country, its consecration was sought by complete application of its scientific method to all acts of existence, by the progressive subjugation of the will, the desires, the preferences and the instincts! It was the codification of all virtues, all feelings, the stark mathematics of beauty, good and truth, yes, those illusory and sterile regulations, that empty and excessive discipline and it was consequently work, then feast, then pleasures, in that very particular order, mass produced obligations, standardised consciences and finally happiness obligatory for everyone with enthusiasm to order and joy on command. "strength through joy", as they proclaim in a well-known slogan. Well-known, yes, and celebrated! Strength through joy! and joy .... through strength! "

The "race of lords" is probably a reference to the term Herrenrasse which in America is translated as "the Master race." Former Waffen-SS soldier Hans Schmidt points out in his book that, in all of his training in the SS, the word Herrenrasse was never used.

Strength through Joy (Kraft durch Freude) was the name of a program for workers in Nazi Germany. Compulsory deductions were made from the wages of the workers to pay for the Strength through Joy benefits, which included such things as a free vacation at a time when ordinary people didn't take vacations and only the idle rich went on holiday. The Volkswagen, which was conceived and designed by Ferdinand Porsche, was developed on the orders of Hitler as an inexpensive car that would be affordable for everyone. It was originally called the "KdF-Wagen," named after the Nazi program; the development of the KdF-Wagen was subsidized by the workers' deductions and the factory town which built these cars was originally named KdF-Stadt. The KdF-Wagen was offered to the workers through a savings program, with deductions from their pay checks, but World War II interrupted the delivery of the cars. The Strength through Joy program also built sports facilities, provided free visits to the theatre, and financially supported traveling cabaret groups.

The severe criticism of the German work ethic and the Strength through Joy program in the Official Publication might explain the prevalence of guerrilla fighters who fought against the German occupation of France, after the country was defeated in World War II, although the inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane apparently accepted the yoke of the Nazis because none of them had even the slightest involvement with the French Resistance, according to the official story.

Schmidt points out, in his book, that the records of the proceedings of the military court in Bordeaux are sealed until well into the 21st century. Charles de Gaulle ordered the records sealed for 100 years, which means that the complete story will not be known until the year 2053. From the point of view of the SS, this secrecy is proof that the official version of the story is not the whole truth.

The SS vs. the Partisans


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