Lest we Forget
Oradour-sur-Glane - An Atrocity and Nazi war-crime
Carried out on Saturday 10th June 1944
This website describes the history, background and events leading up to the Nazi war-crime of the attack upon the martyr village of Oradour-sur-Glane. This atrocity was carried out on Saturday 10th June 1944 by soldiers of the Der Führer Regiment of the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division Das Reich. On that day, without giving any explanation, they killed a total of 642 men, women and children, leaving only a few survivors. They then destroyed the entire village and to this day there is no universally accepted explanation for the massacre. The narrative, In a Ruined State, gives a full description of what happened on the 10th June 1944 and reviews all the current explanations offered by different authors for the attack on the village. In addition there are over 200 photographs in the Picture Gallery and much supporting information in the Appendices, including advice on how to get there and places to stay during a visit. If short of time, read the Summary and browse the Picture Gallery, but for a fuller understanding it is recommended to read all of, In a Ruined State and the Appendices, as they contain much relevant detail about the background to the affair and what happened afterwards to all those involved.
10th June 1944
Towards the end of the Second World War, in a peaceful part of France, there took place the war crime of a particularly horrible murder of 642 men women and children.
On the 10th of June 1944, a group of soldiers from the Der Führer regiment of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division Das Reich entered and then surrounded the small village of Oradour-sur-Glane, near to the city of Limoges.
At first, they told the Mayor, Jean Desourteaux, that there was to be an identity check and that everyone must go to the Champ de Foire (fairground) whilst this took place. After rounding up all the inhabitants that they could find, the SS then changed their story from that of an identity check, to one of searching for hidden arms and explosives. The soldiers then said that whilst they searched for the arms, the women and children must wait in the church and the men in nearby barns.
The women and children were marched off to the church, the children being encouraged by the soldiers to sing as they went. After they had left, the men were divided into six groups and led off to different barns in the village under armed guard. When the people were all safely shut away the SS began to kill them all.
A large gas bomb, seemingly made out of smoke-screen grenades and intended to asphyxiate the occupants, was placed in the church, but it did not work properly when it went off and so the SS had to use machine guns and hand grenades to disable and kill the women and children. After they had subdued all the occupants of the church, the soldiers piled wood on the bodies, many of whom were still alive and set it on fire.
Only one person managed to escape alive from the church and that was Madame Rouffanche. She saw her younger daughter who was sitting next to her killed by a bullet as they attempted to find shelter in the vestry. Madame Rouffanche then ran to the altar end of the church where she found a stepladder used to light the candles. Placing the ladder behind the altar she climbed up and threw herself through a window and out onto the ground some 10 feet below. As she picked herself up, a woman holding her baby tried to follow, but they were seen by the soldiers and both woman and child were killed. In spite of being shot and wounded five times, Madame Rouffanche escaped round the back of the church and dug herself into the earth between some rows of peas, where she remained hidden until late the next day.
At the same time that the gas bomb exploded in the church, the SS fired their machine guns into the men crowded in the barns. They deliberately fired low, so that many of the men were badly wounded but not killed. The soldiers then piled wood and straw on the bodies and set it alight, many of the men thus burned to death, unable to move because of their injuries. Six men did manage to escape from Madame Laudy's barn, but one of them was seen and shot dead, the other 5 all wounded, got away under cover of darkness.
Whilst these killings were taking place, the soldiers searched the village for any people who had evaded the initial roundup and killed them where they found them. One old invalid man was burned to death in his bed and a baby was baked to death in the local bakery ovens, other people were killed and their bodies thrown down a well. People who attempted to enter the village to see what was going on were shot dead. A local tram which arrived during the killings was emptied of passengers, who after several terrifying minutes were let go in peace.
After killing all the villagers that they could find, the soldiers set the whole village on fire and early the next day, laden with booty stolen from the houses, they left.
The soldiers then journeyed on up through France to Normandy and joined the rest of the German army in attempting to throw the allied invasion back into the sea. Many of them, including Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, who had led the attack on Oradour-sur-Glane, were killed in the Normandy battles.