26th May 2022
My posts on this blog are generally very lighthearted as I always try to look on the funny side of life, and always try to have a laugh whenever I can.
However whilst travelling in France this year I saw a road sign to Oradour-Sur-Glane, a name I had heard of from a documentary on television and so I decided to pay a visit.
The photos that you see are those that I took on my visit but the words are copied from the Oradour.info website as I didn’t want to make any mistakes with something as serious as this. It makes for some very grim reading.
Towards the end of the Second World War, in a peaceful part of Vichy, France, there took place the war crime of the particularly horrible murder of 642 men, women and children. (There is the possibility that the true death toll could be higher than this figure, say 643, or 644, due to the likelihood of some very young babies not being included in the original total).
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 village of Oradour-sur-Glane, near to the city of Limoges in the Haute Vienne Department of France.
At first, they told the Mayor, Jean Desourteaux, that there was to be an identity check and that everyone must assemble on 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, explosives and prohibited merchandise. 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 probably 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 boulangerie’s 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
What has fascinated people ever since the 10th of June 1944, is why did the SS act as they did? Why did they turn up at Oradour that day and without mentioning anything to the inhabitants, kill them all? That a few people survived the attack was not due to any lack of zeal on the part of the SS, but why did they do it?
There had never been any obvious Resistance activity in the village, the Germans had never been attacked by the inhabitants and after the killings were over the SS left without saying why they had done it to anyone at all. If the attack had been a reprisal for some violence towards the German occupying forces, it would be normal for the Germans to say (loudly) to all the local population, ‘that’s what you get when you help the Resistance, let that be a lesson to you all!’. But they did not, they carried out the operation and left without giving any explanation to anyone at all.
We should all learn from the historic evils of war……..but here we are 78 years later and it’s Russia who’s at it this time!