German D-Day Atrocities: Oradour sur Glane (June 10, 1944)

Oradour sur Glane
Figure 1.--This is the village church at Oradour sur Glane where the Germans burned and shot the women and children. Only one woman managed to squeeze out a small window and survived. Image courtesy of William Ferguson.

Oradour-sur-Glane was an unremarmable town in the Haute-Vienne Department of France. It is located near Limoges. The town had been far removed from any World war II battelgrounds. It was not an active cennter of the Resistance effort. It was, however, located between Toulouse near where the Das Reich Division was stationed and Normandy where the Allied landed (June 6, 1944). The SS Das Reich Division was deployed in southern France at Montauban north of Toulouse where it was reconstituted after the lossese at Kursk and other battles in the Ukraine. After D-Day, the Division was ordered to Normandy to repel the Allies. Resistance efforts slowed the Division, delaying its deployment to Normandy for several critical days. SS men with the Das Reich Division killed 67 civilians in Argenton (June 9). This brought Maquis retaliation. The French Resistance carried out attacks and sabotaged bridges, roads, and rail lines. The Divisin was frusrated by the slow progress toward Normandy. After the Allied invasion of France at Normandy in a peaceful part of France, German troops pepetrated a particularly horrible murder. The peaceful French village of Oradour sur Glane was the scene of one of the most vicious German attrocities in France during World War II and Alsatians were deeply involved. The Germans killed 642 men, women, and children at Oradour-sur-Glane. Many were killed by shooting, but theGermans burned most of them to death. This is not something that these men had just thought up on the spot. It speaks volumes as to what had been transpiring on the Eastern Front on a routine basis. Most of these actions were less well documented.

Oradour sur Glane

Oradour-sur-Glane was an unremarmable town in the Haute-Vienne Department of France. It is located near Limoges. The name of the village was derived in part from the nearby Glane River. The village nestled in remote south central France had been far removed from any World war II battelgrounds. It was not an active cennter of the Resistance effort. It was, however, located between Toulouse near where the Das Reich Division was stationed and Normandy where the Allied landed (June 6, 1944).

Loraine Refugees

We understand that some Loraine refugees were in the village. Alsace and Loraine were a major cause of animity btween Germany and France which played a major role in World War I. France reclimed the lost provinces as part of the Versailles Treaty (1919). After occupying France (1940), the Germans ammexed Alsace-Loraine again. Jews and French people without ties to the new provinces were expelled. Other French people not wishing to live within the Reich also left. Some of these refugees were in Oradour-sur-Glane. They were family grouops, parets with their children. We do not know just how they came to the village. e suspect that the Vichy Government organized some kind of program to find accomodations for French citizes deported by the Germans.

Schools

There were four schools in Oradour sur Glane. The boys' school was located opposite the tram terminus. Apparently the village was large enough for a tram. The girls' school had two different rooms. It was located near the center of the village, The third was the infants' school. It was located on the Nieul road, This was a kind of kindergarten. A four school was opened in 1940. Refugees arrived from from Moselle. They had been deported by the Germans who were in the process of annexing Loraine. This resulted in the opening of a make-shift school for the children of the rfugees. This new school was located near the kindergarten. A Monsieur Gougeon was responsible for this school. He was a teacher in Moselle who the Germans had eported. The NAZIs wanted German teachers teaching children in Loraine.

D-Day Invasion (June 6. 1944)

The Western Allies in a dareing amphibious and airborn operatrion opened the long awaited second front on the Normandy beaches which as become known as D-Day (June 6, 1944). The invasion of Normandy, code named Overlord, was the single most important battle fought by the Western Allies in World War II. It was made possible by arguably the most successful military deception campaign in history. The opening of the second front finally releaved pressure on the Red army in the east. The D-Day invasion, however, meant much more. On the outcome of the battle hinged no less than the future of democracy and Western civilization in Europe. Failure at Normandy would have meant that the future of Europe would have been settled by the titantic struggle in the East between Hitler and Stalin, cerainly the two most evil men in European history. An invasion of France had been the primary goal of American military planners and President Roosevelt since the entry of America into the War in December 1941. Churchill was less convinced. And largely at urging, the first joint Allied offensive was in the Meditteranean. The invasion was an enormous risk. All Allied victories in Europe were achieved by the weight of overwealing superority of men and material to badly over streached German forces. In France, the Allies faced some of the strongest units in the Gernany Army who would until several weeks into the battle be able to amass far superior forces. The Allies had to plan on naval and air superiority to protect the inital beach lodgements until powerful land forces could be landed and deployed. For over two years the Allies had been building a massive force in England which on June 6 was unleased on Hitler's Fortress Europe. The Allies struck withbthe largest armada ever assembled. First paratroop landings inland and then at after dawn came British, Canadian, and American landings on five Normandy beaches. It was a complete surprise, an incredible accomplishment for an operation of this scope and magnitude.

Oradour sur Glane
Figure 2.--This is a memorial to one of the boys, René Chabert, killed by the SS at Oradour sur Glane. Like the other children he was shot or burned alive in the church. René was 10 years old. Image courtesy of William Ferguson.

The Resistance

The Allies had isued secret orders to the Resistance to the Resistance to attack rail and communicatinlines before the invasion. General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the BBC broadcast to broadcast coded messages to the Resistance with instructions to intensify attacks to support the Normandy landings (June 5). The Maquis responded. Tis was primarily attacks on communicatin lines. But there were some armed attacks in German units as well. The Germans refused to five the aquis combat status. Most Maquis men were shot when captured. The Maquis responded in kind. The Germans, often unable to find the Maquis, commonly took civilian histages and then shot them n reprisal for Maquis attacks. A Maquis unit attacked the German garrison at Tulle (June 7). An estimatd 37 German soldiers were killed and more wounded before the Maquis was forced to withdrawl. The SS in reprisal hanged 99 men from the balconies, trees, and bridges along the main street of Tulle (June 9). Another 149 were deported to Germany. Other SS men with the Das Reich Division killed 67 civilians in Argenton (June 9). This brought Maquis retaliation. The French Resistance carried out attacks and sabotaged bridges, roads, and rail lines. The Divisin was frusrated by the slow progress toward Normandy.

SS Das Reich Division (2nd SS Panzer Division)

The SS played only a minor role in the military phase of the invasion of Poland. Subsequently the SS began forming full strength combat divisions. Eventually the SS formed 38 combat or WAffen-SS divisions. One of the earliest and best known was the Das Reich Division. The Das Reich Division was the 2nd SS Panzer Division. The Division participated in the German Western Pffensive which defeated and occupied France (May-June 1940). The Division was first deployed in the Netherlands and then participated on the drive toward Paris. The Division was subsequently deployed for the invasion of Yugoslavia(April 1941 and on the Eastern Front with Army Group Center for Barbarossa (June 1941). Advanced units neared the Moscow suburnbs (December 1941). The Division played a particulrly prominant role at Kursk (July 1943). The Das Reich Division collied with The 5th Guards Tank Army at Prokhorovka in the most apocalyptic tank battle of the War. Units of the Division was involved in further fighting in the Ukraine. the Das Reich Diviion was pulled back in stages to France. It was deployed in southern France at Montauban north of Toulouse where it was reconstituted after the lossese at Kursk and other battles in the Ukraine. After D-Day, the Division was ordered to Normandy to repel the Allies. Resistance efforts slowed the Division, delaying its deployment to Normandy for several critical days. Once in Normandy it was deployed in the defense of Caen and St. Lo. It was ten deployed in the disasterous Mortain offensive. The Division was subsequently maulded by the Allies. Remanets of the Division reached the Reich and was again reconstituted. It played a role in the Battle of the Bulge. At the end of the War it was deployed in a futile effort to save Budapest and finally to defend Austria, It was the Das Reich Division that massacred 642 French civilians at Oradour-sur-Glane.

Oradour sur Glane
Figure 3.--This memorial was to an entire family that perished in the village. Image courtesy of William Fergussn.

Massacre (June 10)

After the Allied invasion of France at Normandy in a peaceful part of France, German troops pepetrated a particularly horrible murder. The peaceful French village of Oradour sur Glane was the scene of one of the most vicious German attrocities in France during World War II and Alsatians were deeply involved. Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, commanding the I battalion of the 4th Waffen-SS ("Der Führer") Panzer-Grenadier Regiment early in the morning informed Sturmbannführer Otto Weidinger at regimental headquarters that two French civilians claimed that a German officer was being held by the Resistance in Oradour-sur-Vayres. This was a town close to Oradour-sur-Glane. The German who reportedly captured was Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion. He apparently had been captured by the Maquis the previous day. Diekmann's battalion ofabout 120 men surrounded and sealed off Oradour-sur-Glane, apparently confusing it with Oradour-sur-Vayres. SS units like te Das Reich Divisin had gained considerablecexperience on the Eastern Front in liquidating villages. Diekmann ordered the inhabitants as well as any other civilians they encountered to assemble in the village square to have their papers checked. The SS men methodically went to each of the three schools. Other SS men in armored vehicles rounded up men and women working in farms and fields suurounding the village. At about 3:00 in the afternoon the SS men separated the women and children from the men. The Germans took the women and children to the village church where they were locked up. They then proceeded to loot the village. The SS first killed the 190 men men they had rounded up. The men were marched to six barns and sheds where machine-guns had been set up. They then opened up, according to one source shooting at the legs of their victims. Some were killed, but most incapacitated and unable to flee on shatered legs. The SS soldiers covered their bodies with kindling and branches and set the barns on fire. This is not something that these men had just thought up on the spot. It is clear that they knew just how go efficently liquidate a village. It in facts speaks volumes as to what had been transpiring on the Eastern Front on a routine basis. Next it was the turn of the women and children. The SS men ignited an incendiary device. When the women and children in the Church attempted to escape through the doors and windows, machine guns opened up on them. The Germans killed 247 women and 205 children. That night, the SS razed the village. A few days later, the Germans allowed the traumatized survivors to bury the dead. The death toll was 642 people--men, women, and children (including infants). On the eastern front this would not have been unusual. On the wesrtern front it was and has been documented in great detail.

Survivors

We know a great deal about what transpired at Oradour sur Glane because despite the thorougness of the SS killing operation, there were a few survivors. The Germans knew what they wee doing and the villagers did not understand the danger. Five men mamaged to escape fom the shootings at the barns and sheds. One lone woman survived from the Church, but was injured. A 47-year-old local housewife, Marguerite Rouffanche, somewhow managed to get out a small window and hid in the bushes. Another 20 villagers who managed to flee when the SS first appeared also survived. And one boy survived--Roger Godfrin. He was a refugee from Lorraine. On seeing that the NAZIs had come and were taking everyone to the village square, he knew from experience and his mother's instructions that this was serious--although he had not idea just how serious. The family had experience from Lorraine. He managed to slip out of aback door of the school. Although the Germans searched and looted the village, miraculously he was not discovered until he was far enough away to escape. The Germans did shoot at him. He thus became the only school child to survive the terror of that day.

French Trial (1953)

After the War, 21 men were tried by French courts for their part in the massacre (January to February 1953). The defendants were members of the SS Das Reich Division that had survived the war. None were officers who theoretically would carry a higher responsibility. The highest rank of the defendants were was that of Sergeant. Interestingly of the 21 men, 14 of them came from the French province of Alsace, which had been taken over by the Germans following the French surrender in 1940. These men had mostly been drafted by the Germans. (Few Alsatians had responded to German efforts to induce volunteers. The SS had at first been strictly German and highly selective. As the War went against the Germans, the SS became less selective, increasingly relying on drafts and even accepting foreigners.) In the view of the French the Alsatians were traitors. Most French thought that they should have refused to take part in the massacre and even helped their fellow countrymen to escape. Most French thougt them more guilty than the Germans. The lawyers defending the Alsatians said that with one exception they had been conscripted into the SS, that they had no choice but to obey and if they had refused they would have been shot. Newspaper accounts indicate that 13 of the Alsatians had been at liberty before the trial started, one of them had in fact become a police inspector since the end of the war. Another had won the Croix de Guerre (France's highest military medal for valour) after the end of the War while fighting with the French army in Indo-China (Vietnam). The German defendants had been in prisoner-of-war camps since the end of the war in 1945. The people of the province of Alsace wanted all the men freed at once while most French wanted them immediately executed. Two of the defendants were sentenced to death, the rest to prison for between 8-12 years. The verdicts produced an uproar in all parts of France. Most French thought the verdicts to lenient. Alsatians thought them too harsh. Demonstrations were held throughout Alsace for the release of the Alsatians. All 21 men were released quite soon after the trial had ended.

War Memorial

The destroyed village was never rebuilt and had been preserved as a war memorial--a ghostlt reminder of whatvtranspired there. An entirely new village was built after the War, but away from the ruins. It is now a commune of Haute-Vienne département with about 2,000 inhabitnts. Part of the memorial includes poignent items recovered from the ruins and burned-out buildings. Watches recovered stopped at the time their owners were burned to death. Eye glasses melted from the heat. Many other personal items were recovered. .

British War Propagnda

We notice a British film about the Germans seizing an English village--"Went the Day Well" (1942). This of course was a British war propaganda film. The thing is about Allied propaganda films during the War is that they did not even begin to approch the true character of their Axis enemies. During World War I the British exagerated German war crimes. During World War II they did not even come close to the horrors either Germany or Japan were perpetrating. A good example is what the Germans actually did in a French village--Oradour-sur-Glane. That was an exceptional incident in France. It was not in the East. Other villages destroyed by the Germans are well known: Lidice, Czechoslovkia (June 10, 1942), Marzabotto, Italy (September 8 - October 5, 1944), Distomon, Greece (June 10, 1944), and Maille, France (August 25, 1944). These incidents are well knowm. There are countless villages in the East that are lost to history.

Source

Farmer, Sarah. Martyred Village: Commemorating the 1944 Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane.








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Created: 6:49 AM 11/12/2008
Last updated: 6:10 AM 7/26/2017