4 March 2018

The Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane (87), Haute-Vienne (87)

On 10 June 1944 the SS Das Reich massacred almost all of the inhabitants in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane: 197 men, 240 women and 205 children. They then set the village on fire. General de Gaulle, on visiting the village some time later, wanted to preserve the village as it then was, as a memorial to this act of madness. Five men and one woman survived the ordeal and it was some time before one of them, Robert Hébras, could be persuaded into telling the tale, which must inevitably have been a painful experience. The booklet Oradour-sur-Glane : Le drame heure par heure was published in 1994, fifty years after the massacre. It is a stunning, because horrifying, read.

The reason for the massacre is not exactly clear, although two days before, the Resistance blew up a railway bridge in nearby Saint-Junien with a view to slowing German troops moving to Normandy, where the Allies has disembarked four days before; in the process, two German soldiers had been killed. Added to this, Major Helmut Kämpfe – a personal friend of Commander Dickman's – appears to have been killed by the Resistance at this time.

The S.S. surrounded the village in order to block all exits, and moved into the village with their machine guns.

The entrance to Oradour village.

Trees are some of the few things that survived. Of note here are the tram lines at the side of the road: the tram ran from Limoges, where a number of the people worked.

The Champ de Foire, where the villagers were rounded up before being split into groups and led to several different barns to be executed.

The well at the edge of the Champ de Foire.

Remains of a garage.

A Peugeot, once.

Grange Laudy, from which the five men escaped.

Madame Ruffanche, the only woman survivor, escaped from one of these church windows.

Glasses salvaged from the barns.

Curling tongs and hairdressers' scissors.

The memorial to the 642 murdered holds central position in the cemetery at Oradour-sur-Glane.

On reading Robert Hébras's book, what pained me most was not so much the fact that General Lammerding, the leader of the division which perpetrated this insanity, lived a prosperous existence until his natural death in 1971. No, it was the words of Lieutenant Barth when tried in 1983, who saw the massacre as 'a perfectly normal action', and before being led to (a surely very brief) prison sentence for life, expressed regret that he wouldn't be able to enjoy the company of his grandchildren. Not a thought for the grandchildren and grandparents whose lives were cut short in an act of mindless slaughter.

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