Oradour-sur-Glane – June 6-9, 1944

Oradour-sur-Glane was the site of one of the most tragic events of WWII!

Entrance to Oradour-sur-Glane
Entrance to Oradour-sur-Glane

As so many provincial towns, this small market town located about 20kms north-west of Limoges, had no particular history.

However, this tragically changed on June 10, 1944, when Oradour-sur-Glane became a martyr village!

Let’s go back to the spring of 1944.

The Germans had occupied the region since 1942.

The 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Divison – Das Reich was stationed in Valence-d’Agen near Montauban.

It awaited the arrival of fresh troops and equipment.

However, on 6 June 1944 – D-Day the division was ordered to march north in order to counter the advance of the Allied troops.

While crossing the Corrèze and Haute Loire, the division was attacked repeatedly by the maquisarts.

The SS reprisals were tragic and led to the execution of hundreds of civilians in Tulle on June 9.

Adolf Diekmann, the commander of the 1st Battalion of the 4th Regiment – Der Führer and his men were then stationed near Saint-Junien.

This town is located 12km southwest of Oradour.

June 10, 1944 – morning until 3pm

On June 10, members of the Milice informed the SS that the maquisarts had captured the Sturmbannfhürer Helmut Kämpfe, the commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion.

Left a sit was found on June 10, 1944

The capture took place the previous night near Nieul, a village near Oradour-sur-Glane.

The maquisarts executed Kämpfe on June 10.

However, they never ever thought of the tragic reprisals that led to the massacre of the inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane!

Indeed, two armoured columns commanded by the Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann left Saint-Junien around 1.30pm and progressed towards Oradour-sur-Glane.

At 1.45pm the SS surrounded the village then gathered the villagers on the green.

Those who owned weapons were ordered to make themselves known.

In the absence of reaction, the mayor was ordered to designate 30 hostages; he refused because there was no hidden weapon in Oradour-sur-Glane!

Around 3pm the women and children were locked in the church and the men gathered in six different buildings.

June 10, 1944 – 4pm until 10.30pm

The massacre began around 4.pm.

Oradour-sur-Glane - sewing machine
Sewing machine

The SS had already installed machine guns.

They shot the men in the legs before setting fire to the stacked bodies.

They then set fire to the church and fired on all those who tried to escape through the windows and doors.

247 women and 205 children were burned alive in the church of Oradour-sur-Glane.

Only one woman, 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche, managed to escape.

She indeed hid in a row of peas located at the back of the church, where she stayed crouched overnight.

Only 6 out of the 180 men survived this tragedy.

Some 30 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane managed to hide before the gathering or escape before the arrival of the SS.

Parked forever…

A total of 642 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane were massacred on June 10, 1944.

The Germans looted and burned the village to the ground.

According to outside eyewitnesses, by 6pm Oradour-sur-Glane was a huge inferno.

The SS didn’t leave the village before 10.30pm.

A few days later, the survivors were allowed to bury the dead.

Diekmann and most of his men were killed in action in the weeks that followed.

Oradour-sur-Glane Memorial

The memory of the people of Oradour-sur-Glane who died in such atrocious conditions on June 10, 1944 had to be kept alive!

Memorial slab in new village of Oradour-sur-Glane
Memorial slab in new village

General de Gaulle ruled that the martyr village shouldn’t be rebuilt, but turned into a site of remembrance, an open-air memorial to the Dead.

The ‘new’ village was rebuilt after the war to the northwest of the site.

In 1999 President Jacques Chirac inaugurated a memorial museum, the Centre de Mémoire d’Oradour-sur-Glane.

This museum, located near the entrance, displays objects of everyday life and personal items recovered from the ashes.

It is moving to see watches that stopped at the time of the massacre, spectacle frames deformed by the heat of the blaze, sewing machines, cars, metal pans…

France and Germany reunited

On September 4, 2013 the German president Joachim Gauck and French President Francois Hollande went together in order to pray at Oradour-sur-Glane.

Centre de Mémoire Oradour-sur-Glane
Centre de Mémoire Oradour-sur-Glane

It was the first time a German president went to the scene of the massacre, which is considered one of the biggest massacres of civilians in France during WWII.

This massacre has remained deeply rooted in French collective memory.

It also caused great polemic as 20 soldiers of Alsatian origin, who were forcibly conscripted by the Germans (Malgré-Nous) and participated in the massacre, were amnestied after the war.

The reason why Oradour-sur-Glane was targeted is still uncertain.

This peaceful village was not involved in the French Resistance networks.

However, Spanish workers who had fled the regime of Franco, and Jews from Alsace and Lorraine who had fled the Nazis, had found refuge in Oradour-sur-Glane.

Everyday items recovered from the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane
Everyday items recovered from the ruins

Some historians believe that the attacks of June 9 and the execution of Kämpfe pushed the Waffen-SS to set an example.

They indeed intended to spread terror among local people in order to stop them from assisting the maquisarts.

The absence of maquisarts in Oradour-sur-Glane, therefore the lack of armed resistance, made the town an ideal target!

Others think that the SS simply mistook Oradour-sur-Vayres, located some 35km farther south, with Oradour-sur-Glane!

Whatever the reason, the horror of this abominable act persists.

Department of Haute-Vienne – Limousin region
Coordinates: Lat 45.928705 – Long 1.040440

Photos Wikimedia Commons: Village left as it was foundThe ChurchPersonal belongings found after the massacreentrance Car left as foundCentre de la Mémoire d’Oradour Village streetFrozen in time A martyred village –  Memorial slab

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