CHAPTER NINE

ORADOUR SUR GLANE

Oradour-sur-Glane – a martyred village, a lasting monument to man’s inhumanity to man – a sepulchre on the road to Normandy.

Oradour-sur-Glane, in Haute Vienne, some twelve miles to the north west of Limoges. Saturday, 10 June 1944, 2:00 pm. Diekmann established his HQ at the Masset Farm, between Oradour and Les Bordes (D101). Oradour was encircled in a ‘classic’ SS manoeuvre effectively isolating it entirely from the outside world. Other units traversed the main street, evicting everyone from their houses, places of work and the cafés. Children are evicted from the schools. The entire population was assembled in the Champ de Foire by 2:30 pm. At 3:00 pm the Mayor, M Desourteaux, was ordered to yield up all hidden arms and to provide hostages. Then, the men were separated from the women and children, the latter being taken to the church. 4:00 pm – an explosion, probably a grenade, shattered the peace. Immediately, the SS opened fire; the church was detonated; fires swept through the village. 646 people died. By 7:30 pm much of the village has been consumed by the flames. Later, what remained was sacked and an orgy held in the cellars of the house belonging to M Dupic. On the Sunday, Diekmann’s men pulled out of Oradour, loaded with loot and livestock. On the Monday morning, 12 June, the SS returned, dug pits and attempted to leave no further trace of the massacre. They were not successful.

An SS unit moving through the French countryside.

Oradour-sur-Glane as it was before the war and how it appeared in 1944 before the men of the 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, of SS Regiment Der Führer of Das Reich Division arrived at 8.00 am, 10 June, and began rounding up men, women and children.

Almost certainly this picture includes some of the men who actually took part in the atrocity. This photograph was found at Nieul, near Oradour, and shows men of the Der Führer Regiment during Operation ‘Zitadelle’ on the Eastern Front in July 1943.

Such are the barest of bones of the frightful massacre at Oradour, the briefest of accounts which leaves out all the horrifying details of one of the worst Nazi crimes committed in France during the Second World War.

Over the years, and at the post-war Bordeaux trial of 1953, many theories have been advanced to explain Oradour to the world. For this writer, the history of the SS (given in Chapter 1) provides the essential key. Recent works (and I would cite here particularly those of Pascal Maysounave, Gérard Guicheteau and David Wingeate Price, see Bibliography) have made it clear that this was no haphazard affair; nothing involving an ‘excess of zeal’; no retaliation for Oradour being a ‘nest of terrorists’ – which it was not, the nearest FTP being 2437 Company located at Villeforceix, some nine kilometers to the north west.

In the official SS historical literature, Oradour is described ‘as a reaction to an attack carried out by the French Resistance movement’. That is all. The increasing frustration at the lack of progress towards Normandy demanded a frightening example and perhaps the timing of the disappearance of Kämpfe provided the trigger for the massacre

An unidentified Waffen SS or Wehrmacht unit in action carrying out reprisals against the civilian population.

This writer believes that Oradour was due to three interlocking factors: one, the SS ‘ethic’ of elimination, without mercy, of all considered inferior to the Master Race; two, the policy of ‘pacification’ and reprisal set down in orders of war by the highest German authorities; three, the desperate need to provide a chilling example to the Resistance in the region to bring to an end the harassment of Das Reich which was seriously impeding its passage to the life and death struggle for the Third Reich which was being fought out in Normandy.

According to Sturmbannführer Stückler’s own memorandum, Das Reich had a three-part mission:

1. To maintain liberty of communication ‘at any price’.

2. In the event of invasion, to move to the front ratissant (‘combing’) through the widest possible area to eliminate Resistance forces ‘so that they would disappear’.

3. To put down ‘with the greatest firmness’ any civilian aid to the Resistance.

ORADOUR-SUR-GLANE

Charred remains of some of the victims taken from the church and laid out for identification.

He adds, General Lammerding could be counted on for this mission, his performance in Russia more than adequately illustrating such a capacity.

An increasing number of original documents have come to life which pin-point the responsibility for Oradour very precisely. Amongst them: the strategic German High Command Order of 13 September 1943 (directed at the USSR, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy and France); 5 June 1944, 2nd Panzer Division Das Reich Order No LVIII/120 and Order No LVIII/326 issued 10 June, both issued by Lammerding; and the intervening 8 June Order by von Rundstedt directed to von Blaskowitz. The order of transmission of this Order was: Keitel, von Rundstedt, von Blaskowitz, Krüger, Lammerding, Meier (Chief of Gestapo in Limoges), Stückler, Weidinger, Stadler, Diekmann and Kahn. From these orders derived the concrete plan for the selection, encirclement and destruction of Oradour.

Of special interest is the fact that Diekmann’s 1st Battalion at Oradour included a specialist explosives unit. Traces of phosphorus were later found in the church and the unit had been reported, after the war by ex-SS, as having placed twenty-eight anti-tank asphyxiating grenades in the nave.

Having reached the outskirts of the village, descending the D3 to reach the D9, and before we cross the bridge which carries the road, and in 1944 the tramway from Limoges, and before we enter the village itself, let us concretely remember that it was here that 245 women, 207 children and babies and 190 men met their terrible death. Four remained unidentified.

Two hundred SS men of the 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment Der Führer were responsible. In a letter written by General Lammerding for publication after his death he stated that the order for the liquidation of Oradour was given to Diekmann directly by Stadler. There is no mystery about Oradour.

The SS officer directly responsible for the attrocity: SS-Obersturmbannführer Sylvester Stadler gave the order...

...SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann carried it out.

A street in Oradour today. Champ de Foire today. Dr Desourteaux’s rusting car can be seen opposite the Smithy.

The literature on Oradour is extensive and available at the museum. To guide the visitor, I prefer to quote directly from an actual survivor, Robert Hébras. He takes us, hour by hour, from 8:00 am through to 7:30 pm on Saturday 10 June.

1:30 pm

The Der Führer convoy stops at Bellevue and then proceeds to Oradour.

1.45 pm

Hébras hears the rumble of heavy vehicles in the street, a rare event. Some German soldiers in combat dress are looking around with an air of indifference. He is not reassured and seeks a hiding place.

2:00 pm

Having crossed the bridge over the River Glane Diekmann establishes his HQ at the Masset farm from where he orders the encirclement of the village. The SS already inside the village get down from their vehicles and start assembling the population. All village exits are closed. The SS show no animosity: it is a simple identity check.

2:15 pm

Everyone is concentrated in the Market Square, babes in arms, just as they are. Anxiety mounts.

2:30 pm

The schools are emptied.

3:00 pm

Men are separated from women. Hébras is disturbed by this development. The women are ordered to walk to the church. The soldiers speak good French and Hébras does not realise that they are SS. The Mayor is called for and ordered to produce hostages and to turn in all arms. Two sports guns are handed over.

3:30 pm

The men are separated into six groups and directed to different locations in the village. Machine guns are set up. Menace hangs in the air.

4:00 pm

An explosion! The massacre begins. Hébras is wounded and feigns death. Fires are started. Hébras drags himself free and hides. Roofs collapse, yells rent the air and his refuge is set alight. He flees again and takes refuge in a rabbit hutch until that too catches fire at 7:00 pm. He races free.

7:30 pm

Oradour is an inferno. The tram from Limoges arrives. The men are separated from the women, arms are loaded. A second officer arrives and they are told to leave! ‘Count yourselves lucky: we have killed everyone here!’

Translation of the original report of 10 & 11 June 1944 by J-L Risse and J-L Grillou.

Adolf Diekmann during his early days in the SS in the 1930s. He would later carry out orders to murder French civilians at Oradour-sur-Glane.

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