The ruins of the village stand today as a memorial to those French men, women and children massacred by the Nazis that tragic day...
Central France, June 10, 1944
On their 450 mile drive from the south of France to the Normandy invasion area, the 2nd SS Panzer Division 'Das Reich' (15,000 men aboard 1,400 vehicles, including 209 tanks) under the command of SS General Lammerding, arrived at Limoges, a town famous for its porcelain. In the small town of St. Junien (30 kilometres from Limoges) the 'Der Führer Regiment' was regrouping. Following many encounters with the local maquis in which two German soldiers were killed, a unit of the regiment arrived at ORADOUR (believed to be a hotbed of maquis activity) in a convoy of trucks and half-tracks. At about 2 PM on this Saturday afternoon the 120 man SS unit surrounded the village ordering all inhabitants to parade in the market place for an identity check. Women and children were separated from the menfolk and herded into the local church. The men were herded in groups into six carefully chosen local garages and barns and shot. Their bodies were then covered with straw and set on fire. The 452 women and children in the church were then suffocated by smoke grenades lobbed in through the windows and shrapnel grenades that were thrown down the nave while machine-guns raked the interior. All flammable items in the church then caught fire.
Incredibly, one woman, Mme Marguerite Rouffanche, escaped by jumping through a window, she was the only witness to the carnage in the church. (Mme Rouffanche died, aged 91, in March, 1988). Unspeakable atrocities were committed throughout the village, but some men managed to escape. The commanding officer of the 1st Battalion of the SS Regiment at ORADOUR was thirty-two year old SS Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, a survivor of the Russian Front. He was later killed in the Normandy battle area on June 30 when hit in the head by shrapnel. Many members of the "Das Reich" reacted with surprising venom against the officer who ordered the massacre and a court martial was established but Diekmann died before the trial took place. The world heard of this massacre eight years later when some of those responsible were brought to trial. In 1953, a French Military Court at Bordeaux, established that 648 people (245 women, 207 children and 196 men) had perished. This included 393 residents of the village, 167 people from surrounding areas, 33 from Limoges and 52 from other outlying districts. Twenty-one other members of Diekmann's company (including fourteen Frenchmen from Alsace-Lorraine who had been conscripted into the SS) were sentenced to death but later their sentences were commuted to terms of imprisonment. All were released by 1958. SS General Lammerding, who was sentenced to death in absentia, died peacefully at his home at Bad Toltz in Germany on January 13, 1971, of cancer. A close friend of Diekmann was Major Helmut Kampfe, commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion of the Der Führer Regiment He was kidnapped and executed by the FTP (Communists) the day before the massacre. His kidnapping was not the only reason for the events at Oradour. Gold, looted by the Nazis, and then stolen by the Maquis, was rumoured to be hidden in the village, why else the indiscriminate destruction? Today, the village of Oradour-sur-Glane stands in ruins, just as the SS left it. Entry to the memorial site can only be gained through the Centre de la Memoire museum and documentation centre at the entrance to the village.
Link to text: