Last updated on August 12, 2019

ORADOUR-SUR-GLANE

It is June 10, 1944, an ordinary quiet Saturday. The inhabitants of the peaceful French village of Oradour-Sur-Glane notice little of the war. The resistance is not active and there have never been any incidents with the Germans. The women do their shopping and the men are still at work or already at home because the Sunday is at the door.

In addition there are five bars, three hotel restaurants, two bakeries, a pastry shop, three butchers, four grocers, a liquor store, two wine merchants, a tobacco shop, a garage with petrol station, two forges, a plumber, five carpenters, five hairdressers, three shoemakers, a shoe store, three seamstresses, a tailor, three fabric shops and a haberdashery shop.

 

Oradour is known for its friendly residents and people come from far and wide to go shopping and enjoy nature.

In the village of Saint-Junien, 10 kilometers outside Oradour, Sturmbahnführer Dieckmann is organising everything to attack Oradour. Two days before, some German soldiers were killed in blowing up the railway bridge at Saint-Junien by the French Resistance. Dieckmann wants to wipe Oradour off the card as a revenge action. The soldiers of the Waffen-SS, the 'elite troops', are told that today they will 'see blood flow'.

 

The German attack group, consisting of 6 armored cars and 10 trucks with soldiers in combat clothing arrives at 13.30 in Oradour via the bridge over the Glane. Within half an hour the village is surrounded and all access roads are hermetically sealed. The hasty plan is efficiently executed. One of the villagers managed to escape and is ultimately spared.

As a reason for the invasion, a routine check of the identity certificates is given. That is why all residents must gather in the market square. Later the Germans claim that they are looking for weapons.

 

Even the children are taken from school and taken to the square. An eight-year-old boy sneaks away unseen because his parents had told him to run away as soon as he saw German soldiers. He is the only one of more than 200 children that survives ...

 

Residents who try to hide in their house are shot dead without mercy.

As time goes by, the group in the square grows to more than 600 people. The mood is initially friendly because people are not worried yet. Only a few complaints are made here and there. The soldiers also reassure the residents. To the baker they say that he does not have to worry about the cakes he has just put in the oven, 'we pay attention'.

To all those who,

down the centuries and throughout the world,

have suffered intolerance, hate and violence

at the hand of other man…

(Oradour survivor Robert Hédras)

The prosperous Oradour has a town hall, a church, four schools, a post office and even a modern tram connection with the nearby city of Limoges.

The merry-go-rounds and other attractions of the annual fair in Oradour have not been built on the market square due to the war.

Five cyclists who drive through Oradour are added to the group in the square. In the afternoon the tram from Limoges stops outside the village at the bridge over the Glane. A passenger who gets off the tram to investigate what's going on is immediately shot dead. They throw his body into the river. The soldiers send the tram back to Limoges with the other passengers. The group in the square is held at gunpoint with heavy machine guns.

 

A French-speaking officer asks Jean-Paul Désourteaux, mayor and doctor, to report. After a short interview, he wants the mayor to designate hostages. Désourteaux refuses and offers himself with his four sons.

The Germans ignore his offer. The officer wants to know if there are weapons in the village. His soldiers are going to search the village and the innocent would immediately be released again.

 

Then the Germans separate the residents from each other in a brutal way. The men first stay behind in the square, the women and the children have to go to the eastern side of the village, towards the church. The men are divided into groups and scattered around the village in barns, garages, a coach house and a wine cellar. Heavy machine guns are installed. The men wait silently to see if the Germans will find weapons...

At four o'clock a grenade explodes. At this signal the Germans immediately start shooting at the men. With the deployed machine guns, the Germans shoot at leg height, causing the men to fall on top of each other. Some men escape the slaughter because they end up among the shot men, and they keep themselves dead. Everywhere there is shouting and many do not die instantly from their terrible injuries. It is hell on earth! After the soldiers stop firing, they walk over the men, some still moving victims get a grave shot.

 

The women and the children were driven into the church, they have heard the machine guns. Two soldiers put a box in the church, light some fuses and run away. When the gas grenade explodes, the church fills with a stifling smoke. Through the open church doors and the windows, the Germans open fire at random and throw in hand grenades.

 

Two women, one with a baby, climb out a church window with the aid of a kneeling bench. The Germans shoot them down, still hanging out of the window. The woman and her baby will die. The other woman falls heavily injured to the ground and survives the slaughter by playing dead for twelve hours between the plants.

 

In the church, the panicked women break through the thick wooden door to the sacristy. With the machine guns already prepared, the Germans kill hundreds of women and children, of which the youngest is not yet a week old. The floor collapses under the weight of the dead and the wounded.

 

Then the soldiers throw chairs and pews on the badly wounded women

and children and set fire to the stake. They are burned alive. The

melted church bell falls down. The fire saves two boys who hide in the

confessional, but they still die by German bullets.

After the slaughter, the Germans plunder the village. They throw straw, wood, petrol, oil and other combustible substances on the often-living victims and set the entire village on fire.

 

The soldiers save one house on the edge of the village, the wine cellar is being robbed. Drunken soldiers send the evening tram back to the edge of the village. The 20 travelers who come from Oradour are put in a row and kept at gunpoint. After a few hours, the soldiers send them away, to their surprise. They see the fires in the village but have no idea what happened. After the soldiers have slept in their daze, they set the last houses on fire.

 

Two days later, the Germans return and throw the burned bodies into two enormous mass graves. They also throw a number of bodies into wells. A few days later some German officers come to Oradour to assess the effectiveness of the operation. Only a few days later, the local population is officially allowed to bury the remains of the shot people and their ashes.

All in all, 642 people were killed: 189 men, 240 women and 213 children. The entire village with its 328 buildings has been completely destroyed.

 

On March 4th of 1945, the French president Charles de Gaulle ordered the preservation of the ruins of the village Oradour-Sur-Glane so that new generations will not forget it.