10 June 1944: The massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane

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Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
Oradour-sur-Glane was a village in the Limousin région of France that was destroyed on 10 June 1944, when 642 of its inhabitants — including women and children — were murdered by a German Waffen-SS company.

As an Allied attack on Europe loomed, the local French Resistance increased its activities in order to occupy the German forces and hinder communications.

2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich was ordered to make its way across the country to the fighting in Normandy. Along the way it came under constant attack and sabotage from the French Resistance.

Early on the morning of June 10, 1944, Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, commanding the I. battalion of the 4th Waffen-SS ("Der Führer") panzer-grenadier regiment, informed Sturmbannführer Otto Weidinger at regimental headquarters that he had been approached by two French civilians who claimed that a high German official was being held by the French Resistance guerrillas, the maquis, in Oradour. He was to be executed and publicly burned amidst celebrations that day. The two French civilians also stated that the whole population was working with the maquis and that high ranking leaders were there at the moment. At about the same time the SD in Limoges reported that local informers had revealed the location of a maquis headquarters in Oradour. The captured German was believed to be Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, commander of the 2nd SS Panzer reconnaissance battalion, who had been captured by the maquis the day before. Kämpfe was never found and is listed in SS records as "Missing in southern France in action against terrorists."

On June 10 Diekmann's battalion sealed off the town of Oradour-sur-Glane and ordered all the townspeople to assemble in a public fairground near the village centre, ostensibly to have their papers examined. All the women and children were taken to the church, while the village was looted. Meanwhile, the men were forced into six barns and sheds where machine-gun nests were already in place. According to the account of a survivor, the soldiers began shooting at them, aiming for their legs so that they would die more slowly. Once the victims were no longer able to move, the soldiers covered their bodies with kindling and set the barns on fire. Only five men escaped; 190 men died.

Having finished with the men, the soldiers then entered the church and put an incendiary device in place. After it was ignited, the surviving women and children tried to flee from the doors and windows but were met with machine-gun fire. 247 women and 205 children died in the mayhem. Only one small girl survived. She managed to slide out of a small window in the church, and hid in the bushes overnight until the Germans had moved on. Another small group of about twenty villagers had fled Oradour as soon as the soldiers appeared. That night, the remainder of the village was razed. A few days later survivors were allowed to bury the dead. 642 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane had been brutally murdered in a matter of hours.

After the war, General Charles de Gaulle decided that the village would never be rebuilt. Instead, it would remain as a memorial to the cruelty of Nazi occupation. In 1999, President Jacques Chirac dedicated a visitors' centre, the centre de la mémoire, in Oradour-sur-Glane and named the site a Village Martyr.
In the TV documentary The World at War the opening introduction is of Oradour-sur-Glane,
narrated by Laurence Olivier I still think its the best WW2 documentary series yet made.
Worth while reminding us of the village SY, thanks
There is a book about the 2nd SS Panzer and this massacre. Very good read. It is written by Max Hastings. Has a lot of first hand accounts. Excellent book.
or those who tend to forget that it can happen again. Sadly, wiping out a village or group of people occurs much too often, like Rwanda and lately in Iraq.
The guy who was in charge of the SS unit that committed the massacre (he was a Captian or a Major, can't remember which) was reacting to a good friend of his being killed by partisans. The 2nd SS Panzer was on the way from the middle France to the Normandy beaches and the Partisans had orders to slow them down as much as possible. This they did (although not with significant casualties to the SS). Oradour-sur-Glane was on the way to the beaches and was in the wrong spot when the frustration and anger boiled over.

There is little evidence (if any, if I remember correctly) that Oradour-sur-Glane was involved in any Partisan activities. It was, by all accounts, a fairly non-descript village in the French Countryside.

The officer in charge of the SS (again, I forget his name) was suprised when he was later informed there was an investigation started on what had happened in this village by the German High Command. In Russia, what he had done was considered standard practice. His fellow officers said he was depressed and shortly thereafter was killed in battle.

If you read about the event, there are numerous stories of close calls where people survived almost by a miracle. In one case, a family member of some of the kids in the school house went up to check on his brother as he'd heard something was happening. He went into the school house and saw it was empty (the SS had gathered all the inhabitants of the town in one spot) but saw the satchels of the kids hanging on hooks in the school house right where the kids had left them (the SS later burned the school house with the town). In another case, a bus heading into town was stopped and anyone not from the town was told to leave. The townspeople were sent into town where they were murdered with the rest. Another case, a couple of kids were heading into town when they bumped into two SS troops guarding a road into town. The troopers (some of whom were Alsatian) told the kids to "Get lost". The kids took off.

Again, read Max Hastings"s book on the 2nd SS Panzer. There is a very good account of it in there. Here's a link:

Amazon.com: Das Reich: Books: Max Hastings
As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
In Russia, what he had done was considered standard practice. His fellow officers said he was depressed and shortly thereafter was killed in battle.

A good post, apologies for the edit.

IIRC 2nd SS Panzer had just returned from the East so massacring innocents en masse was fairly standard practice for them.

Not to excuse their actions for one second but it does you wonder how many other villages were wiped out and of which we know nothing.

I recall one village in Czech which was razed after Heydrich's (sp?) asassination but the many in Russia? Not a clue!

I'd second your comments on 'Das Reich'
Probably 1,000s were destroyed in Russia. If not by actions, by indifference. The Russians lost something on the order of 27 million dead. I have heard there were 11 million combat deaths. That leaves 16 million unaccounted for directly by combat actions. Massacre, Starvation, Disease, Forced Labor, Death Camps, you name. The War in the East had it all.
Yeah, the Germans only got the ones Stalin missed. From the Famines in the Ukraine against the Kulaks to the relentless paranoid purges, it was one Pogrom after another.

I am no fan of the Nazis, but the Communist in the last century were much worse.
In many respects TS I think your right just one thing though do you reckon you could drop the last century bit it makes me feel even older than I am:)

My bad.

I guess that makes me an official user of the "In my day act of 1904: "Back in my day, we didn't have computers. We had p-o-c-k-e-t c-a-l-c-u-l-a-t-o-r-s. They were kind of mini computers that you could do siphering with...blah, blah, blah".

Using a century mark in a posting definitely makes you subject to that law.:)

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