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Nazi atrocity

December 5, 2011

The Oradour massacre was among the worst atrocities committed by German soldiers on French soil. Almost 70 years on, German authorities have raided the homes of six suspects.

SS soldiers in 1939
The men are suspected of being part of a Waffen-SS unitImage: ullstein bild

German authorities said on Monday they had raided the homes of six men suspected of taking part in a massacre in a French village in 1944.

The raids were carried out across Germany within the past few weeks. The six suspects are believed to have been members of an elite Waffen-SS unit.

The men, aged 18 and 19 at the time, have either "denied their participation in the massacre" or were "unfit for questioning," prosecutors said. They are now aged 85 and 86.

Authorities had hoped that the raids would unearth documents, such as diaries or photos, linking the men to the massacre site.

However, prosecutors acknowledged that "no significant evidence had been uncovered."

A village wiped out

The massacre took place in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane near Limoges on June 10, 1944.

Four days after the Normandy landings, which marked the beginning of the end of Nazi occupation, and the liberation of France, Oradour was sealed off by a detachment of SS troops. The exact reasons for what happened next remain unclear.

The ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane were left as a reminder of what took placeImage: picture-alliance / dpa

The troops ordered the village inhabitants to assemble in the main square, ostensibly to have their identity papers examined.

Some 250 women and over 200 children were then herded into the church, which was pumped full of toxic gas and set on fire.

The men were taken into barns and sheds, where they were machine gunned. The barns were then also set on fire. Some 190 men were killed.

In total, 642 people died in the carnage. The village was never rebuilt and has served as a reminder of Nazi barbarity.

Around 60 men were put on trial for the massacre in the 1950s, and 20 of them were convicted, but all were released shortly afterwards.

The latest investigation stems from evidence held in the files of the secret police, or Stasi, in the former East Germany. The new information only came to light after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In recent years, there has been a minor resurgence in efforts to hold to account those who carried out Nazi war crimes, before the war generation dies out.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer