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Germany, France commemorate victims of Oradour Nazi massacre

June 10, 2024

Germany's president said we must "never forget what nationalism and hatred have done to Europe." The village of Oradour-sur-Glane was the scene of the worst massacre of civilians carried out by the Nazis in France.

Emmanuel Macron and Frank-Walter Steinmeier look at photos of victims of a masscre in Oradour-sur-Glane
The presidents of France and Germany toured a memorial center at the site of the killings in Oradour-sur-GlaneImage: Ludovic Marin/REUTERS

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier joined his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, in Oradour-sur-Glane on Monday to remember the hundreds of victims killed in a Nazi massacre there during World War II.

The village, northeast of Bordeaux, was almost entirely destroyed on June 10, 1944, when occupying German troops razed buildings to the ground and murdered 643 civilians.

At a ceremony marking 80 years since the massacre, Steinmeier expressed his "grief" and called for freedom in Europe to be protected, "so that people can live in peace."

The event came a day after the EU parliamentary polls, in which far-right parties in several countries, including France and Germany, made strong gains.

"Let us never forget what nationalism and hatred have done to Europe," Steinmeier said, after referring to the results of the election. "And let us never forget the value of freedom — our freedom, for which such great sacrifices have been made."

What happened in Oradour-sur-Glane?

On June 10, 1944, German soldiers from an SS division called Das Reich rounded up all the men, women and children in Oradour-sur-Glane. The men were herded into barns, where they were shot and set on fire. The women and children were locked in a church that was also set alight.

A total of 643 civilians died. Only a few people survived.

The massacre came just four days after the Allied forces staged the D-Day landings at Normandy.

A burnt car and building in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane
The ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane have been preserved as part of a museumImage: Franz-Peter Tschauner/picture alliance

The SS claimed the killings were in retaliation for activities by the local French Resistance against occupying Nazi German troops.

What else did Steinmeier say?

"On behalf of Germany, I would like to express my shock and my grief at the inconceivable, cruel and inhumane crimes committed by Germans here," Steinmeier said. "I would like to admit my shame that murderers went unpunished afterwards, that the most serious crimes for unatoned for."

He also praised the "special work of reconciliation" that is ongoing, including a planned friendship pact between Oradour-sur-Glane and the German city of Hersbruck. 

"Real reconciliation takes place in everyday encounters between people who remember this suffering — as descendents of the perpetrators and as descendants of the victims," Steinmeier said.

Oradour-sur-Glane was never rebuilt, and today the ruins are maintained as a permanent memorial and museum. But a new village was constructed nearby after the war.

Emmanuel Macron and Frank-Walter Steinmeier walk through the ruins in Oradour-sur-Glane
Macron and Steinmeier walked through the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane on the 80th anniversary of the massacreImage: Ludovic Marin/REUTERS

Steinmeier's visit marks the first time a German president has visited the site on the massacre's anniversary.

In 2013, former German President Joachim Gauck became the first top German politician to visit Oradour-sur-Glane as part of a state visit.

nm/kb (AFP, dpa)