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Oradour-sur-Glane marks 75 years since massacre

Jane Mcintosh
June 10, 2019

On a June afternoon, 75 years ago, the inhabitants of the village near Limoges, France, were rounded up, shot and killed by Nazi soldiers. The village has been left untouched to bear witness to the crimes.

Oradour-sur-Glane village ruins left as a testimonial to a Nazi massacre
Image: picture-alliance/All Canada Photos/I. Cook

Ceremonies to mark the 75th anniversary of the worst massacre of civilians perpetrated by Nazi troops in France during World War II are being held in the uninhabited, memorial ruins of the village on Monday.

Army minister Genevieve Darrieussecq attended a commemorative mass and left tributes at monuments to the people who died in June 1944, just days after the D-Day landings in Normandy, hundreds of kilometers to the north.

"The massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, committed by German SS troops 75 years ago, remains a symbol of unimaginable inhumanity and horror, even today," Germany's Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth said in a statement on Monday. "We bow in shame and deep sadness before the victims and their families."

A June afternoon in 1944

On June 10, 1944, part of the notorious 2nd SS tank division "Das Reich" was sent to the small village of Oradour-sur-Glane, 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Limoges.

The ruined village, and a burned-out car from 1944
The ruined village, and a burned-out car from 1944Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Women and children were rounded up and taken to the church, which was then set on fire. Those who tried to escape were machine gunned. Men were put into barns and garages and machine gunned. Soldiers roamed the village seeking survivors to kill. The village was then burned to the ground.

In all, 642 men, women and children were killed. Among them were 246 women and 207 children, six of them less than six months old.

Read more: The 'scream of Oradour' is still heard today

Bearing witness

Wartime French leader and later President Charles de Gaulle ordered the remains of the village be left untouched to forever bear witness to the murders.

It is unclear why the massacre was carried out. A military tribunal in Bordeaux in 1953 heard charges against the surviving 65 (of 200) men who carried out the murders. In 2014, the state court in Cologne brought charges against an 88-year-old former SS soldier who had taken part, but the charges were later dropped because of a lack of witness statements.

German testimony

In 2004, then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder attended the D-Day landing ceremonies in France and pledged Germany would never forget the Nazi atrocities, specifically mentioning Oradour-sur-Glane.

Gauck and Hollande in Oradour-sur-Glane in 2013
President Gauck, Robert Hebras and President Hollande in 2013Image: REUTERS

In September 2013, then-German President Joachim Gauck visited the village with French President Francois Hollande. In 2017, current President Emmanuel Macron went to the memorial village to meet with the only remaining survivor, Robert Hebras.

Each year the memorial village attracts about 300,000 visitors.

Reconciliation in Oradour-sur-Glane -- 70 Years After the Nazi Massacre

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