The ghost town of Oradour-sur-Glane is the site of the worst WWII Nazi massacre of civilians in occupied France. On 10 June, 1944, a German Waffen-SS company machine-gunned and burned alive 642 people, including women and more than 200 children. Then, part of the village was destroyed.
Allied forces had landed in Normandy four days earlier: D-Day. The counter-offensive to drive out the occupiers and defeat Germany had begun.
The 2nd SS Panzer Division carried out a collective reprisal for a suspected kidnapping of an officer by the French Resistance. The storm troopers sealed off Oradour-sur-Glane, near Limoges.
The women and children were forced into a church. The men were taken to a farm to be shot.
One of the six survivors, Robert Hébras, aged 19 at the time and whose mother and sister were both killed, said that when the firing started, he and his comrades toppled one on top of each other. Then they were covered with anything that might burn and it was set alight. That’s when he got out.
He says: “Here is the place where the women and children were executed in cold blood.”
Some 65 of the soldiers were still alive by the end of the war but their trials were controversial.
Former SS-Obersturmführer Heinz Barth, tried for his role in the massacre in 1983 admitted taking the lives of more than a dozen of the villagers. Tracked down and brought before a court at long last in the German Democratic Republic, Barth was the only direct participant in the killings whose conviction was ever upheld, but he was freed in 1997 on grounds of his age and was to live for another ten years before dying in his bed.
Survivor Jean-Marcel Darthout, who waited a long time for formal recognition of the German act as a war crime, said: “Finally, they recognise that once Oradour existed. For a long time Oradour was not taken as a truth for the Germans.”
The ruins of Oradour were preserved as a memorial to this and similar acts. A new village was built nearby.