It’s 9 june 1944, three days after D-Day. SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) Helmut Kämpfe is travelling trough the French region of Limousin to mobilize his division. He is ordered to head for Normandy to stop the Allied advance. A group of French resistance fighters spots him and after some shooting he is taken hostage. The following day Kämpfe will be executed by the resistance in Oradour-sur-Vayres. Kämpfe is the highest ranking officer that was ever captured by the resistance. His execution is a big event, but the Germans are out for revenge.
The Oradour-sur-Glane massacre
When it was clear that Kämpfe had been kidnapped, the Germans sent out forces to try to locate him. Among these was the first battalion of the 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment under the command of Adolf Diekmann, On June the 10th, Diekmann was informed by two members of the French secret police about Kämpfe’s execution. Being a personal friend of Kämpfe, Diekmann wanted revenge.
He prepared his troops and they headed for Oradour-sur-Glane (mistaking it for Oradour-sur-Vayres, where the execution found place). Within half an hour the whole village was surrounded and all entrances and exits and access roads were cut off. The hastily conceived plan was cool and efficient. The so-called reason for the raid was a routine identity check, for which all residents were gathered at the market.
Oradour-sur-Glane village center
At 15.00 the soldiers began to separate the men and women. The men on one side of the marketplace and the women and children on the other side. An order was given in German and the group with women and children was driven out of the village, where the church was located.
Meanwhile the Germans brought their weapons into position against the men. The talks fell silent. The men were divided and locked away in barns.
Oradour-sur-Glane post office
At 16.00 hours the machine guns began to rattle. The smell of blood mingled with the smell of hay, dust and gunpowder. The Germans spared nobody only 4 men survived by playing dead under the fallen bodies of their comrades.
The fate of the women and children was not much better. All women, many mothers witch their children on the arm, were herded into the church. They waited with great anxiety the events that would unfold.
Just after 16.00 hours, two young soldiers entered the church and placed a box in the choir of the church. Long wires hung from the chest to the ground. The people must have gone through hell. Suddenly there was a big bang, setting the whole church on fire. All the women and children were burned alive. Those who tried to escape were shot. The assassins killed hundreds of women and children. The youngest of them was not even a week old. Later that day the rest of the village was set on fire.
Shortly after the war, Charles de Gaulle visited Oradour. He decided that the remains of the old village had to obtain the position of monument. He also decided that the new Oradour would be rebuilt just next to the old village. The remaining inhabitants of Oradour some years lived in primitive conditions until the new Oradour was inaugurated in 1953. The government decided that the people of Oradour should wear mourning clothes and this was also the atmosphere that the new Oradour would exhale.
The doctor's car on the village square
At the entrance of the village a museum was inaugurated in 1999, the Centre de la Memoire (memorial center). It is an underground museum. After the museum tour you come back above ground in the middle of the old village. Small plaques on the houses indicate whether a store, barber shop, clothing shop or garage was located in the building. Everything is left as it was left behind on that fatal day in 1944, including the doctor's car, which still stands on the village square.
Oradour sur Glane, Centre de la Memoire