Oradour-sur-Glane is a commune in the Haute-Vienne department in the Limousin region in west-central France.
The original village was destroyed on 10 June 1944, when 642 of its inhabitants, including women and children, were massacred by a German Waffen-SS company. A new village was built after the war on a nearby site but on the orders of the then French president, Charles de Gaulle, the original has been maintained as a permanent memorial and museum.
The new village of Oradour-sur-Glane was built after the war, to the northwest of the site of the massacre. The ruins of the original village remain as a memorial to the dead and to represent similar sites and events. Its museum includes items recovered from the burned-out buildings: watches stopped at the time their owners were burned alive, glasses melted from the intense heat, and various personal items.
“As the clock struck 8 on the evening of the 10th of June 1944 and the majority of the Der Führer regiment of the Das Reich Division left the town of Oradour Sur Glane a total of 642 Children, Women and Men had been brutally murdered and burnt. Blood of the innocent children covered the Church floor and the buildings that once formed the town and community were in a blaze, lighting up the summer sky in blood red”
On Tuesday the 6th of June, four days earlier, the coast of France was to be the location of the largest amphibious landing in wartime history. The allied forces landed on the coast of Normandy. The operation could not have been a complete surprise to the German forces but due to excellent campaign of deception and acts of sabotage by the resistance, the troops managed to get a shore and of the beaches. Even though the landings were so large, the High Command of the Armed Forces or Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) was still unsure whether this was the true location of the landings and invasion or an attempt to take attention from another landing. Nether less the OKW contacted German troops and in particular the Das Reich Division to prepare to march when ordered. The Der Führer Regiment was currently in Southern France but were on standby or “March Readiness” as it is known.
On Wednesday the 7th of June, March preparations were finalised and the divisions prepared to move. With over 400 miles to travel, the German infantry was planning to move by Rail however the resistance led by an SOE agent called Tony Brooks sabotaged the flatcars they use to transport their tanks. The action as well as the sabotage of rail links all over France greatly reduced their transport capacity as well as slowing them down immensely. Late that evening Das Reich received its orders to reassemble in the Limoges- Tulle area. The Commander in Chief Hugo Sperrle, fed up of the ineffectual controlling of the resistance by the Garrison Troops decided to use his SS Troops as an anti-partisan force as he thought they would be quicker and capable of doing a more thorough job. The Divisional march plan was to head north in two main columns; the Der Führer Regiment was part of the left-hand group that was to travel via Cahors, Souillac and Brive la Gaillarde. The right-hand group (which included the tanks) was to travel through Figeac, Beaulieu and Tulle before combining their route with the others at Uzerche
Thursday the 8th of June Das Reich set of to Cahors where they would split up, right and left. They met little resistance and as they moved through the towns, the local garrisons, who felt isolated were relieved to have the help of the powerful armed forces and they crushed the small Resistance they met. Adolf Diekmann`s 1st Battalion were on the left side from Cahors. They met brief resistance at a number of locations on route, however nothing that they couldn’t crush easily. Around 19:00 upon reaching Brive-la-Gillarde,Stadler was informed of a serious combat taking place in the nearby town of Tulle. The 3rd Battalion of the 95th Security Regiment was besieged there so he ordered the Aufklärungsabteilung (Armoured Reconnaissance Detachment) to go there and assist. Once they arrived, the local garrisons had almost been defeated by the Resistance, however many withdrew promptly. The SS believed that severe reprisal was necessary as many of the German prisoners had allegedly been treated abominably by the Resistance. As they did not know who the resistance was, they gathered up all the men from the village under armed guard. During this time the lead group the III Battalion of Der Führer left Brive and continued to Limoges, arriving around 02:00 the following morning (9th of June)
Friday the 9th of June. Dawn (around 05:00 local time) showed the Division strung out over a considerable distance of French countryside, the lead units of Der Führer were in Limoges, the Aufklärungsabteilung was at Tulle and the heavy Panzer tracked vehicles were still well south of the Dordogne in the St. Céré area. In Limoges the Standartenführer Sylvester Stadler commanding officer of Der Führer ordered Karl Gerlach Orderly Officer of the Assault Gun Detachment to find and prepare billets nearby for the men of his unit. He cautioned Gerlach that there were partisans operating in the vicinity and that he would need to take care. Gerlach set off with 5 of his men in three cars and soon found some suitable billets in Nieul, but not sufficient for his purposes, so he set off again to explore, “the neighbouring communities“. He had not been doing this for very long, when he became separated from the other two cars and then he and his driver were abducted by members of the resistance. Gerlch and his driver were bound by ropes and driven through the countryside and spent time waiting in a street where they believed was Oradour Sur Glane. (He also believed he seen women and men in Resistance uniforms and said that the town must be a resistance stronghold). They were then moved from there to a place they believed would be the place of execution. Gerluch, by fortune managed to escape and made his way back to Stadler during the early hours of the 10th of June, the following morning. He told Stadler of the kidnap, and about other men who were being held, one being an officer named Kämpfe, who was probably dead by now. In the town of Tulle, following the previous days fighting and the gathering of the local men, the SS, Unable to identify who was a true Resistance member decide that 120 men would be hung and threw in to a river for the treatment of the surrendered German men from the previous day. A notice was printed and distributed:
“Citizens of Tulle! Forty German soldiers have been murdered in the most abominable fashion by the communist gangs. ……….. Forty German soldiers have been murdered by the maquis. 120 maquis or their accomplices will be hanged. Their bodies will be thrown in the river. As a warning, for every German soldier wounded three maquis will in future be hanged, For every German soldier killed, ten maquisards or an equal number of their accomplices will be hanged.”
The hangings started around 16:00, however after 99 were hung, they ran out of rope and decided they would spare the rest of the men, so they were therefore sent to deported and sent to prison camps. Later that Day Kämpfe was on his way back to Limoges when he was taken prisoner (Gerluch had mentioned him) by the Resistance. The SS were furious over the abduction and set out to find him.
Saturday the 10th of June Adolf Diekmann was informed by the Malice that an officer was to be hung and burnt by the resitance in the town of Oradour Sur Glane. He did not know for sure that it was his good friend Kämpfe however he believed it was. He therefore approached the commanding officer Stadler, if he would be able to launch a rescue mission. Otto Weidinger gives his approach in his words:
“During the morning the commander of the 1st Battalion of Der Führer, Sturmbannführer Diekmann, came to the Regimental Commander (Sylvester Stadler) in an agitated state and reported as follows:
In St. Junien, his billeting area, two French civilians (members of the Milice, believed to be Eugene Patry and a man called Pitrud) had come to him and reported that a high-ranking German officer was being held captive by the Maquisards (Resistance) in Oradour-sur-Glane. This officer was to be ceremoniously executed and burnt during the evening of that same day. The entire population of Oradour-sur-Glane was collaborating with the Maquisards and in the village there were high-level Maquis staff (Leaders of the FTP Resistance).
The same had been learned by the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service, or, Gestapo) in Limoges by way of its agents and reported to the Regiment shortly before”.
Stadler agreed and in turn told him of Gerlachs experiences from the previous evening. Before Diekmann left, Stadler told him to bring back prisoners of the Resistance that they could use to get back Helmut Kämpfe if they were niot to find him there. Diekmann did not immediately drive to Oradour-sur-Glane, but returned to St. Junien and there with the help of the two Milice informers and Oberscharführer Joachim Kleist, a Gestapo officer based in Limoges, planned how they were to deal with the situation.
Diekmann arrived back in Limoges at around 17:30 and reported to Stadler as follows:
The Company (the Third Company of Diekmann’s 1st Battalion of Der Führer) had encountered resistance in Oradour, the bodies of executed German soldiers were found. It then occupied the village (the Germans called Oradour a village, not a town) and immediately conducted an intensive search of the houses. Unfortunately this failed to turn up Kämpfe, however large quantities of weapons and ammunition were found. He had therefore had shot all the men of the village, who were surely Maquisards.
The women and children were locked up in the church while all this was going on. Then the village was set on fire (by the SS-troops), as a result of which the ammunition that was stored in almost every house went up. The burning of the village resulted in fire spreading to the church, where ammunition had also been hidden in the roof. The church burned down very rapidly and the women and children lost their lives.
Staf. (Standartenführer) Stadler was extremely shocked by this report and shaken to the core, he said to Stubaf. (Sturmbannführer) Diekmann:
“Diekmann, this may end up costing you dearly! I am going to ask the Division court at once for a court martial investigation against you. I cannot allow the Regiment to be charged with something like this!”
Furthermore he was angry over the fact that Diekmann had not carried out his order to bring back captured Maquis leaders in the event that Kämpfe was not found. Deeply upset, he dismissed Diekmann, instructing him to file a detailed report. Diekmann did not defend himself, instead he obviously trusted in the court martial investigation.
Page 2 – Events of June 10th 1944