The massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10th, 1944, left 642 people dead. The massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, near Limoges, was described by the historian M D Foot as “the most notorious Nazi atrocity in Western Europe” in World War Two. Just four days earlier, the Allies had landed on Normandy.
On June 10th, 1944, a detachment from the 2nd Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’ arrived in the small town. The 180 soldiers from this unit went around the town and ordered that everybody had to go to the town’s marketsquare for a ‘security check’. Other soldiers went in to nearby fields and rounded up those who were working in these.
Once at the square, the villagers were sorted into groups. The men were put into six groups and marched to nearby barns. The women and children were marched to the town’s church. The SS soldiers did not distinguish between those who were from the town and visitors to it – all were rounded up.
“Crammed inside, we waited with growing anxiety to see what would happen. At around four o’clock, a few soldiers brought a large box, with a few strings trailing out of it, into the nave. The strings were lit and the device suddenly exploded with a loud bang. It gave off a thick, black, suffocating smoke. Women and children, half-choking and screaming in terror rushed to the parts of the church where there was still some breathable air.” (Madame Marguerite Rouffanche)
It is thought that this explosion was the signal to the other troops at the barns to open fire on the men. Their bodies were then covered in hay and wood and burned. A few men did manage to escape in the confusion.
At the church, those women and children who attempted to get out of the church were shot. After feigning death as the SS troops went round shooting those who were wounded, Madame Rouffanche used the cover of the smoke in the church to get to a window, climb out of it and escape. About 200 people were in the church – it is thought that only Madame Rouffanche escaped with her life and could provide details of what went on in the church at Oradour-sur-Glane in later years.
In total, 642 people were murdered at Oradour-sur-Glane. The SS also destroyed the homes in the townv as well.
It is still not totally sure why Oradour-sur-Glane was treated in the manner. It is possible that the head of the Milice in Limoges, Jean Filliol, believed that the French Resistance had a base at Oradour-sur-Glane and that given persistent resistance activity as the ‘Das Reich’ division moved north, the town’s people had to be punished as a warning to others. Therefore, Oradour-sur-Glane became the target for Nazi punishment.