After a night in the aires de camping car, I visited the Martyr’s Village. The opening lines to the TV documentary, “The World At War” introduce the story…
“Down this road on a summer day in 1944, the soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, the community, which had lived for a thousand years, was dead. This is Oradour-sur-Glane, in France. The day the soldiers came, the people were gathered together. The men were taken to garages and barns, the women and children were led down this road, and they were driven into this church. Here, they heard the firing as their men were shot. Then they were killed too. A few weeks later, many of those who had done the killing were themselves dead, in battle. They never rebuilt Oradour. Its ruins are a memorial. Its martyrdom stands for thousands upon thousands of other martyrdoms in Poland, in Russia, in Burma, China, in a World at War...”
In the days following the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy on 6th June 1944 the Germans were rushing reinforcements from across France to stem the allied invasion. French resistance, British Special Operations Executive agents, American Office of Strategic Services agents and others were doing their best to delay them.
One of those units delayed was 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division, Das Reich commanded by SS-Major General Heinz Bernhard Lammerding who ordered the killing of French civilians in reprisal for the actions of the Resistance. On the 10th June, 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, 4th SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment Der Führer approached Oradour-sur-Glane. In command was Waffen-SS Major Adolf Diekmann.
The village’s population had almost doubled from it’s usual 350 with the arrival of refugees. The SS gathered the inhabitants into the market place and separated the men from the women and children. The men were taken away to buildings while the women and children were herded into the church. The entire village was set alight with hand grenades being thrown through windows to kill the people.
Seven people, one woman and six men, survived.