On 10 June 1944, the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in Haute-Vienne in Nazi-occupied France was destroyed and 642 of its inhabitants, including women and children, were massacred by a German Waffen-SS company. After the war, nearby was built nearby a new village, but French president Charles de Gaulle ordered the original maintained as a permanent memorial and museum.
In February 1944, the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich” was stationed in the Southern French town of Valence-d’Agen, north of Toulouse, waiting for to be resupplied with new equipment and new troops. After the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the division was ordered to help stop the Allied advance. One of its units was the 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment (“Der Führer”). Its staff included regimental commander SS-Standartenführer Sylvester Stadler, SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann commanding the 1st Battalion and SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Weidinger, designated successor of Stadler who was with the regiment for familiarisation. Command passed to Weidinger on 14 June 1944. Early on the morning of 10 June 1944, Adolf Diekmann informed Weidinger that he had been approached by two members of the Milice, that was a collaborator paramilitary force of the Vichy Regime. They says that a Waffen-SS officer was being held prisoner by the Resistance in Oradour-sur-Vayres, a nearby village. The captured officer was claimed to be SS-Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion (part of “Das Reich” division too). He may have been captured by the Maquis du Limousin the day before. Stadler ordered Diekmann to have the mayor choose thirty people to be hostages in exchange for Kämpfe. On 10 June, Diekmann’s battalion sealed off Oradour-sur-Glane and ordered everyone within to assemble in the village square to have their identity papers examined. This included six non-residents who was by bike through the village when the SS unit arrived. Women and children were locked in the church, and the village was completely looted. The men were put to six barns and sheds, where were already placed machine guns. According to a story of a survivor, the SS men then began shooting, aiming for their legs. When victims were unable to move, the SS men covered them with fuel and set the barns on fire. Only six men managed to escape. One of them was later seen walking down a road and was shot dead. In all, 190 French people died. The SS men next proceeded to the church and placed an incendiary device beside it. When it was ignited, women and children tried to escape through the doors and windows, only to met the machine-gun fire, and in fact 247 women and 205 children died in the attack. The only survivor was 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche. She escaped through a rear sacristy window, followed by a girl and child. All three were shot, two of them fatally. Marguerite Rouffanche crawled to some pea bushes and remained hidden overnight until she was found and rescued the next morning. About twenty inhabitants of the village had fled Oradour-sur-Glane as soon as the SS unit had came. That night, the village was partially destroyed. Several days later, the survivors were allowed to bury the 642 dead inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane who had been killed in just a few hours. Adolf Diekmann said the atrocity was in retaliation for the partisan activity in nearby Tulle and the kidnapping of an SS commander, Helmut Kämpfe.
On 12 January 1953, a military tribunal in Bordeaux heard the charges against the surviving 65 of the 200 or so SS men who had been involved. Only 21 of them were present, as many were in East Germany, which would not permit their extradition. Seven of those charged were German citizens, but 14 were Alsatians, French nationals whose home region had been annexed by Germany in 1940. All but one of the Alsatians claimed to have been forced to join the Waffen-SS. Such forced conscripts from Alsace and Lorraine called themselves the malgré-nous, meaning “against our will”.
After the war, General Charles de Gaulle decided the village should never be rebuilt, but would remain a memorial to the cruelty of the Nazi occupation. The new village of Oradour-sur-Glane with about 2,375 inhabitants, northwest of the site of the massacre, was built after the war. The ruins of the original village remain as a memorial to the dead and to represent similar sites and events. In 1999 French president Jacques Chirac dedicated a memorial museum, the Centre de la mémoire d’Oradour, near the entrance to the Village Martyr (“martyred village”). 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. On 6 June 2004, at the commemorative ceremony of the Normandy invasion in Caen, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder pledged that Germany would not forget the Nazi atrocities and specifically mentioned Oradour-sur-Glane. On 4 September 2013, German president Joachim Gauck and French president François Hollande visited the ghost village of Oradour-sur-Glane. A joint news conference broadcast by the two leaders followed their tour of the site. This was the first time a German president had come to the site of one of the biggest World War II massacres on French soil.