Before World War II, Oradour-sur-Glane was just like any other small village in Haute-Vienne, France. However, things were different when Lt. Raymond Murphy discovered the town after escaping from his flaming B-17 bomber over Avord, France, on April 28, 1944.
Discovery of the Mass Murder
“About 3 weeks ago, I saw a town within 4 hours bicycle ride up the Gerbeau farm where some 500 men, women, and children had been murdered by the Germans. I saw one baby who had been crucified.” These were the exact words handwritten in pencil at the end of the document called Escape and Evasion. Lt. Raymond Murphy typed this document to describe in precise detail how he survived for the next four months after he bailed out of his burning aircraft and hid away from the enemies before heading to England.
The Day of the Massacre
It was June 10, 1944, just four days after the Allied forces landed at Normandy. A Waffen-SS office had been held captive in the nearby village of Oradour-sur-Vayres by the French Resistance, so to retaliate, the regimental commander Adolf Diekmann ordered to seal off Oradour-sur-Glane. Nobody could leave the town, including six people who happened to be just passing by on their bikes. They checked the townspeople’s identity and searched for explosives. After that, the women and children were locked in the church while the men were led into barns.
Doom fell onto the villagers of Oradour-sur-Glane
The SS officers got their machine guns and started shooting the men, aiming at their legs. Once they made sure that their victims couldn’t move, they covered them in fuel and set them on fire. Six men miraculously survived, although one of them was caught walking down the road and was immediately shot dead.
On the other hand, the women and children were locked in the church before the Germans ignited it. The people inside suffocated, and those who tried to escape were met with machine guns. Two women and one child managed to flee through the sacristy window. They were shot, too, but 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche survived and hid in some pea bushes until the SS officers left, and she was rescued the next day.
All in all, 245 women, 207 children, and 190 men died in the massacre. There were efforts to bring the 200 SS men responsible on trial after the war, although it proved difficult to identify and locate them. In the end, 21 men were brought to trial, one was convicted, five received terms of imprisonment, and two were executed.
After the war, General Charles de Gaulle decided and ordered the village to be not rebuilt but rather remain as a memorial of the cruelty of the Nazis. Today, it is known as the “Village des Martyrs” and is still untouched, 77 years after that horrific day. The names of the people who died that day were etched into a wall, while some of the victims’ ashes were encased in glass cases. The personal possessions found after the massacre were also displayed nearby in an underground museum called the “Tomb.”