The afternoon of Saturday June 10, 1944 started out like any other in the small French village of Oradour-sur-Glane in the Limousin region of France. Children were attending Saturday classes, while most of the inhabitants were enjoying their afternoon meal.

Around 2:00pm, a motorized column of about 180 German and French Alsatian soldiers arrived in the village. The soldiers, under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) Adolf Diekmann, were from the 1st Battalion of the Der Führer Regiment, part of the 2nd SS Panzer Division (“Das Reich”) and were veterans of bitter fighting on the Eastern Front.


SS Officer Adolf Diekmann

The SS men entered Oradour-sur-Glane from the South and worked quickly to seal all exits and entrances to the village. Major Diekmann stopped in the village square and through an interpreter, called for Jean Desourteaux, the mayor of the village.

Diekmann told Desourteaux that the SS would conduct an identity check and all villagers needed to assemble in the square. Although surprised at the sudden request, Mayor Desourteaux was not overly anxious as the village had no previous trouble or much involvement with the Germans.

The village crier, accompanied by an SS man, was dispatched to notify the citizens of the identity check. Everyone was ordered to attend, including the very young and very old. Not even the sick were allowed to stay home.

A few of the villagers, suspicious of the German’s intentions hid or tried to escape from the village, but most showed up to the square as directed and without resistance.

The scene at the village square was orderly and calm. Mayor Desourteaux did his best to reassure his citizens that the identity check was routine even though the SS had set up machine guns around the gathered crowd. Off in the distance, the villagers could hear the SS shooting at villagers who were trying to escape Oradour-sur-Glane.

By 3:00pm the Germans, satisfied that the villagers had been sufficiently rounded up, began separating the men from the women and children. The Nazis then told the crowd that there was a report of hidden weapons in the village and that a search would be conducted. The women and children were moved to the church while the men were divided into six groups and sent to various barns and sheds around the village.

The SS crammed over 450 women and children into the church. Outside, they set up machine guns and waited. The following is testimony from Madame Marguerite Rouffanche, the only survivor from the church massacre.


The church were over 450 women and children were shot and burned to death by the SS (Photo: Dennis Nilsson)

“Around 4.00 p.m. a few soldiers, about 20 years of age brought into the nave, close to the choir, a large box, from which hung strings, which trailed to the ground. When the trailing strings were lit, the device suddenly exploded with a loud bang and gave off a thick black suffocating smoke. Women and children, half-choking and screaming in terror, rushed to those parts of the church where the air was still breathable. It was thus that the door to the sacristy was broken down under the irresistible pressure of a terrified crowd. I followed them and sat down on a step. My daughter joined me. The Germans saw that people had escaped into the room and cold-bloodedly shot down everyone who was hiding there. My daughter was killed where she stood by a shot fired from outside. I owe my life to my closing my eyes and feigning death.

    Firing burst out in the church (from the entrance door), and then straw, firewood, and chairs were thrown in a heap onto the bodies lying on the flagstones. I had escaped the slaughter unwounded and took advantage of a cloud of smoke to hide behind the altar. In that part of the church there were three windows. I went to the middle one, the biggest and with the aid of the stool used to light the candles, tried to reach it. I don’t know how, but my strength was multiplied. I heaved myself up to it as best I could and threw myself out of the opening that was offered to me by the already shattered window. I fell about 10 feet.

    When I looked up I saw that I had been followed by a woman, who was holding out her baby to me from the window. She fell down next to me, but the Germans alerted by the child’s cries fired at us. The woman and the child were killed. I myself was wounded as I made my way to a nearby garden. I hid amongst some rows of peas and waited in terror for help to arrive.”


The car believed to be that of Dr. Jacques Desourteaux, the son of Mayor Jean Desourteaux. The Dr. had been out visiting patients but returned to the village only to be arrested by the SS.

Following the explosion in the church, the SS began machine gunning the men. Once the killing was done, the SS looted and burned the village.

642 innocent men, women and children were killed by the SS. Only five men and one woman survived the massacre.  About twenty other villagers survived by escaping before the Nazi “identity check”.

During the massacre, Adolf Diekmann reported to his regimental commander SS-Standartenführer  Sylvester Stadler about his actions. Earlier that day, Stadler had ordered Diekmann to round up thirty hostages from Oradour-sur-Glane to exchange them for an SS-Officer who was believed to have been captured by the French Resistance and held in the neighboring village of Oradour-sur-Vayres. Shocked at Diekmann’s report, Stadler told the 29-year-old major:

Diekmann this may cost 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!

Word of the massacre spread throughout the German military and a judicial investigation was held, with Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel even offering to personally oversee the court martial.

However, proceedings were suspended when Adolf Diekmann and many of the SS men who took part in the massacre were subsequently killed during the Battle of Normandy. The German military never punished anyone for the killings, and until his death, Adolf Diekmann retained his rank and command.


The ruined streets of Oradour-sur-Glane (Photo: Dennis Nilsson)

On January 12, 1953, the French Government set up a tribunal to charge the 65 surviving SS men for the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane. Only 21 out of the 65 defendants were present at the trial as the rest could not be successfully extradited to France. Fourteen of the defendants on trial were French Alsatians who claimed they were conscripted into the SS against their will.


Rubble and debris leftover from the June 10, 1944 massacre (Photo: Dennis Nilsson)

On February 11th, the tribunal found 20 of the defendants guilty. But due to growing outrage in Alsace, the 14 Alsatian SS men were granted amnesty and released by the French government which in turn sparked bitter protests in the Limousin region.

By 1958, all of the convicted German SS men were released from prison.

A new Oradour-sur-Glane was built near the old village. But the ruins of the original Oradour-sur-Glane were left as a permanent memorial and museum to the innocent people who were so brutally killed by the SS on that summer day in 1944.

For Related Articles See:


  • Peter Kubicek says:

    An event similar to the massacre in Oradour-sur-Glane occurred in Czechoslovakia, or more precisely in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. When the Nazi “Protector” Reinhold Heydrich (also known as the butcher of Prague) was assassinated, the Nazis took revenge by murdering the entire population of the Czech town of Lidice.

    1. admin says:

      Very sad. Murdering innocent civilians in revenge was an all too common tactic of the Nazis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Past and Present WWII History Posts