Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Nazi war crimes

In 1944, in the Limousin region of France, was a small village of about 670 people called Oradour-sur-Glane.  On June 10, it ceased to exist.  The village and all but twenty-odd survivors were wiped out by a German Waffen-SS company en route to intercept the Allied advance following the D-Day landings at Normandy.  All the men were rounded up into barns and machine-gunned, and the women and children were corralled into the church, which was then set alight.  The town was then razed.

Today, the Village Martyr has been preserved exactly as it was left that day as a memorial to the victims and the atrocities of war.  A rusted car is parked in the street beside the single disused tram line, power poles still supporting snapped, coiling cables.  Deformed bicycles and Singer sewing machines are strewn inside the collapsing stone shells of houses.  On the tiled floor of a broken boucherie lays the prostrate scale on which the family's evening meals were once weighed by the butcher for the village wives and mothers.  Even with the visiting tourists, the streets have an eerie quiet.

There is some debate over the exact circumstances of the massacre, but it appears that the battalion commander, Adolf Diekmann, believing the kidnapped German Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe was being held by the French Resistance in the town, exceeded his orders to take 30 hostages and instead ordered the population be exterminated as a "just retaliation."  Though his actions prompted protests within the German army, including from Field Marshall Rommel, Diekmann and much of the company which had committed the massacre were never tried; they were killed in action shortly afterward in the Battle of Normandy.

1 comment:

MilazzoMan said...

I wasn't aware the French had preserved this site in this manner; what a poignant testament it must be.

I recently saw a short documentary on tourists at Auschwitz. The scenes of groups of holidaying American tourists, grinning jubilantly as they gathered under the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gates for their mandatory group happy-snap, clearly pig-ignorant of the history of the site, was almost as stomach-turning as the events that occurred there under the Nazis.