Recent News about Oradour-sur-Glane

A bitter wound heals 60 years after the war

Craig S. Smith The New York Times
Saturday, June 12, 2004


Sixty years ago, just days after Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, a German convoy rolled into this sleepy town in south-central France, rounded up its residents and gunned them to the ground before setting the buildings and the piles of still writhing bodies on fire.

Six hundred and forty-two people died. Six survived. It was the worst Nazi atrocity in France. The massacre became a symbol, not only of German brutality toward France but of betrayal by collaborators, in particular those from Alsace, the long-contested region between the two countries.

It was not until Thursday that representatives from Alsace, including the mayor of Strasbourg and 50 schoolchildren, finally attended a ceremony marking the massacre.

Robert Hébras and Marcel Darthout, the only two remaining massacre survivors, stood on the edge of the square where townspeople were assembled and recounted to Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin how the Germans had separated men from women and children.
The women were taken to the church, where they were later raked with gunfire before the church was set on fire. Only one survived. The men were taken in groups to barns and garages.

Hébras and Darthout were among the first to fall when the shooting began and were quickly buried beneath the bodies of their dying neighbors.

Among the soldiers who carried out the killing were 14 Alsatians who had been French citizens before the war. They were convicted for their roles in 1953, but the government, fearing a separatist backlash, granted them amnesty.

Oradour was outraged. Ignoring the state-built memorial, the town used private money to erect a monument to the victims. National officials were not invited again to the annual commemoration for nearly 20 years. Gradually, the town and state reconciled. But the rift with Alsace was deeper and endured longer. "Today, we have evidence that it's officially finished, that everyone is reconciled," said Gilles de Lacaussade, counselor for memory at the French Defense Ministry.

France's highest court said it would rule on June 16 on the appeal by the 93-year-old former government minister, who was freed because of poor health in 2002. The court rejected a previous request from Papon in April for a retrial on different grounds. Papon had a successful political career after the war and was budget minister when his past caught up with him.

10 June 2004

Teacher jailed for making revisionist Nazi film


A TEACHER banned from working in France for peddling revisionist views on the Holocaust has been sentenced to two years in prison by a French court after he made a film contesting a brutal Second World War massacre by Nazi SS storm-troopers.

The conviction of Vincent Reynouard, 33, coincides with the 60th anniversary today of the slaughter of 642 villagers, including 245 women and 207 children, at Oradour-sur-Glane on 10 June, 1944, four days after the D-Day landings by Allied forces.

In his film entitled The Tragedy of Oradour-sur-Glane: 50 Years of Official Lies, Reynouard blamed the inhabitants of the tiny Limousin village for their fate.

Disputing evidence of eyewitness survivors, the former teacher denied that the SS deliberately killed more than 350 women and children after rounding them up and ordering them into the village church, arguing that the deaths were due to explosives concealed in the church by members of the French Resistance active in Oradour.

Reynouard had sent videos of his film, along with order forms for additional copies, to the last two living survivors of the massacre, the village memorial centre (now a national war memorial and museum) and to the mayor of Oradour and numerous villagers.

Reynouard was first convicted in 1991 of distributing revisionist literature when he was a student in Caen, in Normandy. Six years later he was sacked from his post as a math teacher at a technical college in nearby Honfleur, after he set homework involving counting Dachau concentration-camp victims and was discovered to have stored revisionist documents denying the Holocaust on the school computer.

Reynouard was eventually banned from teaching anywhere in France. He also wrote a revisionist book questioning the Nazi slaughter entitled The Oradour Massacre: A Half-Century of Theatre.

In 1998, some 500 French and German copies of the book were seized by police in Brussels and the Flemish port city of Antwerp at the request of French judicial authorities.

Reynouard's sentence was handed down by the Limoges appeals court, which said that his film had insulted the memory of those who had been massacred.

The court doubled his original prison sentence, but reduced his fine of 10,000 (£6,688), ordering him instead to pay 1,000 (£668) in damages to each of the three civil parties in the case, including Marcel Darthout, one of the last two survivors of the massacre still alive today.

Today, only the stone skeleton of the original Oradour-sur-Glane remains. The late president Charles de Gaulle ordered that the charred ruins of the village should be left as a memorial to the suffering of France under the Nazi occupation and a new village was constructed nearby.

A rusting bicycle, a blackened iron bedstead and the charred wreckage of a baby carriage are still standing as a chilling reminder of the horrific events of that spring afternoon when Hitler's troops razed the village to the ground and murdered its inhabitants.

The massacre is believed to have been a reprisal for a French Resistance attack which killed 40 Germans following the D-Day invasion.

The SS Das Reich storm-troopers were heading for Normandy when they were ordered to attack the village, a sleepy backwater near Limoges with little Resistance activity. Many historians have argued that the Nazis attacked Oradour-sur-Glane in error after mistaking it for nearby Oradour-sur-Vayres, a suspected Resistance stronghold about 15 miles away.

On their arrival, the SS rounded up children and women, many carrying babies in their arms, and marched them to the village church, where they locked them inside before throwing in grenades filled with poison gas, and opening fire.

As those who survived screamed for mercy, the SS built a human bonfire by throwing wood on to their badly injured bodies and setting it alight. Only one woman escaped from the church, by throwing herself from a 12ft-high altar window.

Among the 60 troops who perpetrated the massacre were 14 French nationals from the eastern region of Alsace, of whom all but one had been conscripted by force.