The Oradour-sur-Glane Massacre

The story of survivor Madame Marguerite Rouffanche

The following is the testimony of Madame Rouffanche in the 1953 military tribunal at Bordeaux, as quoted in the Official Publication:

"Shoved together in the holy place, we became more and more worried as we awaited the end of the preparations being made for us. At about 4 p.m. some soldiers, about 20 years old placed a sort of bulky box in the nave, near the choir, from which strings were lit and the flames passed to the apparatus which suddenly produced a strong explosion with dense, black, suffocating smoke billowing out. The women and children, half choked and screaming with fright rushed towards the parts of the church where the air was still breathable. The door of the sacristy was then broken in by the violent thrust of one horrified group. I followed in after but gave up and sat on a stair. My daughter came and sat down with me. When the Germans noticed that this room had been broken into they savagely shot down those who had tried to find shelter there. My daughter was killed near me by a bullet fired from outside. I owe my life to the idea I had to shut my eyes and pretend to be dead.

Firing burst out in the church then straw, faggots and chairs were thrown pele-mele onto bodies lying on the stone slabs. I had escaped from the killing and was without injury so I made use of a smoke cloud to slip behind the altar. In this part of the church there are three windows. I made for the widest one in the middle and with the help of a stool used to light the candles, I 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 through the already shattered window. I jumped about nine feet down.

When I looked up I saw I had been followed in my climb by a woman holding out her baby to me. She fell down next to me but the Germans, alerted by the cries of the baby, machine-gunned us. The woman and the mite were killed and I too was injured as I made it to a neighboring garden and hid among some rows of peas and waited anxiously for someone to come to help me. That wasn't until the following day at 5 p.m."

Many accounts of the escape from the church say that Madame Rouffanche used a "ladder," but it is more likely that it was a stool, as Madame Rouffanche mentioned in her testimony. The space between the back of the altar and the wall under the window is only about two feet wide, hardly wide enough to use a step ladder. After the massacre, the bodies of 15 to 20 children were found piled up behind the alter in the narrow space where Madame Rouffanche had used a stool to climb up to the window, according to the Bishop's Office report. The stool or ladder apparently burned in the fire in the church, as it is no longer there.

The bottom edge of the window is around 9 feet from the floor of the church. The wall under the window is about six feet straight up and then it is an additional three feet up a slanted section of the wall.

Madame Rouffanche's final words to the court were "I ask that justice be done with God's help. I came out alive from the crematory oven; I am the sacred witness from the church. I am a mother who has lost everything." The term "crematory oven," which was evocative of the Holocaust, was a reference to the burning of the women and children in the church.

Revisionism by Vincent Reynouard

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