Historian M D Foot, describes it as the “The most notorious Nazi atrocity in Western Europe”, and it happened just four days after the Allies had landed in Normandy. It was 70 years ago, on June 10th 1944… That day, a detachment of 180 soldiers from the 2nd Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’ arrived in the small French west-central town of Oradour-sur-Glane…
Instantly, the village population was rounded up; women and children were walked to the church, apart from the men who were taken to 6 different execution sites. The SS set the church on fire with everyone inside (except for one escapee). The men were executed, (5 managed to ran away). The raid killed 642 in what remains one of the most horrendous calculated massacre of civilians in recent history.
AGAINST OUR WILL
Part of the SS troops were 12 Alsatians “malgré-nous “. “Against-our-will”, that was their name. They were young Frenchmen drafted by the Wehrmacht. Most of them complied under threat of harm to their families or to themselves. Among them was Albert Daul, 88, the only Oradour’s ” malgré-nous ” survivor to date. At Bordeaux’s trial in 1953 Daul, and 11 of his pals, ex-SS soldiers, forced into treason, were convicted, and sentenced to extended years of hard labor. The verdict created an unrest in the Alsace regions. A general Amnesty, brought an uproar in the Limousin (Oradour region), but set the ” against-our-will’ free. The trial was a real “psychodrama”, reports Regis le Sommier, in a unique and moving interview with Daul, published this week in Paris-Match.
Update: New books related to WWII are appearing on the shelves of French bookstores. It marks D-Day’s 70th anniversary, which coincides with Oradour massacre. For those reading in French, journalist Regis Lesommier produced an in-depth investigation about the massacre, with testimonies never heard before. Today, when it seems like the French population buried its past, these books are a sharp reminder that anti-semitism, fascism, and racism are still alive and well, fed by the economic strain, with the fear that history can repeat itself anytime.
Initially published February 5th 2014. Updated May 31th 2014
By Carol Illouz with Paris-Match