Early on the morning of June 10, 1944, Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, commanding the I battalion of the 4th Waffen-SS ("Der Führer") Panzer-Grenadier Regiment, informed Sturmbannführer Otto Weidinger at regimental headquarters that he had been approached by two French civilians who claimed that a German officer was being held by the Resistance in Oradour-sur-Vayres, a nearby town. The captured German was alleged to be Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, who may have been captured by the Maquis the day before.
On June 10, Diekmann's battalion sealed off the town of Oradour-sur-Glane, having confused it with nearby Oradour-sur-Vayres, and ordered all the townspeople – and anyone who happened to be in or nearby the town – to assemble in the village square, ostensibly to have their identity papers examined. In addition to the residents of the village, the SS also apprehended six people who did not live there but had the misfortune of riding their bikes through town when the Germans arrived.
All the women and children were then taken to and locked in the church while the village itself was looted. Meanwhile, the men were led to six barns and sheds where machine-gun nests were already in place. According to the account of a survivor, the soldiers began shooting at them, aiming for their legs so that they would die more slowly. Once the victims were no longer able to move, the soldiers covered their bodies with kindling and set the barns on fire. Only five men escaped; 190 men died.
The soldiers then proceeded to the church and put an incendiary device in place there. After it was ignited, women and children tried to flee from the doors and windows of the church but were met with machine-gun fire. Two hundred forty-seven women and two hundred five children died in the mayhem. Only one woman survived, 47-year-old local housewife Marguerite Rouffanche. She had managed to slide out of a small window at the back of the church and hid in the bushes overnight until the Germans had moved on. Another small group of about twenty villagers had fled Oradour-sur-Glane as soon as the soldiers had appeared. That night, the remainder of the village was razed.
A few days later, survivors were allowed to bury the dead. It was found that 642 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane had been brutally murdered in a matter of hours.
On January 12, 1953, a trial began before a military tribunal in Bordeaux, France, against the surviving 65 of the approximately 200 German soldiers who had been involved. Only 21 of them were present (many living in West Germany and the German Democratic Republic would not be extradited). Seven of them were Germans, while the other 14 were Alsatians, i.e., French nationals of German ethnicity who had been regarded as members of the "Reich" by the Nazis. All but one of them claimed to have been drafted into the Waffen-SS against their will (the so-called malgré-nous).
The trial caused a huge protest in Alsace, forcing the French authorities to split the process into two separate ones according to the nationality of the defendants. On February 11, 20 defendants were found guilty. Continuing uproar (including calls for autonomy) in Alsace pressed the French parliament to pass an amnesty law for all malgré-nous on February 19, and the convicted Alsatians were released shortly afterwards. This, in turn, caused bitter protest in the Limousin region.
By 1958, all the German defendants had been released as well. General Heinz Lammerding of the Das Reich division, who had given the orders for the measures against the Resistance, died in 1971 after a successful entrepreneurial career. At the time of the trial, he lived in Düsseldorf, Germany, which was located inside the British occupation zone of West Germany, and the French government never obtained his extradition from the British authorities.
The last trial against a former Waffen-SS member took place in 1983. Shortly before, former SS-Obersturmführer Heinz Barth had been tracked down in the German Democratic Republic GDR. Barth had participated in the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre as a platoon leader in the Der Führer Regiment, commanding forty-five soldiers. He was amongst other war criminals charged with having given orders to shoot twenty men in a garage. Barth was sentenced to life imprisonment by the 1st Senate of the City Court of Berlin. He was released from prison in the reunified Germany in 1997 and died in August 2007.
After the war, General Charles de Gaulle of France decided that the village would never be rebuilt. Instead, it would remain as a memorial to the cruelty of Nazi occupation. In 1999, French President Jacques Chirac dedicated a visitors' centre, the Centre de la Mémoire, in Oradour-sur-Glane and named the site a Village Martyr.
The old village, the site of the massacre, still stands as a memorial to the dead and as being representative of similar sites and events. Part of the memorial includes items recovered from the burned-out buildings: watches stopped at the time their owners were burned alive; glasses - melted from the intense heat; and various personal items and money.
Protests followed from Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel; General Gleiniger, German commander in Limoges; and the Vichy government. Standartenführer Stadler felt Diekmann had far exceeded his orders and began a judicial investigation; however, Diekmann was killed in action a few days later during the Battle of Normandy, and a large portion of the third company, which had committed the massacre, was annihilated a few days later.
Episodes 1 and 26 both started with the words:
Down this road, on a summer day in 1944. . . The soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, the community which had lived for a thousand years. . . was dead.
This is Oradour-sur-Glane, in France. The day the soldiers came, the people were gathered together. The men were taken to garages and barns, the women and children were led down this road . . . and they were driven. . . into this church. Here, they heard the firing as their men were shot. Then. . . they were killed too. A few weeks later, many of those who had done the killing were themselves dead, in battle.
They never rebuilt Oradour. Its ruins are a memorial. Its martyrdom stands for thousands upon thousands of other martyrdoms in Poland, in Russia, in Burma, in China, in a World at War...
And at the end of episode 26, while another aerial shot of the village ruins plus photos of various massacre victims was being shown to the accompaniment of dramatic music, Olivier said:
At the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, the day the soldiers came, they killed more than six hundred men, women . . . and children. Remember.