The Holocaust Historiography Project

Book review

Oradour: Village Of The Dead

  • Oradour: Village Of The Dead, by Philip Beck, Leo Cooper Ltd., 196 Shaftsbury Avenue, London WC2; 88pp, hardback, t 5.25. ISBN: 0-85052-252-8.

Reviewed by Lewis Brandon

On reading this concise little book, one is struck by the tremendous contrast between descriptions of alleged German atrocities against Jews, and descriptions of alleged German atrocities against non-Jews. Most of the former are written by fellow Jews, often themselves “survivors” of the Holocaust, and their imagery usually draws on the same bizarre argot which is common to almost all Holocaust primers. Notions of sexual arousal and abuse; scatalogical functions and dysfunctions; theatrical Nazis in white gloves, silk shirts, and shiny boots; are all such recurrent themes in the “Holocaust” pageant that they have come to be an essential part of the script.

In Britain and America there are very few books written which deal with German treatment of non-Jews in the occupied territories. There are one or two which deal with the so-called “Malmedy Massacre” and with the killing of British escapees from German PoW camps, but by and large, the English-language literature on this area is rather meager.

This new book is only the second book in English to deal exclusively with the “Oradour Massacre” when 642 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane were rounded up and murdered by a division of the Waffen-SS. The ruins of the village are today preserved as a monument to the atrocity, although without any of the commercialism of Auschwitz or Dachau. A new Oradour has been constructed a few miles away, even though the Germans offered to reconstruct the old (the offer was refused). The new village is a sterile and unimaginative place, with numbered streets.

The atrocity occurred on a sunny Saturday afternoon, 10 June 1944. In towns further away, there had been some Resistance activity, and consequent German reprisals. But in Oradour-sur-Glane everything was peaceful: one wouldn’t even know that a war was going on. At 2.15pm a convoy of a dozen Waffen-SS trucks pulled up in the village, and the soldiers jumped out and surrounded the entire village. A few citizens sensed that something was going to happen, and made off for the fields. But most thought that the Waffen-SS arrival was a military manoeuver.

The entire population was assembled in the village square. At about three o'clock the women and children were separated from the men. The Germans accused the menfolk of storing arms and ammunition in the village. The men were then taken away in groups of between 30 and 70, and shoved into the six largest buildings in the village, including barns, garages, blacksmiths, etc. Of the 190 men thus incarcerated, only six got out alive. All the others were machine-gunned and then the buildings were set on fire. The women and children were locked up in the church. Two German soldiers carried in a box of gas grenades and then ran out. The grenades exploded, and the smoke enveloped the entire church. During the ensuing mayhem, German soldiers burst in through the doors again and sprayed machine-gun fire into the crowds of people. When all appeared to be dead, they set fire to the church. The entire village was then burned, until very little remained except the charred ruins which stand there today. The massacre was carried out by a detachment of the third company of the 1st Battalion of the No. 4 Panzergrenadier Regiment ("Der Führer") of the Das Reich Division of the Waffen-SS. Most of the detachment which sacked Oradour were themselves Frenchmen, from Alsace and Lorraine. When Rommel was told of the Oradour massacre he said that the Division should be punished, and offered to preside over a court-martial. Why was Oradour sacked? The author provides a list of ten different possibilities, including the most well-known theory: that it was the wrong Oradour. The author feels that the massacre was a reprisal for the kidnapping and murder by the RÇsistance of the Major’s friend Kampfe. If there was going to be a court-martial of the German officers, it was precluded by events. Many of the officers were killed in the closing stages of the war.

The men were eventually brought to trial at Bordeaux in 1953, 8/2 years after the massacre. Of the 21 accused, 14 were Alsatians (Frenchmen). Most were found guilty, with several death sentences. Meanwhile, the French government repealed the law on collective guilt, and declared an amnesty for war criminals. The Alsatians and the Germans were soon sent home as free men.

As Revisionists, we should welcome books like Philip Beck’s detailed and objective appraisal. Our WWII Revisionism is not to rehabilitate National Socialism, but to rehabilitate truth. And the simple truth is that in wartime, atrocities are committed on all sides; the winning side and the losing side. There can be no doubt that the massacre at Oradour did take place, just like the Allied massacres at Dachau. The reason why so few people know about the Oradour massacre is not just because it is a political hot potato for the French (with Frenchmen being found guilty of massacring Frenchmen), but also because the atrocities against non-Jews have become almost totally obliterated by the shadow of the largely fictitious atrocities against the Jews. It is only by clearing away the fictitious atrocities that we can properly appreciate and appraise the real atrocities.

From The Journal of Historical Review, Spring 1980 (Vol. 1, No. 3), page 276.