France marks SS massacre of entire village

10th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

ORADOUR-SUR-GLANE, France, June 10 (AFP) - France on Thursday commemorated one of the most horrific massacres of World War II in a ceremony recalling the slaughter of 642 men, women and children in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane exactly 60 years ago.

ORADOUR-SUR-GLANE, France, June 10 (AFP) - France on Thursday commemorated one of the most horrific massacres of World War II in a ceremony recalling the slaughter of 642 men, women and children in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane exactly 60 years ago.

"The 10th of June, 1944 ... Sixty years have passed, France has never forgotten. France will never forget," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said in the town in the centre of the country that has since the war stood as a memorial to the tragedy.

The commemorations here came four days after much bigger ceremonies in Normandy in which 21 heads of state and government gathered to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day Allied landings.

Oradour was destroyed four days after D-Day, which marked the start of the liberation of France and Europe from Nazi occupation.

Just as "hope was being born on the beaches of Normandy ... the unspeakable, the inexplicable, the unforgettable was committed" in Oradour, Raffarin said.

Most of the population of the village, including 207 children, were shot or burned alive in the church by German forces, members of the SS Das Reich division.

Among the 60 soldiers involved were 14 French nationals from the eastern Alsace region, all but one of whom had been conscripted by force.

After the war, it was decided that the village would never be rebuilt and would stand as a memorial to France's suffering under Nazi occupation. The charred buildings of the village stand as they did after the massacre, testimony to the horror.

Pope John-Paul II sent a special message to Oradour, calling on the world "not to forget the sufferings of the past."

He said he hoped the village would remain a memorial, "inviting us to build a new future," in the message read by the bishop of Limoges, Christophe Dufour, during a mass held in the church in the new village nearby.

Dozens of people had crammed into the small church early in the morning, and television screens were erected outside for the benefit of the crowd which spilled out onto the street.

For the first time, those marking the occasion included representatives from Alsace - 50 schoolchildren and the archbishop of Strasbourg.

Their participation was in in the same spirit of reconciliation as that extended to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who last Sunday became the first German leader invited to the D-Day commemorations.

"We in Germany know who caused the war. We know our responsibility for history and we take it seriously," Schroeder said that day.

On Friday Schroeder expressed his sense of shame at the massacre in an interview with France 3 television.

"Naturally, I know what took place in Oradour and, along with all Germans, I feel ashamed that it could have happened, could have been perpetrated by Germans against French men and women," he said.

"The most important thing is that these memories help us unite in a common perspective," said Schroeder, who stressed that he lost his father in the war.


© AFP

Subject: French news

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