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article imageGerman prosecutors charge ex-SS soldier over 1944 French massacre

By Robert Myles     Jan 11, 2014 in World
Cologne - Prosecutors in Germany have charged an unnamed 88-year-old man, identified only as Werner C., with participating in one of the worst World War II atrocities, which saw almost the entire population of a sleepy French village massacred.
A former SS soldier is charged with 25 counts of murder connected to the slaughter of 642 men, women and children in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in Limousin in central France. Cologne state court officials said the accused had also been charged with being an accessory to murder on hundreds of counts associated with the massacre, which took place just a few days after the Allies had embarked on Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings, in June 1944.
The Allied invasion of the Normandy beaches in northern France led to France's liberation and ultimately the defeat of Hitler’s Germany.
According to German prosecutors, the accused was part of a firing squad that shot 25 men who’d been herded into a barn. In addition to these executions, the accused also faces charges of barricading a village church in Oradour, where many women and children sought refuge. Nazi troops are alleged to have then set the church alight, burning 247 women and 205 children alive in the ensuing blaze. Only one woman escaped.
Quoted in the Jerusalem Post, Achim Hengstenberg, a spokesman at the Cologne court, said, "The prosecution charges an 88-year-old pensioner from Cologne with [participating in] the destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane in France," continuing, “He and another shooter are said to have killed 25 men in a barn with his machine gun. He is also said to have aided the burning down of the village church."
According to Hengstenberg, the new charges arose after re-examining previous investigations into what took place at Oradour-sur-Glane just as the course of the World War II began to turn in the Allies favor.
On June 10, 1944, around 150 Nazi troops from the 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, entered Oradour-sur-Glane and sealed off the village. The regiment was ordered north from Toulouse in southern France, in response to the D-Day landings in Normandy which started four days previously.
The entire population of Oradour was told to assemble in the village square on the pretext of having their IDs checked. But the members of the SS were intent on exacting revenge after members of the local French Resistance had ambushed an SS vehicle in the locality, abducting its occupants.
The village men-folk were marched into barns where the German troops had pre-positioned machine guns. The women and children were herded into the church and locked inside.
After machine-gunning the men in the barns, in the process killing 190, the SS troops soaked the bodies with gasoline before setting the barns alight. The Nazis then turned their attention to the women and children of Oradour trapped in the church. The carnage continued. By the end of the day, 642 French villagers had been massacred.
Rainer Pohlen, the accused’s lawyer, told that his client didn’t deny being at Oradour-sur-Glane on the day of the killings but that he refuted any suggestion that he was involved in these. The lawyer also said his client had said he never fired a single shot that day.
“My client contests any participation in this massacre, which he finds a truly terrible act,” said Pohlen, adding that the accused had fully cooperated with investigators in furnishing statements.
Procedurally, the next step is that the Cologne state court will decide whether to move ahead to a trial. Meantime, the accused has until March 31 to give a formal response to the charges.
The appropriate forum for any trial has still to be decided, a complicating factor being that, at the time of the alleged offences, the accused was aged 19. Under German court procedure, that raises the possibility of him facing charges before a juvenile court.
Today, Oradour-sur-Glane remains France’s “ghost village.” Former French President Charles de Gaulle ordered that Oradour should remain untouched, as it was in 1944, as a permanent memorial to the victims.
Last September, in an act of reconciliation, German President Joachim Gauck walked hand in hand through the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane with his French counterpart François Hollande in a moving ceremony of remembrance.
During his visit, President Gauck told spectators in the crowd, “When I look today into the eyes of those who have been marked by this crime, I can say I share your bitterness over the fact that the murderers have not been brought to justice — that the most serious of crimes has gone unpunished."
More about OradoursurGlane, occupied France, french resistance, World war II, World War Two
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