The village of Oradour, located on the banks of the river Glane near Limoges in the south-west of France, serenely lasted for about a thousand years, not experiencing more serious shocks than a poor harvest or clogged sewers.
The village of Oradur shared the fate of the Czech Lidice and the Belarusian Khatyn. What caused the Nazis' savage reprisals against the peaceful population of Oradour? For many years this tragedy was shrouded in mystery ... Even the fire of the Second World War initially bypassed the village side, sparing its population - a simple peasant people. Sometimes German soldiers passed through Oradur, and at night, freight trains were rushing towards the front with a roar. However, neither Hitler’s attack on France nor its occupation by German troops violated the measured way of life of these people.
That was before the hot June day of 1944, when the 2nd Army entered Oradur tank SS division "Reich". In broad daylight, having committed a massacre, they destroyed all the inhabitants of the village without exception. The men were driven into a barn and shot, and the women were locked up in a church, which was then thrown with grenades. The soldiers blew up all the houses, killed the animals, sent the children to concentration camps. On this crazy day, more than six hundred residents of Oradur died at the hands of the Nazi executioners.
Historians do not cease to wonder: why? For a long time, this brutal massacre was explained as a punitive action of the SS in response to the French Resistance movement, which increased after the successful landing of the Allies in Normandy. But relatively recently, another version appeared - that the Germans had no intention of destroying the villagers. They hoped that the peasants would give them gold, which, as the occupiers mistakenly believed, was hidden in quiet Oradour.
This village is still dead, as it was on that tragic day fifty years ago. The burnt frame of the car, from which the Germans dragged the village doctor and shot him, is still standing on the desert pavement of the village street. In the burnt ruins of the butcher's shop there are still scales, and in the house opposite you can see a broken sewing machine - silent evidence of the brutal massacre of a serene village.
Punishers from the Reich division arrived in Oradur on a hot Saturday afternoon, four days after the landing of the Allied forces in France. The day was clear, quiet, many residents fished on the banks of the Glan River, others sipped wine and played cards in a village cafe.
SS men broke into the village on trucks and motorcycles. Prior to that, they participated in battles on the Eastern Front. The division "Reich" belonged to the elite SS combat units, which were distinguished by their particular cruelty. They regularly did their dirty deeds in the East in full accordance with the instructions of the Fuhrer - they organized brutal massacres of civilians.
Of course, the division that arrived in France in the 1944 year was no longer the one that entered the war with the Soviet Union. The division commander, General Heinz Lammerding, had many awards, but he saw how the war crushed thousands of young people, the color and pride of the German nation.
In March, 1944, in battles near the city of Cherkasy on the Eastern Front, was killed and captured twelve-and-a-half thousand people out of fifteen thousand who made up the combat power of his division. Two and a half thousand surviving soldiers formed the backbone of the new division. It was replenished with recruits of various nationalities called up under the banner of the Third Reich. It is quite natural that the soldiers who visited the Eastern Front, considered themselves in all respects above the non-fired novices who joined the ranks of the Reich division.
After the Allies landed in Normandy, the command of this unit was ordered to roll to the north. But every step of the Germans was accompanied by endless clashes with "maki" - the fighters of the French Resistance. Having superiority in the air, the Allies organized the necessary supply of the partisans, and those, striving to speed up the liberation of their country, bound the enemy's advance to the north.
Attacks and sabotage so frequent that the occupants were forced to stop and check every pile of manure on the road, because one such mine-trap could take several lives.
For the sabotage acts directed against them, the Germans took revenge instantly and ruthlessly, and punished everyone who came to hand. He participated in such punitive operations against innocent civilians and the combat structure of the Reich division. The occupiers acted in accordance with the orders of the Führer, who demanded severely punish anyone who raised weapon on his soldier. During such actions, it became common for SS men to fill their pockets with loot. Lammerding himself and his two close officers, Otto Dickman and Helmut Kampfe, were also not averse to saving money so as not to live in misery after the war. In late night conversations over the best generals' brandy, all three expressed confidence that the war would end with the complete and inevitable defeat of Hitler. With such sentiments, it was quite logical to put off any savings for a rainy day.
Major Dickman was stationed at Saint-Junien, near Oradour. He was in charge of a single special vehicle from the transport service of the division. According to him, all divisional documentation was in the car. He ordered Lieutenant-Austrian Bruno Walter to increase the security of the car.
On the night of June 9, Dickman felt uncomfortable in Saint-Junien. He was very nervous. Dickman believed that in the vicinity of this settlement there were at least two thousand partisans who were just waiting for the slightest opportunity to attack him, his people and his car with a secret cargo.
But in a strictly guarded car there was neither documentation nor military orders. It is estimated that in the car was cargo for a fantastic amount of six million pounds at current prices. It was looted gold, which guaranteed Dickman, Lammerding and Kampf a comfortable life after the war. They did not dare to send their prey to Germany, since there was a danger that they could intercept or abduct it. In addition, the railway was unreliable due to raids by the enemy aviation. And besides, Dickman and his accomplices feared that in the event of an information leak, production was unlikely to be preserved. There was no choice but to carry the trophies behind them.
The partisans learned that the Reich division had been ordered to start a movement against the Allied forces on the Normandy coast. The British warned the leadership of the Resistance forces about the possible arrival of the Germans in the area of hostilities after three days and asked to delay their advancement.
At midnight on June 9, Dickman ordered the driver of the car with the cargo, accompanied by an SS detachment, to start moving north. According to one of the plans developed by Lammerding and his associates, it was necessary to hide gold in the Loire Valley for a while, and go with the division to the front. Whatever happened, Dykman was charged with the obligation to take the gold out of the Maki area of action as quickly as possible. For the trip, Dickman chose an unsuccessful night, when confusion reigned in the German camp. Although cruel punitive actions were still held almost daily, the dominance of the invaders was no longer undivided. The French felt the approach of the liberators. They knew that the landing of the Allied forces in Normandy was not a diversionary landing operation and that the days of the Germans were numbered. "Maki" arranged ambushes, sabotage, fuel theft from warehouses. The movement of all German transport convoys that night was constrained.
According to intelligence data, in the forest near Saint-Junien, adjacent to the road to Bellak, where the division was supposed to stop for the first halt that night, a large group of partisans operated. Dickman ordered a special truck to move along another route that passed near Oradour.
A headquarters vehicle was moving ahead of the truck, and in front of it was an armored personnel carrier with a detachment of heavily armed soldiers. According to the plan, they were supposed to arrive in Bellak in thirty minutes, but the local "maki" violated all the calculations of the SS. They set up an ambush on the way of another German column, moving along a parallel route. When the guerrillas saw that the headlights of the head armored personnel carrier illuminated the place where the "maki" hid their weapons, it was a complete surprise to them. Instantly changing the plan of attack, they decided to attack the approaching column. Young, inexperienced fighters, eager to take revenge on the enemy during the long years of occupation, dealt an unprepared but powerful blow. The guerrillas threw grenades into an armored personnel carrier, destroying its entire crew, except for one soldier who managed to escape. The rest of the Germans were hit by a dagger submachine-gun fire of the six partisans under the command of a certain Raul.
But the enthusiasm of the attackers significantly exceeded their combat skills. Powerful explosions that destroyed the armored personnel carrier first, and then the headquarters vehicle with full ammunition, lifted a huge amount of fragments and burning debris into the air. From them, as well as from indiscriminate return fire, five partisans died. When the shooting subsided and the smoke cleared, Raoul was the only French witness to what happened. On the road, the armored personnel carriers and the headquarters vehicle blazed. The truck did not catch fire, and Raoul threw another grenade at him. After the explosion, the partisans threw away a smoking tarp and looked into the body. There were small wooden boxes the size of a shoebox. Each box was taped. Pushing the machine to the side, Raoul cut the ribbon with a knife and opened one of the boxes. It turned out to be gold. Judging by the number of boxes, the weight of the load was no less than half a ton. Giving up life, the partisans pulled the boxes out of the truck, dug a shallow pit by the road, put their trophies in it and covered it with earth. Knowing that if the Germans identified the bodies of the dead partisans, their families would be executed, he poured gasoline on the bodies and fragments of the car and set it on fire. Then Raul jumped on his bike and sped off the scene.
When Heinz Lammerding learned that all the prey had disappeared without a trace, he was enraged. Half a ton of gold, thanks to which he intended to hide from the insanity of war and begin a new, prosperous life, fell, in his opinion, into the hands of the French partisans. The general ordered to immediately search the area in search of the lost prey, but then he was told the second nasty day news: Major Kampfe went missing and allegedly captured by partisans.
Kampfe was a close friend of the general, and his disappearance caused Lammerding new attack of rage.
"PENSION FUND" ISCHEZ
The disappearance of Kampfe and the attack on a truck with gold — for all these were the combat documents of the division — served as a pretext for postponing the general’s trip to the front. He did not want to engage in battle without clarifying the further fate of his "pension fund", which fell into the hands of these "dirty peasants".
Lammerding asked the authorities permission to deal with the perpetrators of the attack on the convoy, and his request was granted.
According to the post-war testimony of an eyewitness telephonist, the general rudely reprimanded Dickman for a rash decision to send a car with such a small guard and consulted him on how to return the gold.
The Germans suggested that the partisans who attacked the night convoy were from the village of Oradur. Not only because this village was the closest to the ambush site.
One of the SS men captured by partisans managed to escape, and he reported to Dickman that he was taken to Oradur for questioning. This predetermined the tragic fate of a small French village and its inhabitants.
The Nazi thug captain Kan, known for his unprecedented cruelty towards partisans and civilians on the Eastern Front, was appointed to command a punitive operation against the inhabitants of Oradour.
Historians believe, however, that the soldiers of Caen were not going to commit massacres when they arrived in the village; their goal was to find the missing gold. But residents unanimously claimed that they knew nothing about gold, and such complete unanimity caused suspicions to punishers. They considered it a conspiracy and decided to teach the conspirators a lesson.
The massacre perpetrated by Kahn on Oradour was as senseless and cruel as the destruction of Warsaw, Minsk, Kiev.
Punishers broke into the village by the end of the working day and immediately cordoned off it. The peasants who have worked all morning in the field have already returned home. They were herded into a church and a barn. The SS with bayonets prowled through the neighborhood in search of those who managed to hide. One of the soldiers, Heinz Barth, was a Frenchman by birth, but put on an SS uniform.
Now, waving a machine gun, he shouted to frightened residents: "Blood will be shed today!"
In front of the inhabitants of Oradour, the Germans, using grenades and explosives, blew up all two hundred and fifty-four houses in the village. Fifteen-year-old Roger Hofren miraculously escaped.
“I suggested that the two older sisters hide with me,” the boy explained later, “but they refused. I felt that the Broshes decided to destroy us that day.”
FIGHTING IN THE CHURCH
A white rocket flying into the sky was a signal to Caen that the villagers were gathered in a church. And the massacre began. Weak old people and people with disabilities who could not reach the place of execution were shot on the spot. Those who tried to flee were mowed down with machine gun bursts. The fascists did not spare patrons for reprisals.
Having driven over four hundred and fifty women and children to the church, the Germans set fire to powerful charges that emitted poisonous clouds of black smoke. Unhappy people began to choke. Then the soldiers started throwing grenades at the windows. When the explosions died down, the SS men opened the doors and began to water the room covered by the fire with machine-gun fire. The flames engulfed those who had not yet managed to kill the bullets, fragments of grenades and fragments of collapsed walls.
Two hundred men locked in a barn were shot with machine guns.
Dickman, accompanied by two representatives of the local police, began to beat out testimony from suspects of collaborating with the partisans, demanding that they tell him where the gold was hidden.
An SS man on the spot shot those who refused to answer.
Jean Dart, wounded in both legs, miraculously managed to stay alive. Four more survived, including a woman who, having received several injuries, nevertheless jumped out of the window of the church located above the altar. She hid in the garden where she was, barely alive, and found the next day.
ECHOES OF TRAGEDY
Dickman was beside himself with rabies: the massacre began earlier than he had managed to thoroughly interrogate the inhabitants about the gold that had disappeared. For the rest of the day the SS man drank in one of the surviving houses on the outskirts of Oradour.
In the evening, when the fire was still walking along the ruins, the unfortunate warrior, barely able to stand, came to General Lammerding and reported that he had failed to track down the loss.
Today, Oradour is a dead village in ruins, untouched from that ill-fated day.
In a small museum that has become a place of worship for the ashes of innocent victims, broken glasses, love letters, bottles of unfinished wine are exhibited - simple, but pressing details of simple rural life, torn off by machine guns.
Many bodies were so badly burned that it was impossible to identify them, and they were buried in mass graves where they had died.
Six hundred and forty-two people died because of stolen gold, about which they knew nothing.
English businessman Robin McNess claims that he knows the fate of the missing gold. He wrote the book "Oradur: slaughter and its consequences."
Many leading historians, and among them an expert on the French Resistance during the Second World War, Dr. Foote, believe that this book contains a reliable story about the events in Oradour.
Makness ran into Oradur history by chance, many years after the war.
In 1982, the Englishman met with the very Raul, who, according to him, once buried gold at the ambush site. Now the former partisan smuggled gold from France to Switzerland. The Frenchman told McNess his story, setting out the details of an ambush on the road and explaining why the Germans chose Oradur as their victim. He argued that historians were wrong, suggesting that the invaders burned the village in retaliation for helping its inhabitants to the partisans.
Raul also said that he took the hidden gold and spent part of it to start his own business. Now the Frenchman was going to smuggle the rest of his treasure into one of the Swiss banks.
According to McNess, he agreed to help Raoul, but the deal fell through, as the Englishman was detained at French customs. In his car found smuggled goods worth twenty thousand pounds sterling.
Makness was sentenced to twenty-one months in prison and could not take part in the operation started by Raul.
After being released from prison, McNess spent several years studying the details of the story told by Raul: “I don’t know exactly what General Lammerding and Major Dickman talked about on Saturday 10 June 1944 of the year,” he concluded, “but if Raul’s version is reliable and nothing convincing me the opposite, we are the only living witnesses who are dedicated to the mystery of the events of that terrible day.
Apparently, Lammerding told Dickman during their meeting that he had become aware of an ambush by a soldier who had fled from the scene of a clash with partisans.
The special forces soldiers were strictly ordered to report on any incidents only to officers who were directly involved in the operation, that is, Major Dickman and Kampfe or General Lammerding. "The main characters of this drama are dead and did not reveal their secrets to anyone during their lives.
But from what McNess told, it can be concluded that the inhabitants of Oradour have fallen innocent victims of the greedy Nazi general and his minions. However, the story of gold still remains the version that has to be taken on faith without any evidence. No one else could either confirm it or deny it. "
Burned and shot Oradur forever remained a monument to the victims of fascism. And today he reminds people of the danger of a brown plague that almost consumed humanity.
Encyclopedia of world sensations of the twentieth century. Volume 1: Crimes of the Century.