News / Europe

Former SS Soldier Charged in 1944 French Village Massacre

FILE - France's President Francois Hollande (l) and German President Joachim Gauck (r) walk with Robert Hebras, 88, one of the last survivors of the World War II massacre, as they visit the ruins of the church, in Oradour-sur-Glane, southwestern France, S
FILE - France's President Francois Hollande (l) and German President Joachim Gauck (r) walk with Robert Hebras, 88, one of the last survivors of the World War II massacre, as they visit the ruins of the church, in Oradour-sur-Glane, southwestern France, S
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— German prosecutors have charged an 88-year-old former member of Hitler's elite Waffen SS with taking part in a World War II massacre of hundreds of French villagers, nearly 70 years after one of the most infamous Nazi atrocities.
 
In the methodical June 1944 slaughter, SS soldiers took the small village of Oradour-sur-Glane in central France by surprise and killed nearly all its inhabitants within a few hours. They killed 642 men, women and children.
 
The men were herded into barns and shot dead while the women and children were burned alive in the village church.
 
“The prosecution charges an 88-year-old pensioner from Cologne with [joining in] the destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane in France,” said Achim Hengstenberg, court spokesman in the western German city.
 
“He and another shooter are said to have killed 25 men in a barn with his machinegun," he said. "He is also said to have aided the burning down of the village church.”
 
The accused denies the charges, saying he did not fire a single shot in Oradour, according to his lawyer Rainer Pohlen. He even said he tried to save the lives of some.
 
“He could have fired. He says, however, 'I had the great luck of being deployed for something else,'” Pohlen said. “He said 'I heard shots, I saw people shouting, I saw the village burning. It was terrible. It was absolutely awful. But I was not myself involved in any of the action',” the lawyer added, quoting his client.
 
Hengstenberg said the charge lay with the young offenders chamber of the Cologne court because the suspect was only 19 years old at the time of the crime. He was not named in the statement. The young offenders chamber will decide whether or not to open proceedings against the aged accused.
 
Lack of evidence
 
The SS unit decided to wipe Oradour-sur-Glane off the map as an example to French Resistance guerrillas after a vehicle carrying an SS doctor was ambushed on a road leading to the village and its occupants abducted.
 
Among those killed were 207 children, the youngest eight weeks old. Only five men and a woman survived the massacre.
 
“It's important that we find someone even if it's 70 years afterwards,” Robert Hebras, one of the six survivors, told French broadcaster BFM TV.
 
Oradour is an ambiguous symbol because it represents not just the atrocities committed by the Nazis but also a post-war failure to punish the perpetrators.
 
Heinz Lammerding, the Waffen SS general in command of the unit that committed the massacre, was captured by Allied forces but never extradited to France and was sentenced to death in absentia by a Bordeaux military court in 1951. He died in his bed in Bavaria in 1971.
 
Hengstenberg said the new charge resulted from a fresh look at a previous investigation into the events.
 
In 1953, 12 Alsatian soldiers who took part in the massacre while serving in the German army were sentenced to life in prison and one to death, but France's parliament immediately pardoned them in the name of “national reconciliation”.
 
Their province of Alsace had been annexed by Germany in 1940 and Alsatians were deemed to have been forced to join the Nazi army, even though some clearly enlisted voluntarily.
 
Earlier on Wednesday, a German court dismissed a case against a 92-year-old man accused of killing a Dutch resistance fighter in World War II when he was in the SS, citing a loss of evidence.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid