Oradour-sur-Glane: Gestures of reconciliation at the site of the SS massacre

Oradour-sur-Glane: Gestures of reconciliation at the site of the SS massacre

Oradour-sur-Glane was the scene of a particularly brutal SS war crime during the Second World War. At the commemoration, Presidents Macron and Steinmeier show that enemies have become friends.

It is a day of great symbolism and gestures: amid the sound of drums and trumpets, Emmanuel Macron and Frank-Walter Steinmeier stand arm in arm in front of a wreath that has just been laid together.

The heads of state of France and Germany are commemorating the victims of the most brutal SS war crime in Western Europe in Oradour-sur-Glane. Exactly 80 years ago to the day, German soldiers brutally murdered 643 children, women and men and burned down the town in western France. Now both presidents are demonstrating: the former enemies have become friends.

“On behalf of Germany, I would like to express my shock and sadness at the incomprehensible, cruel and inhuman crimes that Germans have committed here (…),” said Steinmeier in his speech, which he delivered in French. He also sharply criticised the fact that the perpetrators, whose names are known, were not later convicted in Germany. He was ashamed that the most serious crimes had not been atoned for. “Here, my country has incurred a second guilt.”

Only a few people survived

Soldiers of the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich” wiped out the entire village just a few days after the Allied landings in Normandy. The men were driven into barns and shot, women and children were locked in the village church. They died from poisonous phosphorus smoke, bullets and hand grenades or burned to death. Only a few people survived the massacre, which the SS claimed was retaliation for attacks by the growing French resistance against the German occupiers.

“The massacres of Oradour belong to the realm of the unthinkable, the unspeakable, the imprescriptible,” said Macron during the commemoration. Oradour will always be remembered. “And in this memory, in the ashes of Oradour, we must revive the power of this reconciliation, the root of our European project and our still-present will for freedom, equality and fraternity.”

The French state had preserved the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane. Today they are a memorial – for the suffering of the French population under German occupation, but also for the Franco-German reconciliation after the war. Before the memorial ceremony, Steinmeier and Macron walk side by side along the village street past the ruins.

Important accompaniment for Steinmeier and Macron

Accompanying them: Karin Eideloth from Germany and Agathe Hébras from France, one granddaughter of one of the perpetrators of 1944, the other granddaughter of one of the few survivors. In between, Macron holds Eideloth’s hand and Steinmeier holds Hébras’ hand – another gesture of reconciliation.

For Eideloth, it was “first and foremost a shock” when she learned that her grandfather Adolf Heinrich was one of the approximately 150 SS men who wreaked havoc in Oradour-sur-Glane. Since then, she has been dealing with the issue and has been in contact with Hébras for some time. Eideloth learned that her grandfather was one of the perpetrators from the director Karen Breece, who had researched the background to the gruesome events for her theater project Oradour.

This triggered a “mixture of bewilderment and anger” in her. To this day, she is horrified when she thinks about it. It took Eideloth almost five years before she went to Oradour-sur-Glane for the first time. “It was terrible, the images come so vividly,” she remembers of her trip in 2022. What helped her was how friendly, open and benevolent she was received. “I experienced a great deal of warmth there.” For that, she is “infinitely grateful” to the people.

Steinmeier also thanks the people of Oradour for the “wonderful work of reconciliation”. His lesson from the past: “Let us never forget what nationalism and hatred have done in Europe.” And: “Let us protect our united Europe!” He said this just one day after the European elections. Steinmeier does not need to mention that he is keeping in mind the many successes of right-wing parties.

Source: Stern

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