German court throws out Nazi massacre case

December 10th, 2014

On June 10, 1944, the SS sealed off the village and ordered the people to assemble in the square. The women and children were locked in the church while the men were herded into barns and sheds and machine-gunned. According to a survivor, the SS aimed at their legs so they would die slowly.

The SS then set fire to the church where the women and children were locked in. Those who tried to escape through the windows were shot dead. A total of 247 women and 205 children were killed.

A downed US airman who visited the village shortly afterwards described seeing “one baby who had been crucified”, according to declassified military documents.

Although the massacre was well documented, few perpetrators were held to account. A trial in France in 1953 was torn apart by acrimony because some of the accused were French nationals from Alsace and claimed to have been drafted into the SS by force. Although 20 men were found guilty, and two were sentenced to death, all were later released.

The SS general in charge of the unit that carried out the massacre, Heinz Lammerding, was tried in absentia but France never secured his extradition, and he died in his bed in 1971. In a separate case, one SS officer, Heinz Barth, was tried in East Germany in 1983 and served 14 years in prison for his part in the atrocity.

German prosecutors reopened the case in 2010 in an effort to bring more of those involved to justice, but only pursued charges in the case of the 89-year-old, who has now been cleared.

Werner C, who was 19 years old at the time of the massacre, was accused of shooting 25 men and being an accessory to the murder of the women and children in the church.

But the court ruled there was no evidence to contradict his version of events, that he was in Oradour at the time but did not fire a shot or take part in the massacre.

World War Two

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