German President Joachim Gauck, speaking at the site of the one of the worst Nazi massacres in France in World War II, said Europe must be constructed with “dignity, justice, and solidarity.”
Gauck is the first leader from his country to visit Oradour-sur-Glane, where the SS “Das Reich” unit killed 642 civilians on June 10, 1944, as it moved north toward the recently opened D-Day front.
“Germany wants to build Europe, not dominate it,” Gauck said in a speech to family members of the victims that mostly dealt with the issue of personal responsibility. “We have found the force to rebuild our country into a good country.”
French President Francois Hollande and Gauck were led around the ruins of the village by 88 year-old Robert Hebras, one of two remaining survivors among the six who lived through the attack.
Hollande placed Gauck’s visit to the town in southwestern France on par with Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s 1958 visit to General Charles de Gaulle’s hometown and Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s 1984 visit with President Francois Mitterrand to the World War I battlefield of Verdun.
“You are the dignity of Germany today, capable of looking in the face that barbarity of yesterday,” Hollande said.
Historians say the massacre was carried out to terrorize local populations and deter Resistance attacks on German forces rushing to Normandy after allied troops landed June 6.
The roughly 200 SS troops, which included as many as 40 members from the German speaking Alsace region of France as well as Croatians and Ukrainians, entered the town in mid-afternoon and locked 400 women and children in the town’s church. They shot and burned all the men they found, before setting fire to the church. Five men and one woman survived the massacre.
While the SS troops made no attempts to distinguish between victims, the dead included 12 Jews and 18 Spanish Civil War refugees.
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