In the ruins of a village destroyed by the SS, French premier tries to end 60 years of hatred

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The Independent Online

The French Prime Minister, Jean Pierre-Raffarin, sought yesterday to end six decades of bitterness between France and Germany - and between different parts of France - at the site of a village whose population were massacred by SS troops 60 years ago.

The French Prime Minister, Jean Pierre-Raffarin, sought yesterday to end six decades of bitterness between France and Germany - and between different parts of France - at the site of a village whose population were massacred by SS troops 60 years ago.

Oradour-sur-Glane, near Limoges in central France, has never been rebuilt.

The ruins remain just as they were left by soldiers of the SS "Das Reich" armoured division four days after D-Day in 1944. No less than 642 people - including 213 children and 246 women - lay dead in the ruins, machine-gunned by the SS in random reprisal for actions by the Resistance to help the Allies.

The massacre - the worst by German troops on French soil during the war - has always been a subject of great anger and division in France because not all of the "German" troops present on 10 June 1944 were German.

Thirteen of them were from the German-speaking French province of Alsace, press-ganged into the German army. The Alsatians were condemned by French courts after the war but pardoned by the National Assembly on the ground that they, too, were innocent victims of the war. The people of the Limousin region were so furious that no national politician was invited to commemorate the massacre for 20 years.

In a final attempt to achieve reconciliation - while not forgetting the fate of the villagers - both Germans and Alsatians were invited to yesterday's 60th anniversary ceremony. Before a crowd of 5,000 people, including the Archbishop of Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, M. Raffarin said: "Sixty years have passed but France has not forgotten. France will never forget."

Robert Hebras, 79, one of two villagers who survived the massacre, left for dead in the piles of bodies, said that there remained great bitterness towards Alsace among some local people but yesterday's ceremony was "an important turning point ... and we must not stop here". Fifty sixth-formers from Alsace were also at the ceremony. One of them, Anne-Sophie, said attitudes had still not changed completely. She said that local school-children had called her a "facho" - fascist - because she came from Alsace.

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