The original village was destroyed on June 10, 1944, when 642 of its inhabitants were murdered by a German Waffen-SS company. A new village was built post-war on a nearby site and the original has been maintained as a memorial. In early 1944, 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich was stationed in the southern French town of Montauban north of Toulouse to gain new equipment and freshly trained troops. After the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France, Das Reich was ordered to make its way across the country to stop the Allied advance.
In the days leading up to the Allied D-Day landings at Normandy, the local French Resistance had increased its activities in order to disrupt local German forces and to hinder communications. Along their way, the Germans came under attack and sabotage by the French Resistance and, in turn, attacked and killed many French civilians. Early on the morning of June 10, 1944, Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, commanding the I battalion of the 4th Waffen-SS (“Der Führer”) Panzer-Grenadier Regiment, informed Sturmbannführer Otto Weidinger at regimental headquarters that he had been approached by two French civilians who claimed that a German officer was being held by the Resistance in Oradour-sur-Vayres, a nearby town. The captured German was alleged to be Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, who may have been captured by the Maquis the day before.
On June 10, Diekmann’s battalion sealed off the town of Oradour-sur-Glane, having confused it with nearby Oradour-sur-Vayres (some disagreement on this point, see esp. Max Hastings, Das Reich, who states reasons for believing no such confusion), and ordered all the townspeople – and anyone who happened to be in or nearby the town – to assemble in the village square, ostensibly to have their identity papers examined. In addition to the residents of the village, the SS also apprehended six people who did not live there but had the misfortune of riding their bikes through town when the Germans arrived. All the women and children were then taken to and locked in the church while the village itself was looted. Meanwhile, the men were led to six barns and sheds where machine-gun nests were already in place.
According to the account of a survivor, the soldiers began shooting at them, aiming for their legs so that they would die more slowly. Once the victims were no longer able to move, the soldiers covered their bodies with fuel and set the barns on fire. Only five men escaped; 190 men died. The soldiers then proceeded to the church and put an incendiary device in place there. After it was ignited, women and children tried to flee from the doors and windows of the church but were met with machine-gun fire. Two hundred forty-seven women and two hundred five children died in the mayhem. Only one woman survived, 47-year-old local housewife Marguerite Rouffanche. She had managed to slide out of a small window at the back of the church and hid in the bushes overnight until the Germans had moved on. Another small group of about twenty villagers had fled Oradour-sur-Glane as soon as the soldiers had appeared. That night, the remainder of the village was razed. A few days later, survivors were allowed to bury the dead. It was found that 642 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane had been brutally murdered in a matter of hours.