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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « Je n’ai jamais oublié ce jour fatidique »

by Eva Sala

Recalling the Ouradour Massacre: “I’ve Never Forgotten that Fateful Day”

Translated Tuesday 21 August 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

Ouradour sur Glane. Following the death in bed of the Nazi officer Heinz Barth, who took part in the massacre that was perpetrated in this village on June 10, 1944, one of the survivors, Robert Hébras, told us what happened on that day.

The SS officer Heinz Barth died at home on August 6, 2007, in Gransee north of Berlin, at the age of 86. Nicknamed “the murderer of Ouradour sur Glane" for his direct involvement in the massacre that took place in the village on June 10, 1944, he had been condemned to life in prison in 1983 in a trial in East Berlin for war crimes, then released in 1997 for health reasons. Robert Hébras, one of the few survivors of the massacre, told us what happened.

Huma: What was your reaction to the official announcement in the media of Barth’s death on Tuesday?

Robert Hébras: I guess you’d like to hear me say that his death awakened painful memories. But I’ve just never forgotten that fateful day. I lost almost my whole family, my friends, not to mention the people of the village with whom I was in daily contact. Even today, at the age of 83, when I walk through the village alone, I relive my childhood, its odors come back to me, and engraved in my memory are pictures of the people I knew and loved. Thus, the death of that individual is part of life’s logical process. In fact, what embarrasses me is the hullabaloo in the media concerning his death. They’re giving him far too much importance, when the passing away of one of the survivors of the massacres occurs without anyone taking any notice, or at least hardly any notice.

Huma: Why have you agreed to talk, then?

Robert Hébras: I’m not speaking as a victim, but in homage to the memory of the 642 civilians who were shot, drowned, or burned alive by the SS soldiers of the armored division “Das Reich”, one of whose main executioners was that man Barth. I hope that, due to the media attention, his death will at least make people think, will draw their attention to what a person like him is capable of doing. So as not to forget, because remembrance is an essential duty.

Huma: But you do have emotional reactions to that man, don’t you?

Robert Hébras: Yes, several. The first was in 1983 during the trial in East Berlin, where I was a prosecution witness together with my friend Marcel Darthout, another survivor of the massacre. When we looked at him, he never looked into our eyes. What is more, it was hard for me to imagine that that mutilated old man, prostrate in front of me, was that same Nazi second lieutenant, aged 22 at the time, who had given the orders for the execution. Just one phrase came to my mind regarding him: “This guy is pathetic.” All the more so as he never expressed any regret, except at not being able to see his children during his imprisonment.
On the other hand, like the families of the victims of Ouradour and the associations of former deportees, I was very shocked to learn of his liberation in July 1997 for health reasons, when you now know that he lived another ten years!... The height of irony is that beginning in 1991 and for ten years he was paid a pension as a “victim of the war.” Although the pension was withdrawn from all the Nazi war criminals by the German Bundestag in 2001, following a long debate in the German government, the pension paid his living expenses for several years, and he certainly lived better than me.

Huma: How do you feel about him ?

Robert Hébras: The fact that he never expressed any regrets makes me think that he was a fanatic, as do all of those papers, honorary decorations and other memorabilia linked to his Nazi past, which he carefully kept but did not try to hide, and which were found by chance in his home during a 1982 search that had nothing to do with his SS membership. All of that documentation at least served to unmask the criminal.

Huma: But Barth had already been sentenced to death in absentia by the Bordeaux military tribunal in 1953. A word about that trial?

Robert Hébras: It was a nightmare, a two-fold betrayal and a total lack of respect for the survivors, the families of the martyrs and the other victims of the massacre. Of course he was sentenced to death, but he was not at the trial since, until 1982, he lived under a false identity in the GDR. We put a lot of hope in that trial. Nine years after the massacre, the executioners and murderers were finally to be punished. How disillusioned we were! Most of the SS soldiers who were sentenced were immediately released due to an “amnesty law” voted by the French parliament. In the final analysis, the crimes of all of them will remain forever unpunished.

Huma: Does the Nazi officer’s death provide some relief for your pain, then?

Robert Hébras: I feel no joy at his death because I have always been for peace and reconciliation between people. And, at the risk of shocking you, it’s not so much that he was an SS soldier that bothers me. Let’s remember, without any hypocrisy, that we were at war. And as in any war, unfortunately, people kill each other and commit atrocities, whether expressly or because they’re following orders. On the other hand, what I feel is intolerable in war is the needless killing of innocent women and children. For me, that’s where the crime at Ouradour sur Glane is focalized: when you think of those 400 women and children burned alive, whose deaths were horrible and unimaginable suffering. In that lies all the horror of that June 10, 1944!

Huma “Never again!” — would that be your conclusion?

Robert Hébras: I would like the death of such individuals to remind people of the barbarism of the past so that it won’t be repeated. But when you see the horror of war every day and everywhere in the world, those women and children killed in Iraq, and elsewhere, you unfortunately realize that Man does not learn any lessons from the tragedies of the past. He continues to kill for the pleasure of killing ...

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