Evidence of massacre of German POWs at French resistance' hands found

Bullets that are a haunting testament to brutality of WW2: Mass grave site of German soldiers who were forced to dig their own graves before being shot dead by the French resistance after D-Day is found

  • Between 50 and 60 German prisoners were shot and killed days after D-Day
  • The story of the massacre wasn’t revealed until 2019 when a veteran spoke out
  • Former Resistance member Edmond Réveil, 98, came clean after nearly 80 years

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of the French Resistance forcing German prisoners to dig their own graves before shooting them days after D-Day. 

French and German archaeologists dug a site at a hill near the small central French town of Meymac over eight days following harrowing testimony from the last surviving witness to the massacre. 

While the scientists found bullet casings and coins at the remote site, the excavation failed to unearth human remains. 

‘The bodies are definitely there somewhere. We are not going to stop now,’ Xavier Kompa, head of the French Veterans’ Affairs Office in the Corrèze department, told the BBC.

He added that scientists would continue their investigation and ‘when new elements allow us to pinpoint the remains, a new effort will be made to exhume them’.

Edmond Réveil (pictured), 98, publicly spoke about the post-D-Day massacre for the first time in 2019 

Archaeologists have so far failed to dig up an human remains, but have managed to find bullet casings and coins

‘It is extremely hard to find the exact spot, because the terrain has changed so much,’ one local official said

‘It is extremely hard to find the exact spot, because the terrain has changed so much,’ said Kompa.

‘Back in 1944, this was heathland. The pine trees were planted by the Americans after the war. And the configuration of the paths has changed too.’

The search for the site began following the revelations of Edmond Réveil, a 98-year-old former Resistance member who came clean after nearly 80 years. 

He previously admitted in a recorded deposition that 30-strong detachment were ordered to kill German prisoners they were escorting through the countryside. 

Resistance fighters in the area staged an uprising in tulle, the capital of the Corrèze region, and captured 50 to 60 German prisoners. 

But the Germans responded with a public hanging of 99 hostages. 

Archaeologists managed to find a series of coins from World War II in the area

They also dug up several bullet casings from different guns that appeared to have been fired around the same time

The SS also massacred 643 people in the nearby village of Oradour-sur-Glane, which has remained an empty monument ever since.

Edmond, whose codename in the war was ‘Papillon’, butterfly in English, said that the commander of the detachment from the local branch of the FTP (Francs-tireurs et partisans) Resistance group ‘cried like a kid when he got the order’ to execute the prisoners. 

‘But there was discipline in the Resistance. He asked for volunteers to carry out the order. Every fighter had someone to kill. But there were some of us – and I was one of them – who said we wouldn’t take part,’ Edmond said. 

‘They knew what was coming…. They got out their wallets and looked at (photographs of) their families. There was no crying out. They were soldiers.

‘They were shot in the chest from a distance of four or five metres.

‘It was a terribly hot day. We made them dig their own graves. They were killed and we poured quicklime on them. I remember it smelled of blood. We never spoke of it again.

‘None of the Resistance groups wanted anything to do with (the prisoners). We didn’t know what to do with them. 

‘If a prisoner wanted to take a pee, he needed to be guarded by two of us. We hadn’t planned anything for food. We were under the orders of an Allied command centre at Saint-Fréjoux, and they were the ones who gave the orders to kill them.’

One prisoner, a French woman who had collaborated with the Gestapo, was also killed by the detachment, who drew lots to see which of them would shoot her after no one volunteered.  

Archaeologists dug the site for eight days, hoping to find more evidence of the massacre

The massacre only came to light after Edmond admitted to witnessing it in 2019

Edmond kept the secret for 75 years, even from his family, before unexpectedly admitting to witnessing the incident at a local meeting of the National Veterans’ Association. 

Meymac’s mayor Philippe Brugere said at the time that it seemed Edmond had a weight lifted from him after he spoke out. 

‘He is a wonderfully kind old man. He was against violence and in the Resistance he never fired a shot.

‘All he wants now is for the dead soldiers to be remembered, and their families to be told where they lie. And perhaps for a small memorial to be put up at the spot.’

This isn’t the first time that excavations were undertaken in the area. 

Local historians said that 11 German bodies were exhumed nearby in 1967. 

But excavations were suddenly stopped, and records of exactly where the bodies were found were not kept. 

Historians said that the likely reason for this was that former Resistance members who were still alive and influential in French politics did not wish for the then-recent past to rear its ugly head and embroil them in scandal. 

But Phillipe said that these worries are now long gone. 

‘The guardians of the memory of the Resistance were fearful it would harm their name. But today no-one wants to cast judgment. People understand that in war all acts become possible.

‘You can be on the side of the righteous, and still carry out what is morally wrong.’

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