Robert Hébras, Last Survivor of 1944 Massacre in France, Dies at 97


Robert Hébras, who by being shielded below useless our bodies survived the notorious bloodbath of June 1944 during which members of an SS Panzer division killed virtually everybody within the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in west central France, died on Feb. 11 in a hospital in Saint-Junien, not removed from Oradour. He was 97 and the final survivor of the bloodbath.

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, asserting the demise on Twitter, mentioned that Mr. Hébras “devoted his life to transmitting the reminiscences of the victims.”

Mr. Hébras was 19 on June 10, 1944, when troopers from the Second SS Panzer Division, generally known as Das Reich, rolled into Oradour, ordered its residents to assemble, and slaughtered 643 of them. Males had been herded into barns and shot, then the barns had been set on fireplace. Girls and youngsters had been confined in a church; the Nazis threw grenades into the building and burned it.

“Three or 4 generations of households had been murdered,” Robert Pike wrote in “Silent Village: Life and Demise in Occupied France” (2021), an in depth account of the bloodbath, “and entire lessons of schoolchildren weren’t spared.”

When the taking pictures began, Mr. Hébras, like others within the barn the place he had been confined, dropped to the ground. He was hit by gunfire and had a number of severe wounds, although he later performed down his accidents.

“The bullets had handed by way of the others,” he mentioned, “and by the point they reached me, they not had the facility to go in deep.”

He made a harrowing escape by way of burning buildings and in the end into the countryside, narrowly avoiding hostile troopers. He was considered one of solely a handful of survivors. His mom and two of his sisters had been killed.

The bloodbath, which occurred days after the D-Day invasion, traumatized France. The ruins of the unique village had been declared a memorial, left of their burned-out situation as a reminder of the atrocity.

Simply why the Nazis selected Oradour for destruction has been a subject of debate. Some say the village was suspected of by some means aiding the Maquis, the French resistance fighters. Others say the Nazis had been in search of a kidnapped SS officer. A 1988 e book by Robin Mackness, “Oradour: Bloodbath and Aftermath,” claimed that the Nazis had been in search of a stolen cache of gold. (Mr. Hébras, in an interview that yr with The Related Press, dismissed that concept and the e book. “Everybody makes cash from the identify of Oradour-sur-Glane,” he mentioned.)

In a 2019 interview for Mr. Pike’s e book, Mr. Hébras mentioned that, whereas another Nazi atrocities in France had been clearly reprisals, nothing happening in Oradour would have warranted such an assault.

“If there had been the least factor,” he mentioned. “we, the individuals, wouldn’t have gone to the meeting level like a flock of sheep.”

“In all of the others,” he added, “there was an assault on the German Military and reprisals. In Oradour that was not the case. It was a ‘crime gratuite’” — a gratuitous crime.

Mr. Hébras was born on June 29, 1925, in Oradour. His father, Jean, a veteran of World Warfare I, led a group in control of repairs of the native tramway and made more money delivering telegrams. His mom, Marie, took in stitching.

“After I stroll within the streets,” he wrote in a 2014 memoir, “Avant Que Ma Voix S’Éteigne” (“Earlier than My Voice Fades”), talking of strolling by way of the memorial ruins, “I nonetheless hear the church bells and the anvil of the blacksmith shoeing cows and hobnailing our clogs.”

In June 1944, Mr. Hébras had a job at a storage within the close by metropolis of Limoges. However the day earlier than the bloodbath, his boss had gotten right into a dispute with a German officer, and Mr. Hébras was informed to remain residence in case the store was focused for hassle. When the Nazis arrived in Oradour the subsequent day and ordered the townspeople to assemble for a examine of identification papers, Mr. Hébras was amongst those that was not initially alarmed — from his work in Limoges, he was used to such calls for by the Nazis.

After the battle, Mr. Hébras ultimately opened a automotive dealership in a newly constructed village close to the ruins. For many years he hardly ever spoke about his expertise, though in 1953 he testified on the trial of 21 males accused of taking part within the killing. (Regardless of the convictions of all however one of many males, few stayed in jail long.) He testified once more 30 years later when Heinz Barth, an SS officer who was among the many commanders on the bloodbath, was convicted of battle crimes. (Mr. Barth was sentenced to life in jail however was launched in 1997 due to sick well being; he lived one other 10 years.)

By the point of the Barth trial, Mr. Hébras had begun talking out extra, telling his story to maintain the reminiscence of the bloodbath alive. He additionally grew to become a voice for reconciliation and appeared at varied remembrances. At his funeral on Feb. 17, Benoit Sadry, president of the Affiliation Nationale des Familles des Martyrs d’Oradour-sur-Glane, known as him a person “forward of his time, a visionary and a smart analyst.”

“In the long run,” he mentioned, “everybody joined him in defending the European superb — humanist and democratic — of cooperation between peoples to keep away from reliving the sufferings of the previous.”

Mr. Hébras was readily available in 2013 when, for the primary time, a German official, President Joachim Gauck, joined in a commemoration of the bloodbath.

Mr. Hébras is survived by a son, Richard, and three grandchildren.

He acquired plenty of honors in his life from France and Germany for his efforts to make sure remembrance. These efforts included talking out in 2005, when the far-right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen implied that the Gestapo had by some means tried to save lots of lives at Oradour, and in 2020, when vandals defaced the memorial.

“What shocks me is that we don’t notice that youngsters and ladies misplaced their lives in excruciating ache,” he informed Agence France-Presse after the 2020 incident.

“What I worry is that everybody will now speak about Oradour for 48 hours,” he added, “after which that we cease after which we are going to neglect.”

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