Work has begun near the French village of Meymac on the exhumation of the bodies of some 47 German soldiers who were captured and then shot dead by French resistance fighters in June 1944 during World War II.
The existence of the grave was revealed by a 98-year-old former resistance fighter, Edmond Reveil, with his stated aim to be to return the bodies to their families, where still possible.
Reveil has expressed great sorrow about the shootings, which occurred when he was just 19 years old. He did not kill any of the soldiers himself by his account.
“It was a war crime. We did not have the right to kill the prisoners,” he told local newspaper La Montagne in May of this year.
Joint French-German effort
The French experts working at the site are being given technical help by the German War Graves Commission. The work is expected to take until the end of August.
The shooting of the German soldiers, along with a suspected French female collaborator, took place after several atrocities committed by German troops in the region.
Eleven bodies of German soldiers were already recovered in Meymac in the 1960s.
The mayor of Meymac, Philippe Brugere, told the French AFP news agency that the aim was “to exhume remains of the German soldiers who have been forgotten in this place for 80 years” and “to take them back to Germany and, above all, where possible, to their families.”
What happened in Meymac in 1944?
In June 1944, in the wake of the Allied D-Day landing in Normandy, French resistance fighters captured the town of Tulle in central France, where, according to Reveil, they took 55 prisoners, one of whom was shot as he tried to flee.
However, the very next day, on June 9, the town, located some 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Meymac, was retaken without a fight by German SS soldiers.
The SS retaliated on a massive scale for the actions of the resistance fighters, hanging 99 male residents of Tulle chosen at random, then carrying out another massacre in the relatively nearby town of Oradour-sur-Glane, where 643 residents were slaughtered.
The resistance fighters were left with nowhere to keep their prisoners, yet feared to set them free in case they took further revenge on the French population.
The German soldiers were taken to a barn, where some were released. According to Reveil, the order was then given to shoot the rest in a wooded area, a command that he says was given by the Allied command in nearby Saint-Frejoux.
The site of the grave was located last month by means of soil analyses.
tj/sms (kna, AFP)