German investigators on Tuesday gathered in the ruined French hamlet of Oradour-sur-Glane to collect evidence in a reopened case probing a Nazi massacre that wiped out almost the entire village seven decades ago.
Only six people survived the June 10, 1944, massacre, in which 642 people — mainly women and children — were killed.
A statement from the state prosecutor’s office in Limoges, in western-central France, said that under the label of war crimes “German judicial authorities, acting to assist in international legal proceedings, visited the scene this morning.”
They were accompanied by German prosecutor Andreas Brendel, it added.
Four days after the Normandy landings that marked the start of the liberation of France and Europe from Nazi occupation, Oradour was destroyed by a detachment of SS troops for reasons that have never been made clear.
Although several probes have previously been opened into the massacre, they have all been shut down due to a lack of evidence.
However, when a historian in 2010 discovered documents implicating six suspects that were still alive, now aged between 85 and 86, the case was reopened.
The documents were found in files kept by the Stasi, former East Germany’s feared and hated secret police.
The suspects, aged 18 and 19 at the time, allegedly ordered the town’s inhabitants, including 247 children, to assemble in the village square.
Women and children were herded into the church, which was pumped full of toxic gas and set on fire. The men were machine-gunned and burned alive in a barn, and the entire village was then torched, never to be rebuilt.
In France, the slaughter has come to symbolize the worst of Nazi barbarity and the village has been left untouched as a memorial.
Brendel told reporters that investigators on Tuesday tried to find “supplementary evidence” at the site, “to see where the different units were deployed in Oradour” and to hear new witnesses.
About 60 soldiers were brought to trial in France over the massacre in the 1950s and 20 of them were convicted, but all were released within a few years.
Brendel said he hopes a new legal process will be opened in Germany before the end of the year.