The Volksbund, the German war graves commission, went public in June about their upcoming Meymac project, and unlike most of their other projects, this one actually made international headlines. Even the New York Times ran an article entitled “The secret of Meymac, a village in search of the bodies of German soldiers executed in 1944.”
I don’t know if “executed” is the right word. To me it suggests some semblance of legality — of a trial in a judicial system. But maybe that’s just semantics. The fact is that those 47 German soldiers and one French woman were murdered by the Maquis, in what any handbook on the subject would clearly define as a war crime. Even Edmond Réveil, the last living eyewitness, openly called it such in an interview with the local newspaper, La Montagne.
Edmond Réveil was 19 years young in June 1944. He had joined the French Resistance, fighting against the German occupiers in central France. His combat name: “Papillon,” meaning “butterfly.” On June 12 his resistance group (“Maquis”) received orders to shoot 47 Wehrmacht soldiers as well as a young French woman suspected of collaboration. For 79 years Réveil, who is now 98 years old and both the last surviving Maquisard of his unit and the last living eyewitness, remained silent about what happened. Now, almost eight decades after the crime, “Papillon” wants reconciliation — and to ease his conscience: “Today, the bodies must be returned to their families. We buried them with their pay books and dog tags. I’m glad the deed is no longer a secret today.”
Réveil’s wish could become reality: In August, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge plans to help French authorities to search for and recover the soldiers’ remains in Meymac in southern France.
On June 6, 1944 the Allies landed in Normandy: American, British, and Canadian troops established bridgeheads. D-Day was the signal for the Resistance, which had built up units in many places across France, to strike against the occupiers. In central France, the Maquisards decided to cut off the supply lines that ran to the German troops at the front. They occupied Tulle, a town which had a population of 20,000 at the time.
The few hundred men belonging to the 8th and 13th companies of the Wehrmachtssicherungsregiment 95 were quickly defeated. Afterwards, the Germans reported 40 dead, 23 wounded, and 59 missing. Réveil, who at the time belonged to the Communist-oriented group Francs-tireurs et partisans (FTP), recalls that “[o]n June 7 and 8, the Maquisards attacked Tulle and took 55 prisoners.” . . .
The very next day, June 9, the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich” under SS Brigadeführer Heinz Lammerding recaptured Tulle without a fight. The partisan attack resulted in a massive retaliatory action by the SS, in which 99 randomly selected male inhabitants were publicly hanged from balconies and lampposts.
A day later, the Waffen-SS committed another massacre at the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, which was chosen for no particular reason, and is located about a hundred kilometers away. There, 643 villagers were cruelly killed; it was the worst massacre of the Second World War in Western Europe.
Sorry, Herr Möllers: Oradour-sur-Glane was not chosen “for no particular reason.” Please do your research. By the way, if you suspect that Möllers included Oradour to push a certain narrative, I agree with you. I left it in because of something else Réveil said that is not quoted in Möller’s article, but which is in another one published at GMX:
“It was not an act of revenge,” he [Réveil] stresses. At the time, he knew nothing about the Waffen-SS massacres a few days earlier in Tulle and Oradour-sur-Glane.
This puts things in context. Again, from Ludger Möller’s article:
In the meantime, the 30 or so Maquisards who had taken their German prisoners into the impassable Limousin hinterland were at a loss. Réveil reports, “It was complicated. We had no structures to protect them, we had nothing. The Germans still controlled the whole area.” Guarding and feeding the prisoners posed problems for the overstretched Maquisards. Simply letting the Germans go was out of the question. They believed this would have led to acts of revenge by the Wehrmacht or the SS against the civilian population.
In the village of Meymac, about 50 kilometers from Tulle and with a population of 2,300, the group of prisoners was herded into a stable. Some prisoners, probably Volksdeutsche from Poland or Slovenia, were released.
Who gave the order to shoot is unclear to this day. Réveil speaks of “an Allied command center in Saint-Fréjoux.” The British and Americans had secretly smuggled liaison officers, who were supposed to ensure the coordination of the partisans with the Allied headquarters’ plans in occupied France. Réveil said in another interview that “[i]t was General Marie-Pierre Koenig [commander of the Forces françaises de l’intérieur during the liberation of France–Ed.] who gave the order to Captain Rivière, who was leading the Maquis, to shoot them.” Rivière in turn passed the order on to a comrade with the nom de guerre of Hannibal.
Hannibal’s civilian name was Joseph Fertig and he came from Alsace. He thus spoke German well and had worked as a German teacher in Meymac. He then had to inform the prisoners one by one about their fate, while bursting into tears. Réveil says “[h]e cried like a child.”
The Maquisards led the 47 Germans and the French woman to a wooded area near the hamlet of Encaut, just above Meymac. Réveil says, “It was terribly hot that day.” They had allowed each prisoner to dig his own grave. Any resistance fighter was allowed to volunteer to shoot a prisoner, but he himself did not, Réveil says, “There were three or four of us who did not participate. We refused.” None of the Maquisards wanted to kill the young woman. . . .
Réveil recounts how the Wehrmacht soldiers looked at photos of their families before being shot. “They weren’t young soldiers, as the young ones were in Russia,” the old man recounts. “I remember it smelled of blood. And then we never talked about it again.”
After the war, a “wall of silence” settled over the crime of June 12, 1944 in Meymac. “Everybody knew, but nobody talked about it,” says André Nirelli, a former farmer and now a pensioner. In principle, however, the crime was known around Meymac. Michel Micaladino, 84, remembers herding cows as a young boy: “We saw skulls.” The Mayor of Meymac, Philippe Brugère, also speaks of an omertà: “Nobody wanted the story to boil up and tarnish the image of the resistance.”
Well, I know what Monsieur Brugère means, but if the resistance did these things, its image was already tarnished. They did it themselves.
Whoever it was from among the ranks of the former Resistance fighters who publicly broke silence for the first time at the end of the 1960s can no longer be identified today. But more than 50 years ago, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge was already searching for the remains of German soldiers near Encaut. 11 of them have been recovered and buried in a German military cemetery in western France. It is likewise unclear who initiated the search at the time.
The Prefect of the province of Corrèze, Étienne Desplanques, speaks today of a report by the Volksbund from 1969 according to which the then Mayor of Meymac asked them not to continue the search. Documents and sketches, terrain maps, and even photos cannot be found in the municipality’s archives, to the regret of the current Mayor, Philippe Brugère, as related in an interview with the Schwäbische Zeitung.
On August 16, 2023 the French Office national des combattants et des victimes de guerre (ONAC VG) and the Volksbund began searching for the remains near Meymac. Because of the high-profile nature of the dig, the Volksbund updated their page on the search twice a day. However, after failing to find any trace of the murdered soldiers, it was decided on August 23 at 4 PM that the French Prefect would visit the site to get an idea of the situation. The next day, the inevitable was announced:
The large-scale joint search by the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e. V. and the ONAC VG did not bring the hoped-for success. It is true that bullets and casings from French, German, American, and Swiss weapons in use in 1944 were found, as well as coins dating from before 1943. These findings suggest that a group of resistance fighters almost certainly stayed there in 1944. However, the remains of the German soldiers have not been found.
Arne Schrader, head of the War Graves Service department at the Volksbund, said:
The search for the dead soldiers is now over, for the time being. We couldn’t find them even though we used the latest technology as well as traditional methods. I am sorry to say that we are all disappointed that this chapter has not yet been closed in a dignified manner . . .
So what happened? Was Monsieur Réveil’s memory faulty? Did everyone look in the wrong places? Did the former Mayor of Meymac get rid of any evidence after he called off the search in 1969? Had grave robbers gotten there first? And my own big question: Will the French or the German justice system come after Edmond Réveil for committing a war crime? He admitted to it, after all. But can you charge someone if there is no evidence?
Now, I do think Monsieur Réveil is one of the more decent men involved in the murder. I am also aware that, despite the crimes of the Resistance still being a hot potato in France, attitudes have changed, which is probably the reason why Réveil felt able to talk about what had happened in the first place. But the line still gets drawn at the actual consequences. You can feel remorse, you can apologize, you can try to make amends — but you won’t go to prison; you won’t even stand trial.
So I cannot help but be oddly satisfied with the result of the dig, or the lack thereof.
I originally discovered Counter-Currents through my research into Savitri Devi’s time in Germany. I can imagine only too well what her reaction to this story would have been. In fact, she did have a lot to say on the subject of French-on-German war crimes in Gold in the Furnace, Defiance, and Pilgrimage. Whenever I read stories such as this one, I feel like channeling her — rage and all. Like her, I believe in karma (or, as she put it, “the mathematical Law of Action and Reaction”). Réveil, if his story is true, is not guilty of murder himself, but of complicity, of aiding and abetting. It would therefore be a matter for the courts to decide, if there were any courts. Since there are not, maybe this is karma’s ruling in the case: Edmond Réveil will not find peace and reconciliation. His wish for there to be a memorial in the Encaut forest for the murdered Wehrmacht soldiers will not come true in his lifetime. He will not see their mortal remains getting a decent burial.
Is this a case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face? Absolutely. I would have preferred closure for the sake of the soldiers’ families. As the granddaughter of one of those soldiers who went missing after Stalingrad, I know how this kind of thing affects a family, even decades later. Yet, somehow I cannot help but feel that there is a sort of poetic justice here.
Maybe the last word hasn’t yet been spoken on the subject. As the Volksbund tells us:
The Volksbund and ONAC VG do not want to give up yet. They will analyze all the georadar data that has now been collected, search for any previously unknown archival documents, and explore the possibility of using LIDAR technology to analyze the sector’s topography. If new findings increase the chance of locating the remains of the dead, they will probe again. Arne Schrader emphasizes that “[w]e definitely want to come back — if there is a solid basis for doing so.”
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